In-house vs outsourced – what’s the best option?

Posted: Monday March 1 2021

By: Katie Mallinson

In-house vs outsourced – what’s the best option for PR?

Founder and MD of Scriba PR, Katie Mallinson, looks at the age-old debate around ‘in house vs. outsourced’ PR.

It’s one of the most commonly asked questions when a business considers embarking on a PR strategy for the first time.

And – spoiler alert – there’s no hard and fast rule here. That’s not to say we’re going to sit on the fence, for the sake of it, but we’re not about to ‘bash’ a specific approach, either. We can only speak from experience, so here goes…

Typically, when an organisation is pricing up PR fees having never engaged an agency before, one of the first thoughts to go through their mind is, “I could employ someone full time for that amount!”

In many cases this is true – although not if you’re looking at only a couple of days’ retainer support per month. Nevertheless, the ‘numbers’, understandably, are something that businesses start to evaluate when weighing up the investment.

Our response, on the payroll side of things is that a PR fee is a PR fee. It doesn’t come with PAYE and pension implications. It doesn’t need sick pay. It doesn’t need mentoring and professional development. It doesn’t require perks to keep engagement levels up. There are no retention worries.

In the case of appointing Scriba, you’re also tapping into the knowledge, ideas and experience of 11 brains – not to mention over 100 years’ combined talent – for the price of one (often less!) That means you benefit from the contribution of a readymade, energised and progressive team. If you were to recruit one person, to single-handedly take care of your comms internally, it could be a lonely place to be.

There’s the process and systems side of things too – our fees include access to expensive PR databases, journalist alert services, professional memberships and more. That would soon sway the numbers if you had to swallow those costs in-house.

This isn’t to say we don’t see the value in employing in-house comms pros – the absolute opposite. Our own team is made up of former brand-side communicators, so we know all too well the value they add. They can live and breathe the tone of voice, the intricacies of what makes the organisation tick, and they’re the eyes and ears on the ground, closest to the action.

But choose the right agency, who wants to become an extension of your team, and they’ll behave in the exact same way.

Or, if the budget will allow it, balance the two approaches. A happy marriage of in-house and agency collaboration.

With some of our client relationships, we report into a solo marketeer, or sometimes a well-stocked marketing department. In short, we plug a resource gap, in terms of skills, capacity, or both, and we often work alongside other external partners brought in to deliver their own area of specialist expertise. In other scenarios, we are clients’ bolt-on press office, comms team, and more. Each route can be pretty powerful.

See, we said there’s no such thing as ‘one size fits all’.

Much depends, of course, on the individuals concerned, whether you’re recruiting in-house or bringing in an outsourced partner. Skill-sets, cultural alignment, experience, references and proven accountability, count for a lot. Appoint the wrong agency and it could dampen your perception of outsourcing, for good.

We work at an incredible pace, for example, and I hope clients reading this will vouch for the fact that we make things happen in an extremely short amount of time. It’s in our DNA, not least because we know all eyes are on the spend – especially in the current climate. We can’t get sucked into inefficient meetings, for instance, because clients remain hungry, every month, for results.

So that’s what we are here to deliver. And these results – whether in terms of coverage achieved, doors opened, leads generated – are what change the tone of conversation about the cost to appoint an agency.  They’re what lead to long term retained relationships too.

We’re also insanely honest, so if we think a business would be better investing elsewhere, we’ll say. We’ve a reputation to uphold after all, and clients have been known to come back, when the time is right, if we’ve encouraged them to focus on in-house stuff first.

It’s a tricky old topic isn’t it? So, if you’re not sure, just ask.