PR Agency Pros and ConsBy Gini Dietrich

I loved my job at Fleishman-Hillard.

It was where I learned all about PR, where I was rewarded for the work ethic my parents instilled, where I made lifelong friends, and where I came out of my shell.

When I interviewed for the job, the GM of our office, Gary Kisner, asked me where I saw myself in five years. I remember looking around his office and saying, “In here looks good.”

He laughed at me and offered me the job on the spot.

It was going really, really far out on a limb for me. I was incredibly shy and saying something like that took every cajones I had.

I became somewhat of a pet to him. I used to bite my fingernails, clear down to the cuticles.

He pulled me aside one day and said, “Gini. You are so smart. You’re beautiful. In this world you can have just about anything you set your mind on. But you have to stop biting your fingernails. It’s demeaning your credibility.”

And stop biting my fingernails I did. So he began to put me in new business presentations. And suddenly I also came out of my shell.

Leaving there was bittersweet for me. I was on the fast track to making partner and to getting a company-owned BMW and parking spot…by the time I was 30.

But something was pulling me out of Kansas City. I had to move.

From there I went to work at Rhea & Kaiser to help build their PR department, which didn’t exist in 2001. And I learned what it was like to work for a mid-sized company.

By the time I opened the doors at Arment Dietrich in 2005, I had big and mid-sized PR agency experience. Now I needed to create boutique PR agency experience.

Boutique vs. a Large PR Agency

I’m often asked by young professionals what are the pros and cons for working at a global PR agency vs. a boutique firm. And clients typically usually work with one or the other. Having been inside both, I can tell you the pros and cons of each.

Pros of a Large PR Agency

  • You have access to minds smarter than your own all around the world.
  • Your access to software, expense accounts, and newest technologies is unlimited.
  • Bringing together a team that is right for the client is as easy as calling another office.
  • You learn how to do one job really well. If you’re in media relations, you learn that skill until you’re an expert. Then you get promoted.
  • The process and procedure is already in place…and works pretty well.
  • No one, from a client perspective, ever got fired for hiring a global agency.

Pros of a Boutique PR Agency

  • You have direct access to the CEO, both as staff and the client.
  • Your team knows how to react quickly and get something done, even if they’ve never done it before.
  • This may sound trite, but there is a personal touch because you’re working with the owner and a select, very carefully chosen team.
  • The team that pitches a piece of new business is the team that works on that business when it becomes a client.
  • As a team member, you become a jack of all trades and learn different parts of the job very quickly…because you have to.
  • The team is always very flexible and nimble.
  • A small budget to a global firm is usually a gigantic budget to a boutique firm.
  • You can rest assured the agency doesn’t work a competitor.
  • Small agencies can attract the top talent because they have the freedom to pay what they want. Their salaries aren’t dictated by company structures, HR policies, or shareholders.

Cons of a Large PR Agency

  • Learning a new skill takes years, if ever at all.
  • Flexibility and being nimble are like asking the Titantic to turn quickly.
  • The team that pitches new business is always the most polished, smartest, best presenter the office has to offer…and they almost never work with that client.
  • Clients that have smaller budgets are left to the young professionals to manage, which is great for the employee, but not so great for the client.
  • Having access to the CEO, unless you’re someone like Steve Jobs, is almost impossible.
  • Sometimes the CEO doesn’t even have communications expertise.
  • A large PR agency will set up “firewalls” so they can work with a client’s competition. There is one agency, in particular, that works with both Apple and Microsoft.

Cons of a Boutique PR Agency

  • The shininess of presentations, projects, and work isn’t as slick; some of the stuff we have to bootstrap with you.
  • Clients have been fired from their jobs for taking a chance with a boutique agency, if that PR agency screws up.
  • Bringing together a team that is right for the client sometimes means calling in other agencies or freelancers.
  • Process and procedure are almost non-existent; you create it as you go.
  • The resources available are sometimes pretty slim.

The lists could go on and on so I leave it to you now.

What are the pros and cons of working in or with a large PR agency versus a boutique?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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