PR pros, do you prefer agency or in-house work?

A Sydney recruiter solicited opinions and insights from an array of industry professionals. Here’s what they offered.


As a PR agency recruiter in Sydney, I face a different challenge from that of many recruiters in the current economic climate: There is no shortage of jobs, but there is a definite shortage of great PR agency talent.

The million-dollar question that my clients ask me is, “Why?” In a job market that is often deemed to be suffering, shouldn’t people be standing in line for new roles at great agencies? Why is there not enough qualified talent to go around?

PR agencies struggle to identify, attract, and retain great talent in spite of competitive salary offerings, good benefits, and great brands. My own observations from speaking to many PR candidates are that a lot of great talent, especially senior talent, is moving in-house within corporate departments.

I found this intriguing, and I wanted to know more, so I asked clients and candidates alike, those moving from in-house to agency or vice versa, and those with strong opinions on either or both. Here are some opinions I’ve encountered:

  • The hours are too long.
  • There’s an undesirable culture at their organization.
  • They are spread too thin.
  • They don’t get credit for the work they’re doing as a team (the senior person gets the credit).
  • There’s not enough support from their manager.
  • They’re frustrated that their concerns are not heard.

Some feel they have just had enough—that all agencies are the same and their issues will persist at any agency they move to—so they opt to move in-house.

The thing I’ve found is that agencies in Sydney all have vastly different cultures, and this stereotype is not the case at all. I have met with people at agencies that have “non-burnout” policies in place, people-centric hiring ideals, career-path mapping, access to top-level management to mentor and guide them, and simply an open ear to staff concerns and a willingness to make changes to keep people’s roles interesting. These are the happiest candidates I’ve spoken to, and those agencies retain the most staff.

This raises the question: Which is the better choice for you, agency or in-house? To answer that, you must first identify the true motivation for leaving your current place of employment, and then examine all sides of both agency and in-house employment.

What to expect at an agency

In an agency, you will deal with a variety of clients and will probably work with a team of people to bounce ideas off. You’ll always be working on something new, and yes, you’ll be spinning a lot of plates at once.

You’re likely to have the opportunity to manage and mentor staff or teams as you progress. Hours vary and can be longer than an in-house schedule, but, again, it depends on the agency.

Base salaries are generally lower than in-house, but there is opportunity for uncapped bonuses through new business wins. Some people say that they don’t get to know clients as well as they would in-house; however, some agencies are so client-centric that it feels as though you’re working in-house for each client.

On the downside, there may be less stability in an agency if an account is lost. On the upside, positions open up and agency structure changes rapidly, which allows for quick career progression.

What to expect working in-house

In-house, you’re working on one client and learning it through and through, which some people like, whereas others miss the variety of agency. Some in-house companies do have multiple brands, which gives the feel of working for an agency.

Hours are generally more predictable and stable, and many in-house roles offer extended paid maternity leave. The team is usually quite small, perhaps just yourself or one other person, so ideas are likely to be more autonomously generated, and brainstorming with a team is not possible.

The pace of in-house is generally slower than that of agency work, which suits some better than others, depending on one’s personality.

Your base salary will probably be higher than in agency, but you won’t get bonuses from bringing in new business.

Which do you prefer?

Deborah Musolff is a PR and communications talent agent at Firebrand Talent Search in Sydney. This article originally appeared on the Firebrand Ideas Ignition blog.

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Topics: PR

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