The Big Question: Agency or
With a Tight Economy,
Where Do You Get the Most PR Bang For Your Buck?
Here's the dilemma: You have a great product
and you need some press. Needless to say, you don't have a huge PR
budget, but you're still expected to produce results. Where is your
money best spent -- on an agency or by hiring a small team in
While the jury is still out on this question,
there are some pros and cons to weigh.
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There' no question that
in a tight market, the layoff ax falls usually falls on
the communications department first. That's why an agency is an
asset, because it allows a company to have a well-oiled PR machine
with an experienced staff, media connections, and the ability to get
your message out quickly.
"A good PR person may not know how to build
the car but he sure knows how to sell it. Good agencies have a wide
array of people with various skill sets," says Kevin Sullivan, vice
president of Hope-Beckham Inc., a public relations, event marketing,
and communications consulting firm based in Atlanta, "The client
gets the benefit of the combined experience, knowledge, and skills
of these professionals. Rarely can a company find a person or a
small team that has the level of expertise you will find in a truly
Another plus to hiring an agency is it brings
an outside point of view to the table.
"Companies benefit from the objective
viewpoint that an outside agency brings. Pushback is hard to do, and
possibly suicidal, when you're an employee of the company," explains
Catherine Marenghi, principal for Marenghi Public Relations, a full
service PR agency with an expertise in technology, "In the long run,
that impartial viewpoint will strengthen a client's PR program and
make the company look more savvy."
Adds Cathy Wood, account manager for
WarrenCordes, "An agency has the advantage of being able to offer a
"fresh approach." They don't deal with the same message day after
day so they are open to new ideas and can offer immediate marketing
solutions. Agencies also have so many resources available that they
can often launch a campaign more quickly and effectively than an
internal department. That's very important when each day counts."
By outsourcing PR duties, companies can focus
on what they do best, and concentrate their resources on reaching
their business goals, leaving PR to the professionals.
"Outsourcing offers a lot of flexibility,
especially in times like this, strategic marketing is a company's
best weapon," explains Wood, "If times are tough, you don't want to
disappear from sight, you want to be even more visible. Increasing
awareness is the key."
Another bonus to agency PR is that they're
easier to fire. "If an agency does not produce, the contract can
be cancelled, therefore not exposing the client to any long-term
HR risks," says Lloyd Trufelman, president of Trylon
Trufelman adds that the key when selecting
an agency is to pick a specialized agency versus a "generalist ship."
"A company should look to hire an agency whose experience maps back
to the client's industry, so that the agency can deliver turn-key
expertise fast," says Trufelman.
"Billable hours, [a]
retainer, and expensive campaigns" are what come to mind when
Eli Kuo, director of public relations for InvoiceDealers, a Web site
that acts as a middleman between consumers and car dealers, thinks
of agency PR. "PR firms often tell clients that they need a lot of
excessive unnecessary things to get press. In fact most reporters
tell me they don't like external PR flacks who are not in touch with
what is going on inside the company."
Being inside is the name of the game with
in-house PR. Total access and total understanding of the product,
the company's philosophy, and the company's goals are the main
attractions to having PR professionals on the payroll.
"We've all seen accounts manned by junior
staffers who lack the PR experience, technical knowledge, and key
editorial or analyst contacts required to execute a successful PR
campaign," says Susan Shelby, PR director for Tiburon Networks, a
telecommunications start-up, "As a start-up, you get one chance to
launch your company, and you want to make sure it's done correctly."
She adds that the in-house pro has the
advantage of doing "PRBWA" -PR By Walking Around, based on
the MBWA (Management By Walking Around) theory. Essentially,
PRBWA gives the PR professional the chance "to uncover new ideas and
trends in their company" by having conversations with the key
"I can have casual conversations with product
managers, bump into executives in the cafeteria, and gauge the pulse
of the company's plans far better," says Shelby, "That's a
perspective that is nearly impossible for outside counsel to gain,
no matter how close the relationship is between the company and the
PR professionals on staff can also focus
their efforts on their company exclusively. Their time is not spread
between the numerous accounts they oversee. "In my last agency
position, I worked on four very different technology accounts," says
Shelby, "I found it virtually impossible to stay on top of all four
clients needs, track industry trends and monitor my client's
But, the flip side of only having one client
is getting bored and stuck in a routine. Says Sullivan of
Hope-Beckham, "[Corporate PR professionals] are working within the
same framework every day, which can be boring for a creative
individual. If the people in the corporate PR department do not
actively seek out input they can become stale."
Another pitfall to try to avoid in corporate
PR is letting company loyalty and job security impede your media
relations instincts. Corporate PR professionals must remember to
view their company from the outside.
"The PR people become insulated and can lose
touch with how their company is truly perceived. In the event of an
emergency, some corporate PR people fall down when it comes time to
handle crisis communications," says Sullivan, "They immediately
assume a defensive posture, break nearly every rule of crisis
communications, alienate their media contacts, and ultimately do
more damage than good for their own company."
Regardless of the choice, PR, like any facet
of a business, has to bring results.
"Whether a company hires its own in-hour PR
team or hires an agency there has to be a return on investment. This
must go beyond simply reciting how many column inches or minutes of
new coverage a company receives," says Sullivan, "The PR efforts
must contribute directly to a company's goals and ultimately its
bottom line. Does a company want to increase sales? If so, by how
much? Does a company want to enter a new market? Introduce a new
product? Unveil a new service? Whatever it might be, the PR team or
agency must bring results." ExpertPR Staff Writer Kevin Mauer is a
research analyst in the Special Projects section at MediaMap. A
graduate of Old Dominion University, he worked in Washington, DC
before coming to MediaMap.
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