PR agency vs in-house comms: Do brands need some perspective?

PR agency vs in-house comms

You could be a leading PR agency in Manchester, London, or another major city-player in the media game, with a stellar track record packed with public relations awards and top campaign results. Even then, the biggest battle is often proving why companies should outsource their comms.

Of course there are some fine examples of brands bringing theirs in-house, but PR and marketing are frequently thankless tasks. Do the job well, and people won’t even notice the work that has taken place in order to get them thinking about a specific product or service. It’s only when things go bad that the world starts considering who was responsible for what has happened.

Every Friday Smoking Gun’s Blagger’s Blog rounds up the best and worst news from the media, digital, marketing, and PR agency landscape, and more often than not our Weekly Low revolves around some poorly thought out campaign, advert, packaging or stunt.

Last year we included Pepsi’s horrendously misjudged Kendall Jenner commercial, which seemed to suggest that Black Lives Matter protests and racial tensions in the U.S. could be somehow eased with a can of The Other Cola. Naturally, people were really not best pleased, and that’s putting it mildly.

In the wake of this happening, PR agency after PR agency in Manchester and beyond, alongside freelancers and consultants, spoke out about the pitfalls of using in-house for anything comms related.

Here’s what Suzanne Pope, a freelance copywriter based in Toronto, wrote on her blog, as quoted by DigidayUK:

“The Pepsi debacle illustrates the dangers of in-house agencies… …Yes, you have people who are capable of doing the work. But they aren’t capable of telling you you’re about to make a horrible mistake.”

Jason Musante, global executive director at Huge, is also included in the article. He considers this to be a ‘reality bubble’ issue, whereby those on the company’s own payroll are blinded by the false belief that company, and all that it does, is correct.

The person, or PR agency, who previously had an all-important role of calling a spade a spade, and a terrible idea a terrible idea, is no longer there. Everyone works for the same company, and therefore has the same culture and practices.

PR agency vs in-house comms

The Kendall Jenner debacle was also referenced in this Econsultancy article weighing up the pros and cons of in-house against other PR agency models. Brands looking after their own benefit from total integration, although this is easier said than done, and the fact they will own the talent responsible for the work.

By comparison, one of the biggest cons comes from ‘insular thinking’; the inability to look beyond the office and take into consideration external voices and opinions.

Of course, completely external comms solutions aren’t always the only way to go. In his blog post of Tuesday 6th March 2018, Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief at PRWeek UK, explained how his Power Book— an annual list of the top 1% of corporate affairs chiefs, brand communicators, and specialist consultants— is around 1/2 full of ‘client-side’ professionals.

He goes on to say that 81% of FTSE 100 Companies employ a group corporate comms or affairs director. This is understandable when you consider how many major reputations are currently in crisis, or have been subject to serious wildfires in recent times. When public trust is so low, and suspicions of wrongdoings so high, any organisation would feel safer with a comms expert on side.

Perhaps what’s different about the Power Book alumni, though, is that these are considered to be hugely influential at what they do. These are the people that other people listen to and take on board what they are saying, rather than simply hearing them and then choosing to press on with adverts for soft drinks that can make the world a better place, in an age when we all know how poor the odds are looking in terms of the world managing to sort itself out.

Perhaps the argument of in-house vs PR agency really comes down to one thing, then; for in-house it’s about recruiting the right people who have the clout and strength of character to stand up and contest decisions they know are wrong, and will eventually backfire. But as a celebrated comms and award-winning PR agency we know the difficulty in tracking down these rare gems— and just how hard firms like us fight to keep them on this side of the divide.

Speak to the Smoking Gun team