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The age-old debate: Agency or corporate PR?

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Yesterday, I made one of many trips to Winona (my alma mater) to speak to kids as part of my responsibilities on the WSU Alumni Board. As part of yesterday’s trip, I spoke to a few different classes–one of which wanted to hear more about life on the agency side vs. life on the client side.

It’s the age-old question, isn’t it?

Which is better? Which has more upside? Which is more fast-paced? Which is better for me?

WSU Class

These are the questions most students have–but truth be told, many people who have been in the industry for YEARS still have the same questions if they haven’t worked on the other side.

So, I thought today we’d talk about what I talked about yesterday with the kids at WSU–the differences between the agency side vs. the corporate side. And the pros and cons of each.

From my viewpoint (I’ve worked on both sides), I see a few fundamental issues and differences–I’m curious what you think:

Assets vs. Expenditures

One of the biggest differences in the two environments has to do with the way the business views you. On the agency side, as a PR counselor, you bring in money to the agency/organization. You are a revenue generator. That’s a big plus. On the corporate side, you are an expenditure. In other words, you cost the company money. You are, in effect, support staff. Now, we could debate the merits of that analysis all day, but that’s the way I see it. And, to some extent, it affects the way you’re “treated” on either side. Again, just my two cents.

Structure vs. Ambiguity

Bigger corporations are built with red tape. Processes and structure, if you will. It just comes with the territory. Like I tell people, if you don’t like structure or processes, the client side is not for you. On the other hand, if you don’t like ambiguity, the agency side may not be your bag either. Not knowing what each day or week may bring is a hallmark of agency work. You just have little to no control of your day due to client demands and an ever-changing environment. Both attract certain kinds of people–the trick is figuring out which kind of person you are.

Ideas vs. project management

This viewpoint probably isn’t fair–and it’s definitely more of a generalization, but agency people get paid for ideas. When you’re the consultant, you get paid to think the big thoughts. To come up with campaigns. To brainstorm. To think. On the client side, again, there’s more process. And, if you’re working with an agency, you’re most likely managing that agency. And, you’re managing your own team. And you’re managing internal projects. In many ways, it’s a project management role–they just don’t call it that. Again, not everyone’s going to agree with me on this one–but that’s kinda the way I see it. I’m not saying the corporate folks don’t think about big ideas (they certainly do). I’m not saying they can’t think strategically (often, this is a big part of their jobs, too). But, I do notice more PM work in their roles compared with agency folks.

One client vs. many clients

Another huge differentiator here. You work on the client side–you typically have one client: Your company. One set of rules. One set of bosses. One set of challenges and opportunities. You work on the agency side, and you might have 4-5 different clients at any given point. That’s 4-5 different sets of rules. 4-5 different bosses. 4-5 different challenges and opportunities. That requires a whole new way of managing your time and your day. And it’s not for everyone. Again, to be clear, I’m not saying agency people are more productive, or that they can handle more than corporate folks. But they definitely juggle a whole ‘nother level of demands than their client-side brethren.

OK, so those are my takes. What about you? If you’ve worked on either/both sides of the fence, what are you thoughts? What are the pros and cons to the agency vs. corporate debate?

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The age-old debate: Agency or corporate PR?

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