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An Uncommon Career Path: Moving from In-house PR to an Agency

The typical public relations career advice usually goes something like this: cut your teeth at a fast-paced agency, get experience working for diverse clients and exposure to a variety of tactics, and then make the switch to in-house communications later in your career.

Because landing an in-house job is considered by many to be the holy grail of PR employment, there aren’t too many people doing it the other way around. But the truth is that many agencies would benefit tremendously from hiring in-house PR pros despite their lack of experience as consultants.

Having worked for a university communications department, here’s why I think starting in house can prepare you for a successful agency career.

Being immersed in an organization helps you align communications strategies with defined business goals. By understanding a company’s mission, you can develop campaigns in the context of the overall brand and messaging rather than just focusing on the assigned task. As a consultant, that will translate into thinking about a client’s long-term objectives and how PR contributes to the overall success of the organization. Seeing public relations through the prism of a company’s business strategy gives you a vested interest in its success and leads to solutions that directly advance the client’s vision.

The pressure of counseling senior management keeps you on your toes and forces you to anticipate needs and proactively make recommendations. Similar to building trust with clients, you have to earn the respect of organizational leaders and establish your credibility. That means honing your persuasive skills, being prepared to take fire and knowing the personalities in the room. The result is the ability to influence corporate communications strategy, which is invaluable to an agency.

Dealing with internal departments prepares you to deal with difficult clients. Over the past few years at the university, we’ve been slowly moving from a service department to an in-house agency model. Unlike external consultants, who are often respected simply because they are paid to come in from the outside, it can be challenging to get internal clients to understand what we do. We’ve worked long and hard to shift our role from reactive to consultative. It’s a challenge that many in-house communicators face as they try to provide smart, strategic counsel instead of just fulfilling requests. But for those who have been able to make the hard sell, the transition to client management should be a natural one.

Finally, planning and executing campaigns from start to finish helps you understand the full scope of public relations. Running the show means doing a little bit of everything. On any given day, my responsibilities might include media relations, social media, writing, editing, video production, employee communications, marketing and advertising. I even dabble in web design from time to time. Understanding how all the pieces fit together means you can see the big picture for clients and recommend an integrated approach.

What do you think? Which is the easier PR transition to make?

 

Dave Parro is the Director of Communications at Aurora University, where he oversees public relations and editorial strategy. A former reporter and editor with Sun-Times Media, he holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Aurora University. You may follow Dave on Twitter @daveparro.