Alumni Perspectives: Naomi Chow reviews her PR career so far asking, ‘in-house or agency?’

BA (Hons) Public Relations 2011 graduate Naomi Chow has enjoyed 18 months working for one of the country’s top PR agencies and is now looking after the in-house PR for an international IT services provider, FDM Group. Below she reviews her experiences working in-house and in a large agency, reflecting on what she’s taken from both experiences:

BAPR 2011 Graduate Naomi Chow

BAPR 2011 Graduate Naomi Chow

Whilst I was at uni, I always thought that those days would be the best of my life: freedom, independence, a lie-in here and there (ahem), and hopefully a job at the end of it, but it wasn’t until I achieved my first piece of coverage that I felt true joy about where my career path was going. For those wondering, I secured a feature about control pants on the Sheffield Star’s website – not the best piece I’ve gained since (front and four page feature in the FT magazine and a front and seven page feature in Mojo) but it was a landmark, it was my “‘I can do this” moment.

The reason I’m writing this blog is because when I was in my first and second years at uni, I didn’t actually know what PR was, let alone the key differences between in-house and agency work. For those in the same boat, PR is a discipline, which looks after reputation with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour.

There’s a widespread opinion that PR is mostly schmoosing and champagne parties, but this wasn’t the case when I arrived for my first day on my third-year placement. I had managed to secure one year’s experience with one of the country’s best PR agencies, Freud Communications, and I told myself that I would do anything to make the most out of this once in a lifetime opportunity. And I really lucked out – I secured a place on their Entertainment team; famous for their meticulous events planning and some of the best showbiz stories in the papers.

Agency work is not all after-premiere parties and post-BAFTA dinners; the variety of work across clients and sectors is huge. As the Account Assistant, I helped everyone on the team and that meant being aware of every new story or campaign breaking for each client. I pitched stories from the newest control underwear to TV shows to luxury products to a range of journalists. This, to me, is a key difference between agencies and in-house, and this variety is synonymous with pace. PR professionals in agencies must be on the ball 24/7, aware of what’s happening in the news, in the blogosphere and all client developments, and all this for a number of accounts at any one time. You might be thinking now that in-house is the easier option; it’s not.

Over a year ago, I made the switch; I moved to in-house PR. I now work on a marketing team, and I’m the only PR in a company that employs over 1,000 individuals. FDM Group is the UK’s leading IT graduate employer and since joining I have been driving their global Women in IT and Youth in IT campaigns. The largest impact this move has had on me is that now I’m part of something bigger: a corporate organisation. I’ve been immersed into its culture, its vision and values, and its brand. The challenge for in-house PR professionals is that one needs to completely understand the organisation, what it stands for and its people too (it also helps if you believe in the product/services).

Being part of the company’s marketing team means that I not only get to work on the pubic relations for FDM, but I also get to play a part in the firm’s internal communications, marketing activities and events management. The one thing I loved most about my time at Freud (other than meeting and working with some amazing people) was organising the media management and logistics for a number of events, such as premieres, the BAFTAs and product launches. I love the organisational and logistical aspects of planning events, and I thought that moving in-house meant less of this, but I still get to work on a number of exciting projects. This variety of roles, for me, is one of the biggest pros to working in-house and it’s great to have the opportunity to work in other communicative functions such as internal comms.

Nevertheless I personally believe that starting out at an agency could provide you with more exposure to different PR techniques, campaign elements and planning strategies that will allow you additional learning opportunities and help you in the future should you decide to go in-house. Agencies are constantly looking for new clients so there is always an opportunity to work on new and exciting accounts at any one time or change your specialisation, either way this will widen your knowledge base. Working on numerous projects at one time isn’t something that is exclusive to agency work; often large organisations will have a number of different campaigns that you will have to dip in and dip out of as and when necessary. The only difference is the stakeholders you are trying to keep happy.

At FDM, the team and I have to ensure that all other departments are happy with the information we are sharing internally and externally. Everything must be run through Marketing so that branding and messaging stay consistent; there’s nothing worse for a PR or a Marketer than brand schizophrenia! Additionally, we must ensure that all stakeholders are happy with the material being released into the public domain; these people can range from investors to customers to fellow employees.

In agencies, this applies to ensuring your numerous clients are happy with the activity on each of their projects/campaigns. There is a myth in the industry that in-house PR professionals have a ‘cushy’ lifestyle but that couldn’t be further from reality. The truth is that in PR you will always be under pressure to perform and achieve results for your clients/stakeholders, as well as successfully managing its reputation and encouraging positive perceptions within key publics.

So, in short:

 The pros of working in agencies:

  • Wide range of clients and more variety and diversity of projects
  • Fast-paced environment
  • Excellent for improving your time management skills
  • Chance to change your specialisation (i.e. corporate, entertainment, film, consumer etc.)

 The pros of working in-house:

  • Opportunity to take on a range of roles, for example internal communications, events management and marketing
  • Can immerse yourself into one organisation and become a part of something bigger
  • Have a say in the overall strategic direction of the brand
  • Can implement and drive new campaigns
  • Having only one client (your organisation) allows your to delve deeper into projects

On balance, it’s beneficial to have experience in both agency work and in-house work, leaving the final choice as yours for the taking.

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