Corporations and non-profits often outsource public relations functions. They’re keen to take advantage of the benefits of the expertise of PR agencies, such as extensive media contacts, well-developed communications skills, crisis management experience, and skills in promoting special events. Companies can obtain those benefits if they select the right PR agency.
PR agencies can, in turn, outsource some peripheral services to other companies or freelancers in order to gain cost efficiencies, more specialized skills, or creative expertise.
Like the benefits obtained by companies when they outsource, PR agencies can gain greater budgeting flexibility by outsourcing certain functions to avoid the long-term risk of hiring full-time employees.
In addition to securing specialized expertise, outsourcing can provide fresh, unbiased ideas and different perspectives.
While opening access to a greater pool of talent, outsourcing can simultaneously control costs.
Sometimes keeping work in-house offers a better solution. Agencies and corporate PR departments have greater control over in-house employees and can better allocate project assignments.
Outsourcing can create communications difficulties, especially when outside vendors work in different time zones. Outside firms or freelancers may also lack in-depth understanding of corporate culture and policies.
Outsourcing can also hurt workplace culture if employees worry about being replaced.
“There are many pros and cons of outsourcing, all of which you should carefully consider before deciding for or against this strategy. With the ability to affect company culture, this isn’t something to take lightly,” cautions entrepreneur and marketer Deep Patel in Forbes.
Tasks to Outsource
Most people, as well as most organizations, specialize in certain tasks. Other tasks they don’t perform so well. Specialized tasks are the ones to consider outsourcing. Tasks that vendors have automated are other candidates for outsourcing.
Gini Dietrich, CEO of Spin Sucks, cites another deciding factor: Do you love or hate the task? Outsource jobs that you that hate and are not a priority.
“There also are some surprisingly critical tasks you can outsource, particularly if they’re not things you love to do and not in your core expertise,” Dietrich states. Some may consider composing thought leadership pieces a central PR function, but Dietrich notes that she outsources writing of first drafts. That enables her to produce more content while still remaining authentic.
What NOT to Outsource
Your core expertise. Never outsource your main skills, although outsourcing also offers a solution when an agency or corporate department is overwhelmed with work.
Engagement. If the CEO writes a blog post, then the CEO should answer its online comments. If a journalist wants to follow up on a quote by the CEO, then the CEO should respond to the inquiry – not a spokesperson. Media people should never feel they are being blocked from talking with the responsible person.
Business strategy. “You can buy advice, you can buy services and you can buy help with execution, but the only people who can decide how your organization needs to grow are you and your internal teams,” Dietrich says.
Inbound duties. Inbound marketing tasks, including writing blog posts and email promotions, are critical activities for PR and marketing agencies, adds Charles Dearing, a tech and marketing journalist, in O’Dwyer’s. “Your agency needs to be consistent, and ever-improving in these areas as these services will only become more valuable as time goes on,” Dearing says.
What to Outsource
Outsourcing can offer a more cost-effective solution because it spreads continuing education, development and technology costs across many different clients. Functions a PR agency, especially a smaller agency, might wish to outsource include HR, paid media management, graphic design, bookkeeping and legal tasks.
On the creative side, PR agencies often typically outsource services such as search engine optimization (SEO), website development and video production to vendors or freelancers. Most agencies very definitely retain creative control of that work.
Media monitoring and measurement falls under the category of a critical function that benefits from specialized expertise. Like accountants and attorneys, analysts at monitoring and measurement firms offer specialized knowledge and skills. They also provide unbiased analysis on sentiment toward the brand, its services, the competition and issues in the brand’s niche. They provide analytical expertise that a company or agency my lack.
Outsourcing media monitoring and measurement, including social media analytics, frees in-house and agency staff to concentrate on their core strategic planning, content creation and media relations duties. What can’t be outsourced is the critical function of applying insights from media analytics to prove the value of communications programs and improve PR decision-making.
Bottom Line: Making sensible decisions on when to outsource tasks and when to keep duties in-house can increase an agency’s growth and profitability. Keep in-house those tasks that are among your core competencies, and those that are critical to business success. Outsource tasks that require special expertise, that you simply hate doing, or that allow you more time to perform strategic work.
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.