Public relations professionals work in all sorts of environments and working arrangements, and that includes external ‘consultants for hire’ or in-house, long term employees. There are pros and cons to each approach and this is a topic often discussed during university PR studies to help students ponder their future direction. I’ve worked in both roles and as a current PR consultant with her own business, I’ll try not to be biased when sharing the following lists …
Reasons for hiring a PR consultant
An external consultant can provide you with:
- Unbiased advice and a different perspective because they will not necessarily adhere to in-house loyalties or cliques. An external consultant may not feel the same pressure to follow management direction, rather, they will feel compelled to provide a recommendation for the best possible course of action; an alternative point of view; and to play the ‘devil’s advocate’ role so valuable to PR.
- Creativity and lateral thinking, particularly if they work for clients from a variety of sectors who demand different approaches, varying content styles and adaptability to different audiences. This type of PR consultant isn’t easily stuck in a rut, and the ideas they bring to one client may spark something wonderful (not duplicated) for you.
- Economic benefits – rather than having a fulltime person on your books every day of the week, it may be beneficial to have an external consultant charging only for those hours you require PR support. This can be particularly important to organisations, particularly in the government sector, which are conscious of how many FTEs they have on their books.
- A speciality. Organisations often hire a PR consultant because there are some corporate communications skills lacking in-house. For example, you may require an events specialist to launch a new product or open a new premises; you may require a crisis communications specialist quite unexpectedly. You may seek a PR consultant who’s known for having great contacts in a particular trade industry or media networks.
Reasons for hiring an in-house PR manager
An internal public relations manager can provide you with:
- Dedicated, educated views of your business held over the long term – they know you inside out. It’s a capacity to maintain a single devotion to your niche and your objectives rather than having their attention sought by diverse clients. (This may also be a con, as they can become too entrenched in ‘one way of thinking’).
- An ability to forge good, close relationships with management and other employees, enabling the development of more effective and perhaps accurate PR programs. There’s nothing like being in the staff kitchen together complaining about the dirty dishwasher.
- A (largely) unfiltered knowledge of what is happening within an organisation – as opposed to an external PR consultant who needs to rely on being kept up-to-date and briefed third hand. Not impossible, but potentially more tricky.
- Perhaps greater availability than a consultant – if they’re sitting a few feet away from you, that’s just the way it is. (Note – this doesn’t mean they’ll be more responsive or effective; a PR consultant on a paid retainer has great incentive to be prompt and to get results!)
Ultimately, external and internal PR professionals often rely on each other. Organisations can (and do) employ both. In fact, I’ve often been hired by the internal communications manager.
Internal PR professionals may seek a consultant to:
- Help with a large workload for a short period of time, for example during the launch of a new campaign or while they themselves are on rec leave.
- Provide specialty advice, for example advice on the development and promotion of a new smartphone app.
- Help them influence management where they have not succeeded.
- Deliver a suite of writing materials such as an annual report or new brochures.
Recommended further reading
Craig Pearce has penned an excellent piece on the PRIA blog which delves more into the commonalities that exist between working in-house and in a PR agency.