Agency Vs. Corporate 101

By Merryn Ruthling 

Public relations is a broad industry, so it can be difficult to navigate which type of work to pursue. For example, PR professionals can work in an agency with multiple clients, or at a corporation where they will be responsible for that one company’s communication. There are pros and cons to consider for both, and each type might be a better fit for different kinds of people.

Here is a list of some differences to consider: 

Breadth vs. Depth

There is a beneficial analogy when trying to understand the difference between working at an agency versus at a corporation: corporate PR is like earning a Ph.D. in a single industry, while working at an agency is like earning a bachelor’s degree in multiple industries. At a corporation, professionals tend to become experts in one area, but at an agency, they know a little about a lot, depending on the types of clients.

Communicators at corporations become really familiar with the company’s leadership, services and audience. This can be an advantage because being a field expert saves time and research effort. On the other hand, working at an agency means working with multiple clients at a time and becoming familiar with communicating across industries. PR professionals at agencies tend to enjoy having a broad skill set and working with a varied portfolio of clients.  

Structure vs. Ambiguity 

Work at corporations is very structured, whereas agency work varies by the day. If someone prefers to know what to expect, corporate PR is probably a better choice because professionals are expected to work certain hours every day and generally follow the same process when working on projects. At agencies, projects differ greatly depending on the client, and every day means something new; so those looking for variety and flexibility may prefer the agency route.

Work Culture 

At a public relations agency, work will no doubt be fast-paced because working with multiple clients means multiple deadlines and demands to keep track of. While it can be stressful, the fast pace of agency life is more vibrant and typically more attractive to younger professionals. An agency office is typically more relaxed and not the traditional “nine to five” schedule. Although some choose to immediately start working in-house at a corporation, it is more common for professionals to begin at an agency and transition into a corporate career later should they want to pursue corporate PR. 

Moving Up

When considering where to work, professional upward mobility is absolutely something to consider. It is common in an agency for employees to get annual promotions, whereas promotions will happen every two to three years in corporate positions. However, promotions within corporate roles typically carry more weight and responsibility than promotions in entry-level positions in agencies.

Both agency and corporate PR come with unique benefits and challenges. Ultimately, it is up to individual professionals to decide which environment is best for them; both paths will provide valuable, professional experience.