Almost all organizations need public relations. The question is: Is it better to hire a PR agency or staff?
PR agencies are not appropriate for all businesses. Entrepreneurs and startups are usually better off developing media relations and crafting company messages themselves in the early stages of business. However, companies that can afford to retain an agency could enjoy substantial benefits.
It’s essential for businesses to select an agency with services that can meet its goals and needs. Not every PR agency is a match for every company. Choosing the best agency calls for examining their specialties, their current and former clients, and the capabilities of key staff members. Organizations must be able to trust the agency with their confidential information and business plans.
Sheryl Gudelsky, senior account agent at the William Mills Agency, offers reasons why firms should hire a PR agency rather than internal PR staff.
Expertise. Finding someone with expertise in both PR and your specific industry, a requirement for successful PR, can be extremely difficult. An agency with a background in your vertical will save you the time and expense of training a PR generalist. The agency will already possess knowledge of industry-wide issues affecting your brand, rather than just knowledge of your products and services.
Objectivity. An agency can become an extension of your company and yet offer a valuable independent perspective. The value of a neutral perspective can extend beyond media relations. An agency can provide objective analysis and an extra set of eyes and ears.
Contacts. A reputable firm contacting the media on your behalf can bring instant credibility. Most internal hires will need time to develop media relationships. Agencies are typically well connected with other industry professionals, including current and former clients, conference directors and others. An agency can facilitate introductions between your company’s personnel and important contacts, possibly leading to a new business partner, customer or executive team member.
Additional opportunities. An agency partnership can lead to new opportunities. Editors of industry publications may contact the agency to help fill editorial space and find experts to interview for their articles. Event directors often contact agencies to fill empty conference speaker slots and panel session, knowing they will generally have clients to fill the slot. Agencies typically work with a variety of businesses over many years and have discovered tactics that work well.
Disadvantages of Agencies
Agencies offer some drawbacks, others say. Cost is a major consideration. Internal staff may be able to complete routine PR for less cost. In addition, PR agencies may have only a superficial understanding of clients’ unique problems, may lack a full-time commitment to a single business because of their many clients, and may require an extended preparation period.
High-level executives must still dedicate time to briefing and directing the outside agency. Over the long term, the business — not a PR agency — must establish and own its relationships with the media. The most effective way for small to midsize organizations to accomplish that is for the CEO to build those relationships personally.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and chairman of the HDTV cable network, gained attention when he said that startups should never hire a PR agency. The main issues are their high costs and time investment required from startup executives.
Hiring a freelance PR specialist can be an economical option, especially for startups and small firms. Although agencies may have professionals with diverse skills, a solo PR special can offer deep experience and numerous contacts in an industry. They can be good choices for quick-turn-around, one-off assignments. Freelancers or boutique PR firms can be a cost-effective solution for many PR needs.
Bottom Line: PR agencies can offer several important advantages, such as expertise, contacts and an objective perspective. But they are not appropriate for all businesses, particularly startups. When deciding if it’s better to hire an outside agency or handle PR internally, executives must weigh the benefits against the costs and take into account their business objectives and PR strategy.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.