Entering the PR Workforce: 5 Tips to Help Decide on In-House or Agency

How did I choose to major in public relations and how did I end up at an agency, rather than an in-house PR department at a company or association?  It’s been more than 8 years now since I left the hills of Bethany College, but I still feel like I can provide the PR and Comms students of the world with some beneficial advice.  Here are some tips for helping to figure out where you belong in PR/Comm before you leave school (you know, to ensure you’ll have health insurance and a 401K as quickly as possible):

  1. Learn the differences.  There are many ways working at an agency and working for an internal PR/Comms department are different, from day-to-day operations and responsibilities to program goals and what industry knowledge you need to have. There are even personality traits make you a better fit for one over the other. Make sure you know what all of these differences are. There are a ton of resources to find this sort of thing out.  Honestly, a simple Google search will give you a good idea. To get you started, here’s an article from PRWeek…its from 2011, but still relevant.
  2. Work for free.  OK, so this one only applies if you’ve run out of paid options. But, the truth is that unpaid internships can provide a ton of value if you haven’t been able to secure one of the coveted paid summer gigs. Additionally, since you’re willing to provide help for free, many agencies/companies will be flexible with your schedule, understanding that you might have to be working a second job to stay afloat. By putting in the extra time and hard work, you can learn the ins and outs of both agency and in-house life to give you some direction and an upper hand for post graduation.  Plus, paid or unpaid, internships will beef up your resume and show ambition – a double plus!
  3. Network.  It’s never too early to network.  Join groups and clubs that put you in front of alumni or people in the PR industry.  That’s how I met my first internship boss and scored my first summer job working for a PR agency following my sophomore year.  And, learn as much from them as they’ll let you.  Ask questions; sit in on workshops or lectures from people in the field.  Collect as much information as you can so you aren’t blindsided later.  Also, don’t just listen to someone from an agency or in-house PR firm, get as much information as you can and then evaluate your options and what you think would be best for you.
  4. Read Up.  There are many free PR-focused newsletters, blogs, magazines and other online resources you can easily take advantage of.  Also, take a look at the PR firms in the area you’d like to work – chances are they have a blog. Take some time to add them to your reading list.  This will help you get a good idea of important issues and news in PR, which can be valuable when you work those internships and networking floors, as well help frame the areas of PR you’re most interested in.  Here are some of the bigger online pubs to start with: PRWeekPR DailyO’Dwyer’sPR News
  5. Get Involved on Campus.  At my college, we had a PR group that acted as the college’s PR firm, a radio station, newspaper, TV station, etc.  Take advantage of that.  There’s nothing better than actually putting real Comms plans into motion around campus and getting real results (or not).  Either way, other groups on campus are usually happy for the help and, if you’re ambitious enough, you can even petition your Comms department to make these activities into a class you could even get credit for.  Additionally, this is a great way to build a portfolio for when you finally decide where you want to apply for jobs.

So when it comes to figuring out whether you belong at a PR agency or an in-house PR department, its best to collect as much information as you can and assess it against your personality.  And, the only way to do that is to get your hands dirty and really figure out what each position is about.  Is there something specific you are incredibly passionate about?  If so, maybe finding an in-house department might be best for you. If you like a certain industry in general and like to work on many projects at once, maybe it’s an agency atmosphere you’ll thrive in.  By educating yourself, participating in internships, networking, reading up and getting involved on campus you’ll be able to gain the experience you need to make a good decision.  Best of luck!