Careers are funny things. You often end up in a place your younger self would never imagine.
Freshly armed with a BA in English Literature, I wanted to be a librarian. That was many years ago and here I am today running my own PR agency.
The library job wasn’t such a great fit. I moved across the country, attended business school and after graduating, I landed a marketing job at Unilever.
My first assignment was assistant product manager on Becel Margarine, a heart health brand with an active public relations program managed by the client team and Burson-Marsteller. It was my first exposure to PR.
I ultimately decided PR was the fun part of the marketing business. After Unilever, I worked for a boutique PR agency that specialized in beverage alcohol and gourmet food. I managed the Jack Daniel’s and Bacardi rum accounts. I was right—PR was definitely fun.
To round out my experience I also spent four years at multi-national Hill and Knowlton and four at an integrated marketing communications agency. When the latter merged with another company, I stuck around for six months but eventually decided the new, merged culture wasn’t for me.
What next? Polaris Marketing and PR was born.
I’ve seen the public relations world from many sides—from a client’s perspective, and from the inside working at 2 boutique PR agencies, a mid-sized firm and a large multi-national.
If your company is hiring a PR agency, I’m qualified to offer a perspective on the pros and cons of large versus small firms.
Boutique PR Agency: The Pros
- Clients have access to senior practitioners, including the owner of the firm who often manages the day-to-day activities of larger clients.
- Every client is important, even those with smaller budgets.
- A boutique is happy to work with clients who don’t have a lot of money to spend on PR.
- The team that pitches the business works on the business.
- Smaller firms usually have specialized expertise, whether it’s food, finance or technology.
- Boutique PR agencies can turn on a dime, quickly revamping a client project if the environment changes.
Multi-National PR Agency: The Pros
- Expertise in different areas is available in one office, including media training, investor relations, specialized writing talent and more.
- A large PR firm with offices around the world is ideal for multi-national clients who need on the ground execution in many markets.
- More resources are available to invest in technology and training staff.
- Hiring a multi-national PR agency is a “safe” decision for many clients.
- Sophisticated systems track hours and invoice clients.
Boutique PR Agency: The Negatives
- Some clients perceive hiring a smaller firm as risky, worried their own reputation will suffer if the agency doesn’t work out.
- Many small PR agencies hire freelancers in order to offer a full complement of services.
- Boutiques do not typically have access to international talent, and if they do it’s through an association with other agencies with varying degrees of expertise.
Multi-National PR Agency: The Negatives
- Larger PR firms often resort to “bait-and-switch” when pitching a new client, sending a senior team in to win the business, then staffing it with juniors when they win.
- While multi-nationals have in-depth expertise, they prefer clients with larger budgets to fund overhead.
- Large PR firms push their staff hard, demanding a high percentage of billable hours that leads to burnout and turnover on account teams.
Only you can decide what size PR agency is right for your company. To help you with your decision, we created a free ebook: How To Avoid 7 Common Mistakes Marketers Make When Hiring a PR Firm .
If you need execution around the world or access to different communications expertise under one roof, investigate the multi-national PR agencies in your market. If your budget is small (less than $100,000), you’ll get more attention at a boutique and likely a bigger bang for your buck.
Read more: Start Your Own PR Agency