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Movin' on Over in PR -- From Agency to Corporate

Movin' on Over in PR -- From Agency to Corporate

Kelly Shermach, Monster Contributing Writer

Perry Schwartz spent the first seven years of his career at large, multinational agencies. Then, he moved to the client side, joining the Canadian rewards program, Air Miles, as PR manager. There, he has developed a strong understanding of consumer-focused PR, including what is and what is not relevant when promoting a client that calls “the public” its customer base.

As diverse as the public relations (PR) field has become, many professionals still begin their careers as generalists with large agencies. In time, however, many switch to the client side of the business.

“My learning curve had slowed down the last six to 12 months in the consumer practice at agency,” explains Schwartz. “My move to the Air Miles program provided me with the chance to work on a consumer-oriented business but also gain an education in corporate, financial and government PR.”

Why Start with an Agency?

Access and participation on multiple agency accounts absolutely benefits entry-level PR professionals, says Jesse Danzig, a senior account executive with New York’s Cubitt Jacobs & Prosek (CJP) Communications. Agency-side professionals have more opportunities to learn industries, market segments, and media channels, he says.

But entry-level professionals aren’t the only ones who benefit from agency work. Danzig sees the opportunity to work on multiple accounts as an advantage to him and the client. “Working on a variety of clients helps give a more comprehensive view of how various industries relate and interact.” he says.

Taking the Basics into Big Business

Still, some make the jump.

When Rebecca Hirsch, senior communications consultant at Allstate Insurance in Northbrook, Illinois, was laid off by an agency because her account defected, she sought PR work inside a corporation. “The work at Allstate was appealing, because I’d get to know one client well and from the inside,” she says.

According to Schwartz, “in-house, you see the fruits of your labor and the impact your work has on the business much more clearly than at an agency, where you are removed significantly from the day-to-day operations of the business. Agencies, despite what many may say, are mostly the execution arm of a company’s PR department — the doers. On the corporate side, my job is to develop strategies and work with internal stakeholders and business partners to strengthen our collective business objectives.”

Danzig disagrees that agencies are tactical in their approach and that in-house PR people are strategic. “If we aren’t part of the strategy discussions with our clients, we don’t provide a differentiated service,” he says. “The clients we have the most successful relationships with are those that see us as a strategic partner.”

What Goes Out, What Stays In

Despite the alleged differences, many executives say agency and client-side work has more in common than in contention. Working on the client side or at an agency requires organizational, people and time-management skills. And while specialized services like crisis management and media relations are often pushed to an agency partner, many say the best results come when the two sides work together.

“I really believe that an agency is most successful when considered an extension of the internal marketing team and not a vendor to outsource particular services to,” says Danzig.

Don’t Rush It

If you’re leveraging skills honed at an agency to move to the client side, when should you make the break?

Be patient, say PR professionals. Make sure you have the necessary skills under your belt. And wherever you are, continue to strive to learn.

In a nod to her agency experience, Hirsch has worked to recreate the broad-based education she received on the agency side by engaging mentors in different divisions within Allstate. “Some people at Allstate have been here longer than I’ve been alive,” she says. “I have mentors all over the company — in distribution, planning, claims and legal.”

“I’m happy that I made the transition,” she continues, “I wouldn’t rule out going back to an agency, but there’s a value to learning a different perspective.”

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