OPINION PIECE | PR: agency, in-house, consultant. Is it time to shake up the existing agency model?

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Agency, in-house or consultant? Every organisation with decent PR needs will come across this very crucial question at some point.

There’s been a trend for years of big and even small business partnering with sizeable PR agencies. Big portfolios, big networks, big plans, big promises.

Of course, the names of past clients and exposure forecasts can be alluring. But I’ve found, from personal experience and through friends working with agencies, that unless you’re one of the largest clients - you can often fall through the cracks.

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to getting PR bang for your buck. And globally, companies across all industries are starting to realise it.

So, say hello to the new trend on the PR block - the consultant. 

There’s a shift of organisations abandoning agencies for specialised consultants - and there’s many good reasons why.

Consultants are cheaper.

Did I mention overheads? Big overheads? When you engage an agency for your PR needs - you’re also engaging their significant bills. You end up not only paying for public relations services, but the day-to-day running of the business - which varies greatly depending on size, staff numbers, location, real estate fees, discretionary costs… you get the picture.

Consultants don’t have high overheads - which means every media dollar you spend goes directly to the public relations activity you paid for. It’s not split to cover the ongoing maintenance of a company… or their daily coffees.

Consultants are personal.

When you hire a consultant, you’re hiring a one-on-one. A personal touch. A close working relationship. In fact, you end up hiring the person just as much as the service. And that relationship is invaluable when it comes to the nuances and day-to-day workings of PR.

Consultants spend time tailor-making and tailor-pitching your public relations activities - it’s not a one-size-fits-all carbon copy. They personally buy-in to your business, your goals, and make unique recommendations on where you’ll secure the most coverage. Because of the very nature of a consultants work, it can never be a cut-and-paste approach.

The best part? They personally pitch. They have created extremely close, one-on-one connections with the media - because their jobs literally depend on it. That gives your stories an edge like no other.

Consultants make the calls.

Literally and figuratively. I’ll never forget the story of a close friend who took up work experience in a public relations firm at the age of 21, after university. His role? Not only sending press releases, but making follow-up media calls, chasing client pitches. 

I have all respect for agencies and internships. But would you trust your hard-earned investment to a firm that invests their personal follow-up of your story with the media to an inexperienced, unpaid intern? I wouldn’t. 

With an agency, you never know who is really being entrusted with your work. I’m not saying it’s common, but if this type of practice still exists - it costs the agency nothing with free labor, but it could cost the client reputational damage and lost media exposure. It’s worth being aware.

Let’s be frank. A consultant’s literal living depends on the services they deliver for you. For that reason alone - they are remarkably driven, genuinely caring, and ever-relentless to secure all the coverage they can. 

Whether we like it or not, a new era is emerging in public relations globally. We’re at the helm of seeing organisations break away from working with agencies and extensive overheads, to partnering personally with individual specialists to achieve specific, tailored, stand-out media outcomes.

Is it time for you to jump ship?

This opinion piece was authored by Katie Clift. Katie is an International PR consultant, journalist and broadcaster living and working in Athens, Greece. Follow her adventures at twitter.com/katieclift, @katieclift on Instagram or at katieclift.com. 

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Katie Clift