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Should you staff PR in-house or hire an agency? Turns out, there’s a calculator for that

By Axia Public Relations

Explore the benefits of an outside PR agency versus managing an in-house PR department


Should you have an in-house PR team or hire an agency instead? Look at the costs.Admit it. At some point over the years, you’ve received a proposal from a public relations agency and thought, “I can hire someone in-house for that!”


And even if you didn’t think that, someone else in your organization did. I often find this to be the case among junior level staff or even senior staff who don’t have access to the full operating costs of a company. In which case, it’s important to understand the true costs of employment and the value of outsourcing.


After all, depending upon the size of the agency’s scope, the above statement about hiring in-house may be true – or at least it may seem true. It’s more likely that the numbers don’t add up the way you think they should. (More on that equation later.


Regardless of the math, the real question isn’t whether a company can hire someone for the same investment of an agency; the question is whether they should. You can boil the answer down to three overlapping benefits that an agency brings to the table: 

  1. Brainpower

  2. Resources

  3. Real costs

Let’s explore these in more detail.



While a prospective client might be able to hire a smart and seasoned PR strategist (or social media strategist or web strategist), everyone has weaknesses. Mine’s spelling. You know who has no problem with spelling? Our agency’s copy editors. I also wouldn’t say I’m a whiz at social media strategy – our team of community managers is. 


My self-deprecating point is, when you hire one or two people in-house, you get the strengths of one or two people. When you hire an agency, your company taps into the collective strength of dozens of professionals. (And yes, I do have my share of strengths. One of them is recruiting and retaining a PR agency team of experts who are brilliant at what they do.) 


And then there are the award-winning, breakthrough ideas, strategies, and creative thinking that clients pay an agency for on a daily basis. 


The truth is that in-house corporate PR and marketing teams struggle to innovate, where PR agencies are more adept at the task. The reason is simple: Agencies have an independent and objective view of your company. They consist of highly creative individuals – some of whom are too original and rebellious to want to work for a big corporation. Such diverse personal and professional backgrounds are where attention-grabbing ideas come from. Corporations often discourage employees from disrupting the status quo yet expect agencies to deliver upon such challenges.


There’s also the priceless benefit of an agency’s marketplace vision. Over the years, CMOs have stressed the value of working with a PR agency that’s capable of maintaining a big-picture view among multiple clients in the ever-changing marketplace – an agency that has constant contact with newsrooms and reporters for a variety of related companies, industries, geographies, and topics. If journalists need a source, they’re better off calling an agency with multiple clients and contacts versus an in-house PR pro with only one company of sources to offer.



While an in-house hire may have some resources, a PR firm almost always has more. Those invaluable tools can take many forms, some priceless and some very costly. 


For a PR agency, those resources can mean deeper, more meaningful relationships with the media. Relationships strengthened over a period of many years by the agency’s mutually beneficial connections with various reporters and news media outlets. 


Those media relationships are easier to form because a PR firm has more reasons and opportunities to maintain frequent contact with journalists (thanks to multiple clients), whereas an in-house team won’t have nearly as many reasonable opportunities to reach out to specific contacts on a constant basis. 


An agency’s resources aren’t limited to media relations. For an agency social media team, relationships with digital contacts are invaluable. If you’ve ever tried contacting Google or Facebook to inquire about an issue with organic content or ad spend, you know exactly what we’re talking about. It can be maddeningly difficult – unless you’re an agency with a dedicated agency partner contact or a company that spends hundreds of thousands or millions annually on advertising.


And then there’s the access to marketing tools and technologies that a PR firm already purchased, such as media databases, social media listening and analytics tools, and media monitoring and media clipping services. Some of these tools cost tens of thousands per year, with many agencies absorbing the annual charge at volume discounts and as an overhead investment in their clients’ success. 


     3. REAL COSTS

If unmatched brainpower and access to top-of-the-line resources aren’t enough to convince a company that an agency is well worth the investment, surely the real and growing costs of labor and hiring an in-house team will be the deciding factor. 


Base salaries are only half the real cost of an internal team. The hidden costs include insurance benefits, taxes, employment liabilities, training, bonuses, and cost-of-living adjustments.


It’s an important calculation that Axia Public Relations perfected with a staffing cost calculator that uncovers every last dollar a company might spend for a PR professional (you can also use the calculator for additional hires). Axia created this tool with collaboration from economists, CFOs, CPAs, HR representatives, and other advisers who understand these costs


The result? An accurate and honest bottom-line cost of hiring an in-house team and proof that working with an outside PR agency is almost always a smarter and more affordable decision. 


We welcome your feedback as you explore this complimentary tool and input your own numbers to tweak the calculator to your unique needs.

Already working with an agency? Here are 14 ways to be sure you’re getting the most from your PR investment.


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Topics: public relations

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