Agency or In-House? What PR Service Do You Need

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  • May 21, 2015
  • Starr Million Baker

In the simplest of terms, the practice of public relations is the communication that should happen between a business and its audiences. If you have customers, employees, and prospects – let alone investors, shareholders, and other stakeholders – then you have audiences, and you need a plan to communicate with them. Where this plan comes from, however, is dependent on your business needs. Not every company needs a PR firm, just a PR plan. How do you figure out what’s right for you? Start here:

Do you believe PR only equals media coverage?

If you answered yes to this one, then you really need an in-house media specialist. While every agency worth its salt can and should include media relations as a key component to your program (should your business needs warrant that), you will not get the full value of everything an agency provides if you’re just tapping them for this one thing. Also, if you’re looking at media coverage in this way, you are probably focused only on news and don’t realize there are other ways to communicate to your key audiences – you need an internal person to ferret out the stories that media crave.

Is thought leadership important to your sales cycle?

76% of B2B buyers say thought leadership is a key factor in determining what vendors make it onto their short list. What did they mean by thought leadership? Content, content and more content – infographics, podcasts, videos, bylined articles, blog posts, social media activity, imagery, quotes in articles, inclusion in analyst reports. PR agencies are perfectly suited to help you develop and execute thought leadership programs that support your business objectives – and get you on those short lists.

In-house teams can do a great job here, but if you’re a small to medium-sized company an agency is likely more cost-effective than building out an internal team. And if you’re a large company, that internal team will likely be pulled in other directions – speechwriting, creating sales materials, employee communications, you name it. Agencies have the staff and the smarts to effectively execute these campaigns.

Are you in a high-growth stage?

There are times in the lives of all of our businesses where we are in high-growth stage. During these times, all hands are needed on deck to scale successfully, and quickly. Outside partners are a must so that internal resources can focus on the big hairy tasks at hand. PR agencies are perfect partners to high-growth stage companies as they keep communication rolling in the right direction and eyes looking around the bend for what’s coming, all while you are busy growing your business.

Is brand awareness important to keeping your current customers and employees?

Perhaps you work in an industry with little competition and loads of customer and employee loyalty. Good for you! If you’re not in one of those industries, this is another area where PR agencies – or built-out in-house teams, or both – provide solid value. Brand awareness requires a complex mix of communications strategies that hit your target audiences in multiple places at multiple times. PR agencies can build brand awareness via a variety of channels, disciplines and methods, in a trusted, credible way. But be prepared – brand-driven PR, just like you would expect of any advertising campaign, takes time. Consistency is key, Rome was not built in a day, and Intel didn’t become a household name with one commercial.

Are company leaders involved in and committed to communication?

They are? You are one lucky duck. If they are committed, involved, and good at it, you could probably do a great job with an in-house PR pro. A PR agency would salivate at the opportunity to put the skills of these leaders to good use, but agencies are also skilled at coaching, and at ghostwriting – two areas of expertise it sounds like you might not need.

Do you already know everyone you need to know?

Perhaps your target audience is just one group – all of whom you know personally. Or perhaps the pool of media covering your space is so small they could all actually fit into your pool. If that’s the case, go in-house for your communication needs, all the way. However, if you don’t know everyone and believe relationships to be key to strong public relations programs, a PR agency will be your best partner. Agency staffers are skilled at maintaining relationships – with media, with industry influencers, with all walks of stakeholders – and building new ones. It’s what we do, and we’re really, really good at it.

Does your staff have the necessary skills – including writing, editing, pitching, researching, relationship-building, graphic design, and social media experience – to communicate effectively with your target audiences?

More and more companies are building out these skillsets internally, and rightly so as every department, from the C-suite to sales, must figure out how to make their point in pithy, graphically pleasing, and quickly digestible ways. But if you can’t say yes to having all of these skills on staff, then get thee to an agency partner stat. PR agency owners are bringing all of these skillsets under one roof – and onto one team, yours – as a course of business these days, and clients can immediately benefit.

Those are just a start at the questions I encourage businesses to ask when determining what type of PR service – agency or in-house – is right for them. While a PR agency owner myself, I don’t believe we are always the answer, but I do believe smart, successful businesses – no matter the age of the company – include public relations as part of their business function. Do you?

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