It's a question almost every fast-growing company runs into: should we hire a PR firm or build an in-house team? And if you wrestle with this question long enough, it quickly spirals into an endless back-and-forth ("on the other hand…").
The truth is, depending on your specific goals, resources, and budget, one path may make more sense than the other. We've rounded up some helpful advice from PR pros at HubSpot to help you make the right call.
Let's dive into the key benefits and drawbacks of hiring an agency, explore how to make the right decision for your business, and cover five PR tasks you can manage in-house.
Reasons to Hire a PR Firm
1. You know what you want.
Hiring a firm without knowing what you want is like driving to a new destination without a map. Chances are, you'll get lost — quickly.
"Hiring a PR firm can be a significant investment, so before doing so, you need to be clear about your goals and what you're hoping to achieve through PR," advises Ellie Flanagan, Manager of Product & Corporate Communications at HubSpot.
Your goals are your compass. They influence your budget, timeline, and even the tactics you want to employ. Just as importantly, they give you a clear picture of what you need from an agency.
2. You're ready to "feed the PR machine."
PR is not a "set it and forget it" activity — even if you hire an agency to do the heavy lifting.
Mia MacKinnon, Head of Brand & Public Relations, APAC at HubSpot, echos this point, telling me, "If, as a founder or business leader, you don't have capacity to invest in supporting your agency or in-house lead with developing and approving narratives, supporting launches, prepping for media interactions and events and being available for speaking opportunities, it's going to be tough to see results."
She continues, "If an agency's drip-fed information, with little visibility of your business strategy and the challenges you're facing, they're going to have an incredibly tough time delivering results. You get out what you put in with public relations and my best agency partners have been ones where the team we've worked with have become an extension of our in-house team."
In other words, you play a huge role in setting up your agency for success. If you treat your agency like a true partnership, you're more likely to see great results.
3. You want to extend your media reach.
When you hire a PR firm, you not only access new ideas, perspectives, and expertise — you also work with people who have relationships with key contacts in the media. And when it comes to media outreach, you're only as strong as your relationships.
Flanagan adds, "Building relationships with reporters is a core component of successful PR. If you do decide to go the agency route, it's important that they have a day-to-day contact at your company that can bring them information and help them connect to internal stakeholders."
That said, your budget may get in the way here. If that's the case, fear not. Flanagan advises: "If you have a limited budget, hiring an in-house PR person to focus on relationship building can be a better investment. In-house teams also have better access to internal resources and spokespeople."
4. You need specialized knowledge.
They say all press is good press — but that's up for debate. Regardless, when a crisis situation comes a-knocking, most small businesses and start-ups are not equipped to handle it. Even negative feedback and disgruntled customers can impact a brand's reputation and image.
All this to say, if your business needs crisis communication — or any specialized PR knowledge — it's better to leave it to the pros. PR firms are more experienced and specially trained to handle (and prevent) these types of situations.
Now let's explore some red flags you should consider before moving to the next step.
Reasons Why You Might Not Need a PR Firm
1. Your in-house team is closer to the information.
Your in-house team only has one client: you. Meaning they can give their complete and undivided attention, whereas an agency has to spread its time across multiple clients.
As Flanagan tells me, "In-house teams also have better access to internal resources and spokespeople."
Whereas you need to educate an outside agency about the ins and outs of your business — and monitor their work for accuracy — your in-house team already has a strong grasp of internal company knowledge.
2. You haven't found a good fit with an agency.
When hiring an agency, never underestimate the importance of finding a good fit.
MacKinnon tells me, "There are many moving parts to finding the right agency — industry specialization, B2B versus consumer, agency size and how they structure their teams, how flexible an agency is, their model — are they pure media relations, or are they more integrated, and which of the two do you need?"
For small businesses that are new to the PR game, MacKinnon suggests looking for agencies that offer flexibility:
"Agencies who have a flexible model and can adapt to suit your businesses needs are often where smaller businesses find a great fit — until you have a set model of working, it's important that the agency can flex to align with you — this might be a big launch one month, and a quiet period the next, as you prepare for your next campaign."
Additionally, reputation is paramount in the PR world. Don't hesitate to ask around for recommendations from others.
MacKinnon explains, "Exceptional agencies tend to be known and talked about — ask for recommendations from businesses whose public relations campaigns you admire, from businesses in an industry similar to yours, or who face similar challenges when it comes to awareness, perception and trust."
3. You're looking for a quick fix.
PR isn't a "quick fix." The PR seeds you plant today need time to grow, especially considering the nature of public relations is all about building real relationships. As a result, the relationship you have with your agency should feel like a true partnership — not a short-term investment.
If all that sounds daunting, the agency route may not be the answer.
MacKinnon echos this, saying: "One of the biggest learnings I've had in my career working in-house, and something I share with my team, is that once you find your agency, you have a huge role to play in setting you both up for success, and that's to treat them like a true partner."
5 PR Tasks Your In-House Team Can Manage
1. Press releases.
In today's world, businesses have to generate their own buzz. Whether sharing a new product drop, an upcoming event, or changes in your organizational structure, a well-written press release can get the word out about your business. Check out this helpful guide on how to write a press release that stands out from the crowd.
2. Social media communications.
What people say about your business on social media can impact your overall reputation. Every in-house team should have their "ear to the ground" monitoring these conversations.
Social listening tools — like HubSpot's Social Media Management Software, Sprout Social, and Buffer — track mentions of your brand, relevant keywords, and direct feedback through hashtags and DMs. Additionally, many of these tools will allow you to respond to mentions on your social media accounts directly from the dashboard.
3. Blog writing.
Community outreach is a pillar of public relations. A great way to engage with an audience is through owned channels, like a company blog. When it comes to developing a well-rounded blogging strategy, your in-house team may need to divide and conquer — one person creates an editorial calendar, another person looks for guest contributors, while another person writes blog content.
4. Promotional emails.
Thanks to tools like HubSpot's Marketing Hub, Mailchimp, and Constant Contact, it's easier than ever to manage, design, and send emails to customers. However, in order to send emails, you first need people to send them to. Therefore, building a healthy email list — and making it easy to opt in — should be a long-standing focus for your in-house team.
5. Employee communications.
Employee communications, also known as internal communications, has quickly become a major focus in PR. After all, employees can be a company’s harshest critics or most passionate advocates.
Employee communications involve sharing info through various channels, like email or an internal forum. In-house PR teams can share company news, project updates, and more. When employees feel "in the loop," they're more engaged, connected, and empowered at work.
Back To You
Ultimately, no one knows your business — and its needs — better than you. If you're deciding whether to hire a PR firm or not, start with the advice in this article. And remember, as long as you factor PR in your business strategy to some capacity, you're already headed in the right direction.