Before understanding what in-house public relations is, and the pros and cons of agency vs. in-house public relations, it's important to know what public relations itself is. Public relations (PR) is the process of influencing and persuading various members of a business's public, including shareholders, customers and potential customers, to view your business in a positive light by showcasing its beliefs, strategies, activities and accomplishments. PR can be done in-house, which means by company employees, or by hiring PR agencies.
In-house public relations is a team or department that runs the company's PR and functions as part of the organization. The alternative is to hire a PR agency which is independent.
Understanding Today's PR Definition
Years ago, PR typically involved press agents generating publicity for a business. While PR still involves generating publicity, it has evolved to include developing pointed strategies to influence how the business is perceived and devising a variety of ways to form and reinforce these perceptions.
Some of the methods PR professionals use include:
Corporate communications: to employees, customers, shareholders or the media, including crisis communications when needed to mitigate damage from disasters i.e. oil company spills, restaurant food poisoning, a defective product.
Media relations: developing positive relationships with members of media by answering their questions, establishing a desired perception, countering misinformation and protecting the business's reputation.
Social media: reaching members of a business's public who regularly use social media by establishing and frequently updating the company's presence on various platforms i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Creating content: producing materials that establish and support public perceptions, and ensuring that materials produced by marketing and communications staff are consistent with the business's PR message.
Writing speeches and quotes: making sure executives' words align with the company's desired messages – whether the CEO or a VP is asked to speak to a group or it is necessary to clarify the company's stance or reasons for specific actions.
Holding events: generating excitement and news by inviting members of the business's public to see, hear or even celebrate company news or activities – to unveil a new product, a meet-and-greet with the CEO, book signings.
Handling PR In-House
Handling PR in-house means having people on your staff who take care of your PR activities. PR is a full-time job — often involving overtime — for at least one person and preferably several. To manage all the necessary PR functions well, you need to hire someone who has:
- Excellent writing and editing skills for all types of materials.
- Tact and diplomacy to work with different types of personalities and handle difficult or sensitive situations.
- The ability to plan events and keep track of the details.
- Knowledge of social media platforms and the comfort to use them regularly.
Ideally, you can hire several people with different expertise. For example, one could have experience with many of the PR functions, while the other writes and promotes the company's blog and monitors, posts and responds to posts on various social media platforms.
Hiring PR Agencies
An alternative to having PR employees on staff is to hire a PR agency instead. These are companies that specialize in all aspects of public relations. They have the employees on their staff with the necessary skills to write whatever you need, plan and execute events and — perhaps most importantly — advise you on which PR activities to do and when.
There are pros and cons to hiring a PR agency vs. in-house staff:
- Cost: PR agencies can be expensive, but they have the expert employees on staff so you don't have to.
- Management: You may need to meet and talk with your PR agency's rep frequently, but you won't need to manage the PR staff as you would if they are in-house.
- Advice: PR agencies will advise you of the steps you need to take to achieve your goals; to have this expertise in-house, you'd need to hire a very senior PR pro and would still have just one person's opinion and experiences.
Some small- or medium-sized businesses opt to have someone in-house who can write press releases, talking points, handouts and speeches and do some of the basic PR, while hiring a PR agency to advise them on their overall PR campaign, plan and execute events and handle sensitive issues or disasters. This way, the company saves money on the work they can do well in-house.