I launched my PR career in a multinational pharmaceutical company in Mumbai in what I would still consider as one of the most well structured and best run public relations departments I have ever encountered. With a large 13 member strong department, inclusive of five support staff, our Company consistently ranked in the top ten of Businessworld’s Most Respected Companies listing, scoring high on parameters that were linked to PR. The PR Consultancy industry was then at a fledgling stage but, as it grew, external consultancies began to drive campaigns that were traditionally run in-house and PR departments within corporates began to shrink in size. It soon became quite common to find amongst newer corporates those who outsourced their entire PR requirements and had a marketing or human resource head manage the engagement with the PR consultancy. We are now in a situation where most mid to large corporates use a mix of an internal team and an external consultancy to manage their PR requirements.
While in an ideal situation a combination team works well and best for an organization, particularly those of a certain scale, it’s not always feasible. The decision of whether you should have an internal PR Department or engage a Consultancy is not an easy one. Each has it merits and demerits and an evaluation of these against your specific PR requirements and objectives will help you reach a decision as to how you should manage your PR.
Internal PR Departments
- Greater Commitment – internal staff score higher on commitment and passion by virtue of their being on the rolls of an organization
- One Master Advantage – because they are a dedicated resource, internal staff have the time and resources to understand your business in-depth
- Ease of Access – internal staff have a finger on the pulse of every department with easy access to departments and people
- Lack Networks – internal staff don’t have access to the large pool of experience and information networks that external consultancies have. They may not necessarily have the most updated information on media movements for instance.
External PR Consultancies
- Depth of Experience - consultancies bring a wealth of experience across industries and PR campaigns. They also have a multi-skilled resource base and can draw on this with ease should you require a financial PR resource or someone with healthcare experience for example
- Networked – being part of a national network and with ongoing engagements with various stakeholders like the media, consultancies are up to date on media movements, new pages or sections being introduced in a publication, new publications and so on
- Local Nuances – the larger consultancies have a presence in key markets staffed by practitioners who are more tuned in to local nuances and sensitivities. This is of particular relevance when you have a multi-city requirement and need to fine-tune your campaign to suit local audiences
- Limited Internal Insights – while Consultancies have experience across sectors, they don’t ‘live and breathe’ the company and their recommendations could therefore be limited by their inability to understand or gauge internal issues and sensitivities
- Divided Loyalty/Time – since consultancy teams work across a set of clients, they may not always be available to give you the dedicated time and attention you want. This is more true if you are a smaller organization or have a relatively small PR budget as you would be vying for attention with clients who are big PR spenders or have large PR requirements
- Cost Effective – depending on your requirements, it could sometimes be more economical to hire an external consultancy.
While it would be easy to suggest that one uses the middle path and work with an internal and external combination, this is often not feasible or the most practical unless you have a certain scale of operation or PR requirement. In such circumstances, it would be best to base your decision of whether to go internal or external on the budget you have as well as your objectives of and expectations from the PR campaign. In my experience of having worked in both the corporate and consultancy sector, I believe a largely internal communications driven PR requirement or a CSR-led initiative (where you may need to build internal advocacy and engage employees) would best be served by an internal PR department than an external consultancy. If, on the other hand, your PR needs call largely for a media driven campaign or one that requires multi-skilled resources, you would probably be better off hiring a PR Consultancy that is well networked in your priority markets.
In some ways, it is like one of the values you derive from choosing an interview over a press release – one gives you depth while the other gives you spread. A Press Conference, however, gives you a happy blend of both!
This exclusive guest post was written by Melissa Arulappan who is a freelance public relations/ communications strategist. You can follow her on twitter at @meltwith