Differences Between Agency/Corporate Jobs


Since I’ve worked on both sides of the PR fence–corporate and agency, I get a lot of questions regarding the differences between the two.  Just this week,  two readers posed similar questions: “Do you have any resources or advice for a hard-working 2009 graduate seeking an in-house job?” and “What are the differences between corporate and agency PR?”

I entered the agency world through non-traditional route–coming from a senior corporate position to head of an agency office, so my observations might not be as relevant as those from someone who made a more traditional shift.  Therefore, I enlisted insights from from Erik Gonring, who made the move from agency to corporate eight months ago.  Erik spent 3 1/2 years as a consultant with a strategic internal communications firm before joining his favorite client, McDonald’s Corporation, as Manager, Corporate System Communications. 

Erik makes the three excellent observations about differences between agency and corporate PR positions:

1)  Enduring relationships and teamwork are taken to a new level in a corporate environment.  That’s not to say teamwork doesn’t exist at an agency or when working on a client team.  It definitely does.  But in a corporate environment the expectation is that the team you work with will be your team for much longer, and so the projects you take on and the interdependencies and responsibilities assigned and encountered have the potential to create lasting impressions of you and your abilities.  It’s important to take a longer-term view of relationships and your team in a corporate environment.  You will not win the day with one solid 12-hour turnaround on a make-it-or-break-it project, and will otherwise make a lasting impression with a strong focus on enduring results and contribution to the credibility of the team.

2)  Brand pride.  I remember being very proud of my work and my company in agency, but there is also the balance of pride you have for your company and your clients. In corporate, that balance goes away.  It is all about one brand–one company–producing one set of results.  Combine that difference with a few stock options and a bonus that relies on company targets, and you just might find yourself a little more prideful (not to mention vehemently defending) of your brand.  It’s a cool thing to be part of a globally recognized brand.

3)  Development.  When setting and working to attain goals in an agency setting, I remember feeling as though I alone was responsible for my destiny.  If I delivered for the client, it was often done independently, and I was the one who got the credit.  In corporate, my goals rely on the contributions I make to the team and others’ development.  There is a finite but real difference in how you set goals, and reach them in a corporate environment.  It’s more structured and deliberate because everyone is thinking about how it helps the company, whereas I think you can get away with being a little more independent (and as a byproduct, selfish) in a billing-focused, agency environment.

Unlike the stash of information about PR agencies, there are fewer resources available that cover corporate PR positions.  I recommend three, but perhaps readers will suggest others.  Corporate Communication International at Baruch College provides excellent thought leadership in this area, while the Arthur W. Page Society has links to speeches and research papers that provide insights into the practice of corporate public relations.  Heather Huhman’s #PRIntern #EntryPR on LinkedIn offers valuable job search tips and lists entry-level job openings. 

2 thoughts on “Differences Between Agency/Corporate Jobs

  1. After spending more than 6 years on the agency side, I’m now approaching my 6th year in-house at a global corporation and would echo your three points. Very well put, Erik.

  2. I would add that agencies offer DIVERSITY of experience and activity, and in-house offers DEPTH. It can be frustrating when a consultant to not be in the loop. It can be frustrating when in-house to focus on the same industry/product category all the time.

    Also, there are more than “two” sides of PR. There is also, nonprofit, government, etc (it’s not all corporate). And not all non-profit or government jobs are low pay. More students should think about and plan for specializing in those sectors.

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