Should You Pay a PR Firm? [+PR Tactics You Can Manage In-House]

Should You Hire a PR Firm or Keep It In-House? A Decision Guide for 2024

The question of whether to hire an outside public relations agency or build an in-house PR team is one that many growing companies struggle with. As a business scales, its needs for building brand awareness, earning media coverage, launching new products, and managing its reputation in the market expand as well. At a certain inflection point, the do-it-yourself model no longer suffices.

But knowing when your company has reached that critical stage and whether outsourcing to an agency or expanding your internal team is the right move is easier said than done. While there‘s no one-size-fits-all answer, evaluating a few key factors can help guide you to the optimal solution for your business.

Goals and Needs

The first step is getting clarity on your company‘s near-term and long-term PR objectives. What exactly are you looking to achieve? Common goals include:

  • Securing placements in top-tier business and industry trade publications to build credibility
  • Increasing overall brand awareness and familiarity with target audiences
  • Generating buzz and excitement around new product launches or company milestones
  • Attracting more inbound web traffic and leads via earned media
  • Improving or recovering your reputation and navigating sensitive situations

Are your needs more project-based, such as supporting a major upcoming launch? Or are you looking for ongoing PR support to consistently land media placements? An agency can be ideal for specialized or overflow needs, while an in-house team makes sense if PR will be an ongoing, core business function.

Budget Considerations

Of course, your available budget is a major deciding factor. Agencies command substantial retainers, often in the $10K-$30K per month range for a mid-sized firm. For larger, global agencies, monthly retainers can hit $50K or more.

In contrast, the average salary for a PR manager in the US is around $65K. So for the cost of an agency retainer, you could potentially bring one or two full-time employees in-house. The main budgetary advantage of hiring in-house is that you are paying for 100% of someone‘s time rather than getting a small slice of senior agency leaders‘ time combined with a larger portion of junior staff‘s time.

However, even if you opt for an agency, you‘ll still need at least one in-house person to act as the day-to-day contact, provide information, and secure approvals and stakeholder participation. Working with an agency is not a fully outsourced arrangement.

Existing Resources and Bandwidth

Taking stock of your current staffing and available internal bandwidth is also important. Do you already have a marketing generalist or two who could absorb some PR responsibilities, with training? Or is your team fully tapped out?

Certain PR tasks are well-suited for in-house ownership even if you use an agency – things like drafting press releases, writing blog content, running your social media accounts, etc. But in order to "feed the beast" with a steady stream of company news, product updates, data insights, and thought leadership topics, your in-house team needs capacity to package up those raw materials into pitch-ready formats.

In addition to marketing support, you‘ll need designated spokespeople who can be available for media opportunities. Leveraging internal subject matter experts is one of the big advantages of having PR in-house – an outside agency will need much more time to get those executives trained and comfortable with talking to the press.

Agency Knowledge and Relationships

The primary benefit of partnering with an agency is being able to leverage their deep media relationships, specialized knowledge, and experience across a wide range of PR scenarios. For companies venturing into uncharted waters like high-stakes product launches or crisis situations, having an experienced guide is invaluable.

Agencies have teams of people pitching media contacts all day long. They know which reporters cover which beats, their pet interests, and how to pique their curiosity. In-house teams can certainly develop those relationships over time, but they won‘t have the sheer breadth.

Agencies also have broad expertise across industries and PR specialties. They‘ve handled challenging situations – from product recalls to executive scandals – and can bring that hard-earned wisdom to bear for your brand.

Making the Right Choice for Your Business

As with most major business decisions, there are pros and cons to weigh on each side. If your company is just beginning to invest in PR in earnest, an agency can be a great choice. They‘ll ensure you get the most mileage out of your news and build a strong foundation of relationships and results that an in-house team can later build upon.

On the flip side, if you anticipate a steady cadence of company milestones, product news, and thought leadership, building a core in-house team – even if later supplemented by an agency – is a wise move. Having people who are 100% dedicated to your business, steeped in your messaging, and always available is incredibly valuable.

Other tips to keep in mind as you navigate this choice:

Be a good partner. If you go the agency route, treat them as a true extension of your team. Share information freely, respond promptly, and empower them to run with initiatives.

Invest for the long haul. PR is not a quick fix – it often takes several months before efforts begin to bear fruit. Think of it as a long-term investment in building awareness, affinity, and credibility with your audience.

Keep some tasks in-house. Even if you hire an agency, you‘ll want to maintain ownership of some PR responsibilities – things like content development, social media, and employee/customer communications are great candidates.

Prioritize fit. If you decide to take the plunge with an agency, be sure to check references, ask for relevant case studies, and confirm they have experience in your industry. Fit is everything – if your working styles don‘t mesh, the relationship is doomed.

Whether you build in-house or partner with an agency, every company reaches a stage where it needs to get serious about PR. By methodically evaluating your near- and long-term goals, budget realities, internal bandwidth, and access to specialized expertise, you can arrive at the right mix for your business. Like any major investment, it‘s not a choice to make lightly – but with proper due diligence, you can set your brand up for PR success.