The battle between in-house and agency PRs

There is a longstanding belief that the War of the Roses exists between the media and PR people. I say those days are gone, so let’s put that totally behind us! I have sat on both sides of the fence and all those jokes about the ‘dark side’, ‘selling your soul to the devil’ etc are so old school that anyone who says them appears uneducated and living in the dark ages. The role of the journalist and the PR professional go hand in hand, like a wetsuit and a surfboard – they both serve their purpose and assist each other in the end outcome.

So at the risk of being controversial… where the war really exists is between internal PR people and the PR agency. In an agency we see it every day unfortunately; in-house PR people who don’t like that an agency have been brought in to be the ‘creative ones’ and they are set to show us who is boss – a short lived power trip that doesn’t assist anyone, least of all the client, and only makes them look unprofessional. The reality is the role of in-house and agency are both incredibly important and achieve completely different things.

As an agency there is no way we can be across every internal step of the company and as an in-house person there is usually no way you can achieve what an agency can due to our size and depth of experience. But when we work together and both use our unique points of difference you strike gold.

Fantastic in-house people are usually meticulous with detail, planned, measured, have sensational systems and know the sensitivities of the brand inside out. Some of the best PR operators I have meet are amazing national in-house PR/marketing managers, whose detail and systems I will always admire – these are not the people I am referring to. The opposite end of the spectrum is the Gen Y junior marketing assistant, who with two years experience thinks she should really be the state marketing manager and sets out to make the agency’s job a challenge to achieve, just to prove who is really boss. If only they understood the difference in our roles and worked to the betterment of the brand.

  • Good to have a reminder like this when my company is thinking of bring in an external agency!

    It’s too easy for in-house PR to feel threatened by an agency coming in to handle the extra load – there can be the fear that management will prefer to outsource instead and in-house staff will get the axe.

    Also that you will lose control of the message and that the agency will win over
    management with a bloated, flashy presentation and campaign that doesn’t really suit the business in the simple goal of winning more customers.

    Both sides probably have horror stories about the agency/in-house relationship – I have a few from outsourcing in London but I agree they are no means the norm.

    It’s important to set pride aside in these situations and look to getting the best out of the agency and their experience in various sectors. If it works, they will make the company and the in-house team look great. And careful vetting of an agency before they are taken onboard can help to avoid some of those failed or inappropriate campaigns.

  • Fleur Madden-Topley

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your comments, its true…we both have different roles and perform in different ways and I have no doubt many in-house would have awesome stories about agency too. An experienced agency should be used to working with an in-house team and they should work in perfect harmony to achieve together …in a perfect world. We work with some amazing in-house people, but in my decade in the industry I can tell you this war does exist. To be honest, none of us should want to be the winner. To win, we should work together to achieve for the client.

  • ed

    What you’re actually saying is some people are good at their job and some people aren’t.

    The rest (the “war” and the implication in-house communications people lack creativity and depth of experience) is trolling. Effective though, as here I am commenting, so well done – must be your creativity and depth of experience…

    Some in-house PR and marketing people have something to prove and may let ego or insecurity get in the way of what’s best for the organisation. Others just get on with the job. Some agencies are excellent. Some are rubbish. Some rely on the in-house people to do all the work.

    • Fleur Madden-Topley

      Hi Ed,

      Not sure if you have taken the article as intended. It is not so much some people are good at their job and some aren’t, but more the differences in the two roles and the necessity for both roles to exist. We have a different skill set so it isn’t a competition, or shouldn’t be as we perform different functions.


  • InsideOut

    See below to understand the difference between Agency PR and In-House PR.

    • In PR agencies, practitioners work with more than one client at a time. This forces them to think of new, fresh ideas to keep ahead of the pack.
    • Agencies work at a faster pace. Their time is billed out specific to the retainer in which the client has signed off on, so the work can always be justified. Agency practitioners have excellent time management and are able to juggle multiple projects at one time.
    • Since agencies are constantly looking for new clients, there is always an opportunity to work on an exciting account or change your specialisation. If your account load seems a bit one sided, new clients can provide you with the opportunity to be exposed to new verticals and widen your knowledge base.
    • PR Practitioners who work in-house are more focused on overall strategy. Although agencies do provide recommendations on strategy, in-house practitioners are usually given the power to execute strategic decisions from beginning to end.
    • In-house practitioners will most often have a personal interest in the area the company is in. As they only look after one client, they are constantly faced with the same key messages and will quite quickly become in-tune with the brand.
    • In-house practitioners will be exposed to other aspects of the business that an outside agency may not be aware of. This enables them to come up with strategies for the brand that best suits the business based on a number of internal factors.

    – InsideOut PR