Hiring a PR agency vs. keeping it in-house: what’s the best option?

Public Relations
Hiring a PR agency vs. keeping it in-house: what’s the best option?

Here’s a dilemma every fast-growing company faces at some point: should we hire a PR agency or should we build an in-house PR team? If you landed on this page, you’re probably in charge of making that exact decision. We can help you to make an informed decision. 

We sat down with seasoned PR pros on both ends of the spectrum to break down the benefits of each option. On one hand, we spoke with Karlijn Marchildon, PR and communications director of VanMoof. VanMoof is the world’s fastest-growing e-bike company, and their PR campaigns have been an example to many lifestyle brands all over the globe. Karlijn shares insights on why they kept their PR team in-house. 

For a different perspective, we sat down with Matias Rodsevich, founder of the Amsterdam and Stockholm based integrated PR agency, PR Lab. Matias and his team work exclusively with fast-growing scale-ups, and he explains why Europe’s most exciting startups and scale-ups choose to work with PR agencies. 

Ultimately, choosing what aligns most with your goals is the right decision. Here is what you need to consider when it comes to choosing to outsource PR vs. keep it in-house:

Benefits of hiring a PR agency

If you’re looking to scale your PR efforts across many markets, hiring an agency might be a wise choice. Matias Rodsevich, who advises Europe’s fastest-growing tech startups and scale-ups, explains the advantages of outsourcing your PR:

Expertise

When you hire an agency, you are counting on a talented, specialized, and dedicated group of professionals to build and execute your PR strategy. With this, you gain access to more senior experts that have accumulated experience in different industries by working with a variety of clients. In-house PR professionals, on the other hand, are less likely to have the same breadth of experience, as they tend to represent just one brand. 

Karlijn Marchildon explains that this argument is relative. In her experience, the first months of working with an agency are commonly known as the honeymoon phase, where you get access to top talent at agencies. After a couple of weeks, your account is assigned to more junior staff or interns. This basically means you end up working with people that have the same level of expertise that you might be able to afford to hire in-house. In her opinion, investing in your own team can prove to be beneficial in the long run. 

Another benefit of hiring an agency is relying on an arsenal of highly ambitious and specialized individuals with a wider range of skill sets such as copywriting, graphic design, SEO, video production, etc. According to Matias, “hiring an agency saves you time. You can achieve results way faster than if you have an in-house person that you need to train or undergo an onboarding process with.” 

However, you must be warned that hiring an agency is not an all-in-one solution to all of your PR problems. You should think of it more as an alliance, a partnership, or a collaboration. Matias explains:

“It's not realistic to think that the agency can do everything on their own. The ideal scenario is to have someone who will be your in-house representative and mediator to the agency. This person will not only facilitate files for press kits, for example, but they will also provide feedback and insight to make sure business goals are being met.” 

The PR agencies you hire will do the legwork, but you can’t expect them to do everything. Your team’s knowledge is crucial. Parry Headrick from Crackle PR explains: 

“Don’t hire a PR agency if you can’t (or won’t) devote internal resources to the effort. Do hire a PR agency when your executive team prioritizes comms as a key business driver. Hiring a PR “vendor” is a recipe for mediocrity. Hiring a PR partner is where the magic happens”

 

Manpower and access to tools

Outsourcing your PR means leveraging the strength of not one, not two, but a handful of talented professionals. Essentially, this allows you to delegate tasks and explore new ways of connecting through PR, without having to hire new employees. 

This factor is especially important if you’re a scale-up looking to expand beyond borders into other markets. “People sometimes think that they can handle doing PR themselves. But PR is a job in itself.”, says Matias. That’s when agencies step in to help organizations reach new markets. “Between translations, localization of news, and finding the right media contacts, it’s virtually impossible for a single person to take on that role. It’s not because they lack the skills, it’s because they lack the manpower.”

When you hire an agency, you also get access to PR tools like media monitoring services and online newsrooms. Sometimes agencies offer free access to these tools since they are used by multiple clients. Other times, they come at a fraction of the price. 

PR opportunities

Chances are that, to a PR agency, you won’t be the sole client. Sharing an external PR team with other brands means you have a higher chance of connecting with a broader network. In this case, your agency serves as an ally, a connector that can help you find new partnerships, possible investors, and new business opportunities amongst the people they already know. 

With this exposure to a wider network, come more PR opportunities. Therefore, finding a proactive PR agency is key. Many agencies still work the old-fashioned way, which means they wait for their client to bring them news to pitch to the media. They wait for news to happen. According to Matias, “proactive PR agencies understand that most of the time, you won’t have any newsworthy stories to tell. But that does not mean you cannot do PR. It only means that the agency has to get creative with angles, ideas, and strategies to make these stories valuable to journalists. Proactive PR agencies make the news happen.“

Benefits of building an in-house PR team

“If someone came to me for advice, I wouldn't even hesitate for one second — building an in-house PR team is the way to go”, says Karlijn Marchildon. Here are the advantages of building an in-house PR team:

Budget

One of the most determining factors when it comes to choosing an agency vs. building an in-house PR team, or making any decision in a company for that matter, is budget. According to research conducted by Hubspot, agency costs can range anywhere between $100-500 per hour per person on the team, depending on the seniority of each team member. Matias points out this price is based on the U.S. market. For startups and scale-ups in the E.U., companies are looking at a starting price of €5k a month. Prices will vary depending on the region and market. 

The majority of startups and scale-ups count on a limited budget. Paying high prices to have top talent manage your PR is not an option for many. That’s why building your own team and betting on results in the long run, is an investment. Karlijn shares that the organizational culture at VanMoof allows them to attract brilliant talent to the team. They’ve built their international team by pre-selecting PR specialists with specific experience and a network of press contacts in their countries. Then they focus on nurturing them to become confident and experienced enough to lead the PR efforts for their market. 

Want to get your company seen without spending an arm and a leg? Here's what you need to know. 

 

Proximity and speed 

Keeping PR in-house means having a dedicated team, to which you are the sole client, located in the cubicle next to you or on the floor below. This proximity, not only in the physical sense but figuratively as well, allows your actions to be quicker. Karlijn believes this proximity allows her team to jump on PR opportunities as soon as they arise, which doesn’t happen as quickly when working with an agency. She explains:

“In 2020, we released our first-ever TV ad for the launch of our new smart e-bikes, the VanMoof S3 & X3. In the ad, scenes of traffic jams, crashes, and pollution are reflected on the surface of a car. We immediately received a notice that France’s regulatory authority had banned the commercial, claiming it created a ‘climate of anxiety’. We learned internally that the French Ad Authority pulled the ad from TV. Once our PR specialist from France heard the news, he knew there was a PR opportunity. 

 

"After a 5 minute conversation, we immediately agreed we would use this ban as an opportunity to show what VanMoof stands for: questioning the status quo of mobility. That’s when we started pitching this as a story to news outlets. Having an in-house team, for virtually everything we do at VanMoof, allowed this decision to be made quicker. As opposed to working with an agency, where you have to always bridge that gap.” 

 

Culture fit 

Karlijn shares that VanMoof has an unconventional approach to how things are done. “We do everything from concept design, production, distribution, sales, etc. We’re a brand with a habit of first wanting to do it ourselves. And if we really can't, then we get an external partner involved.” To VanMoof, and many other companies that follow the same approach, hiring an external agency doesn’t guarantee that your story, your purpose, and your values will be told the same way. Naturally, a full-time internal employee is much more invested in a company’s story than an external employee. In this sense, it becomes more difficult for external communications professionals to get a grasp of a company’s day-to-day culture and values. No one knows your market, your product, and understands your people better than you. Investing in a team of PR pros can guarantee your ideas won’t get lost in translation because they are born from within the team.

Summary

To be or not to be, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to figuring out which option works best for you. If you have the employer brand and culture to attract amazing talent, an in-house PR strategy might be the way to go. If you’re growing fast and trying to minimize overhead, a PR agency could be a wise choice. Whichever road you wish to take, you must consider what results you want to achieve, and which of the two strategies suit your organization best. 

Regardless of whether you decide to keep your PR in-house or you hire an agency, remember that PR success takes time. Results don’t occur overnight — the PR seeds you plant today need time to grow, especially because public relations is all about building authentic and human relationships. Remember, PR shouldn’t be a short-term investment. You have to be in it for the long haul. 

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Ana writes for pr.co's blog as a junior marketer. Connect on LinkedIn or send an email

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