Four Reasons Why Marketers Pull PR In-house
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Holmes Report
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Four Reasons Why Marketers Pull PR In-house

Holmes Report

It’s a stretch to say there’s a trend for hyper-growth companies to bring PR in-house. But it’s worth noticing that Twitter, Google, Trulia and Hulu have taken all -- or some -- of their comms function inside. Based on various conversations with in-house and agency folks, a few rationales generally drive companies to take public relations inside.  It’s valuable for agencies to pay attention, and hopefully, recalibrate their offerings against these forces. The point/counterpoint below reflects an aggregation of insight around these issues collected from various sources --- we welcome your input to continue the conversation. 1. “Don’t outsource core competency.”  Point: Twitter’s VP of marketing and communications Gabriel Stricker is among the vocal advocates for companies to retain core competency in-house. For instance, Stricker has maintained when it comes to a company’s watershed moments -- its IPO and other milestones -- communications is too important to outsource. And perhaps "milestone" communications shouldn’t be siphoned off into its own agency niche, and instead, hiring highly-skilled PR professionals should translate to having capabilities to deploy against major financial transactions, product launches and marketing campaigns. Counterpoint: While Stricker’s logic is sound, he comes from a fortunate position of having resources to invest in the right talent and expertise. The reality remains that many, many organizations cannot consistently retain deep expertise in-house. There’s certainly value in bringing on external counsel that have deep -- and varied -- experience in a particular market inflection point. 2. “Too much agency time is spent on reporting.” Point: Agency reporting is, no doubt, among the most time-consuming endeavors that eat up an account team’s time -- sometimes at the expense of executing on plans. Bringing this function in-house streamlines the process and allows a client to develop reports customized for its management team. Agencies (sometimes because of unclear instruction from clients) often feel compelled to include extraneous information in reports. Plus, in-house teams often have access to data that’s not offered to agencies. Counterpoint: Reporting is time-consuming and often relegated to the most junior-ranking team members. Not all internal teams have armies of account coordinators to take this on. Also, sophisticated measurement sometimes calls for expensive investments in tools and platforms that agencies can afford to make because of scale. Agencies often have finely tuned KPIs and knowledge on how to best evaluate certain performance metrics. 3. “I want to own the influencer relationships.”  Point: There’s an obvious risk in relying on an external agency to be the gatekeeper between an organization and its influencers. At the In2 Innovation Summit, Google Ventures partner Jodi Olson pointed out that new founders should manage their own PR early-on to develop key relationships that can eventually be supported by an agency. Counterpoint: If you whittle this down to relationship management, this is really a scale issue. At some point in a company’s growth trajectory, the sheer volume of inbound requests can be cumbersome to field without agency support. And good agencies know their value runs infinitely deeper than influencer relationships. 4. “I want to hire and train my own team, dedicated to my business.”  Point: Trulia’s Ken Shuman took his $20k to $25k agency budget and made three internal hires, specifying each person’s background and ensuring he would get 160 hours out of each person, each month. He was also able to invest in statistical training for team members. Counterpoint: The most obvious risk here is the worn “drinking the Kool-Aid” metaphor that in-house teams, over time, become homogenized by their corporate culture. And good agencies challenge clients in a way that internal staff are unwilling to do. Also, assembling a dedicated internal team isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive to retaining a firm. And ultimately, talent churn can happen anywhere and agencies do generally go to great lengths to incentivize and retain star players. It's worth noting that agencies bring the benefit of working with multiple clients across various industries, so often have much more in terms of creativity, ideas and insight. Photo credit: TechGenStaffer on Flickr
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