One query I hear frequently from prospects is should they be working with an PR company or a freelance public relations consultant.
I’ve been on all sides of this one – I’ve headed up agencies, I’ve been the client recruiting in the external resource and I’ve also worked as a freelancer.
There are pros and cons to both approached, many of which depend on your circumstances. Here's my overview on what makes PR agencies and PR freelancers different ...and what they do that's the same.
So, first of all, what’s the difference?
A freelance PR sells services related to public relations by the hour, day, month or project, rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer. Consultants can differ from one to the next in their level of experience and what the sectors they cover. Some specialise in specific industries, others in types of communications B2B, B2C, corporate or financial comms and others can do all or a mix of these.
A PR agency is an organisation or company that provides services via a range of staff at differing levels of experience. Typically, an agency is based on a hierarchical structure and so staff members will fulfil specific roles for each project while following established processes under a clear chain of command. While this generally means higher overhead and a higher cost, it also equates to a broader array of services and on-demand availability.
So, what’s the same?
Both will provide you with strategic counsel on how best to promote a company or individuals via earned media coverage – generating positive stories that appear via websites, newspapers, blogs, video platforms, magazines and TV programmes and social media. Their job is to protect, enhance or build your brand reputation through the media. Here’s my take on the pros and cons of each:
Freelance PR consultant
Cost effective – less overheads so usually much cheaper day rates and project fees than agencies
Big fish in a small pond – you will be hugely important to their business
Care more – their personal reputation is on the line, so results matter
What you see is what you get – the person you bought into will be the person working on your business
Project support – more likely than agencies to pick up project work
In-house presence – more likely to be willing to come and spend the day working with you at your location
Specialist – many freelancers tend to specialise in a particular sector or industry
Bust a gut - constantly have to prove themselves and earn their day rate every single day; so more often than not they bust a gut to deliver you results beyond your expectations.
Limited availability – just one person so there isn’t a team to support in holidays or sick periods
Time to completion – could take longer than an agency as less resource
Jack of all trades – the rate you pay will cover junior as well as senior level tasks
Cost – day rate can be more expensive than hiring someone internally but you don’t have the additional costs or overheads
Big team – you get more than one person working on your business
Hit the ground running – can get up to speed quicker due to resources at their disposal
Access to insights / research – tend to have specialist software that allows them to access more info about your market / competitors
More specialists – can have a specialist division that deals in your industry
Quicker turnaround – can deliver reactive pieces more quickly
Broader range of experience – due to the numbers of people they employ
Cost – overheads are built into you fee, so they cost more
Small fish in a big pond – there will be a pecking order of clients, those that pay more sit at the top
Junior people do the work – people will be learning their trade on your account
Less senior visibility - the directors you buy at pitch stage don’t do the hands-on day to day work
Starting fee – most agencies won’t touch anything outside of £2,000 a month
Variable quality – as many people working on your account
Which is best?
Most of the time which is best depends on the company involved, its ambitions, internal set up, life stage and how they like to work with third parties.
The outline above should give you some indication of which will work for your business right now. If you’re still unsure, then set up meetings with 2-3 freelancers and 2-3 agencies. You’ll soon get a feel for which type of outfit will work for you and the differences between them.
This may seem like a big time investment but PR is a people business, it’s about relationships, it’s about contacts, its about cultural fit and it’s about how creative the individual or team of individuals are. You’ll only get a real feel for this by seeing the whites of people’s eyes.
Long term, public relations is an investment in your brand and the visibility of your organisation, you need the right person or people at the helm.
Good luck with your search.