UESTION: Based on what you read in Chapter 5 of your THINK Public Relations book, do you think it’s more beneficial for a new PR practitioner to begin his/her career in a PR department or in a PR firm? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
Before answering that question, the basic difference between what is considered a PR/communication department and a PR agency/firm needs to be discussed.
A PR department–which also goes by the names of corporate communications, corporate relations, public affairs, community relations–is its own institution or unit inside of a single corporation or businesses. According to PR consultant, Alfred Geduldig, “the increasing use of the term ‘corporate communications’ signaled that public relations people were doing many more things in a company now than they had in the past, reflecting an integration of communications services” (91).
The sole goal of the department is to answer to either the manager, director or vice president of the company and accomplish with tact, wisdom and creativity whatever PR objectives have been customized by the organization for the organization with the success of its goals in mind.
When you work in a department of a company, its like you joined a football team. How so, you ask?
Well let’s say (we’ll make somethin’ up) Blueprints Co.– a million-dollar, big city company of top-notch, big-name architects and designers that specialize in luxury skyscrapers for business and condo owners– hires you to head their PR department. As part of Blueprints, you are now part of a complete team of departments and specialists all doing different jobs but working toward one common goal of success and making money for the architects.
Going back to the football analogy: the CEO, calling all the shots, is like the Quarterback. Right there close to and working with our CEO are the VP and Board of Directors, we’ll give them the roles of Fullback, Halfback and Center. The PR department, depending on its many varied roles of communicator, marketer, idea runner or damage control, could be a mix of the Safeties and Wide Receivers since the need to act as protection to an offensive attack or be open to deal with what’s being thrown at them. We’ll give the guys in the actual field, the Architects and Designers, who do the actual architect-ing and designing, the positions of End, Guard and Tackle, since the go out each day to face the competition and do the best job they can to get for the success of the whole team.
Then we got the accountants, assistants, managers, human resources (I’m terrible at completely understanding football, so you can give them proper positions): each of them do a different job, but are working toward the same success for Blueprints Co. by accomplishing the mini goals of their own department.
As long as the QB calls a good play, the Center hikes, the Tackle tackles, the Guard guards, the Receivers recieves, and all the -Backs run around in the proper play moves (or whatever), then all will hopefully go well and the team will win.
A PR firm is a company with lots of PR specialists who are hired out by other businessses to do all their PR or just a certain project for them.
As a practitioner for a firm, you may specialize in a few or all disciplines of the PR field. And although in principle, you are an paid employee of, say, PR, Inc., each day you may be working for a different company and juggling six different projects at once.
For this, I give the analogy of a team of mercenaries, or hired guns. You’re all soldiers together, and you may all have a different technical specialty or strength (sharp shooter, sniper rifle, grenade mastery, paratrooper, tanker, engineer, etc.), but everyday a unit of your team is contracted out to a country in need, willing to pay for your skills as fighters.
So….which is best to start in? Firm or department?
Well, if you really must know…
For the most part I think that the decision is not really whether one is better than the other or not. It’s really all based on the person, their skills, and their desired experience.
You should work in a PR department if:
- You want to experience more than just PR, but also the other areas similarly related that are necessary in the workings of a corporation, such as internal communication and policy, social media, mission statement, .
- You want to learn to understand the workings a a company, and how all parts and branches come together to create a successful organization. You are part of the PR team, but you work with the other departments such as human resources, fanagement, Directors, accounting, and even maintenance.
- You don’t mind working on only a few areas of PR, and often the same ones.
- You don’t mind being limited to just the goals and projects of the company you work for.
You should work at a PR Firm if:
- The only thing you want to do is PR.
- You want to know and experience a very diverse and wide variety of areas of PR.
- You want to learn about a new area of PR.
- You want to work with different companies and be part of their different projects. For Company A, you may be hired to clean up a crisis mess the have
For both, a PR person needs to:
- Be a good team player and flexible to situations.
- Have the ability to keep calm and composed in situations of high emotions or stress.
- Know how to deal with the emotions of others.
- Understand how to deal appropriately and successfully with crisis.
- Be fully aware of what is going on and who’s doing what in each project.
- Know how to pull creativity out of thin air at the drop of a hat–use nothing to make something, quickly and suddenly– in case of emergencies.
- Remain humble and respect the other departments and their position on the “team.”
- Know your position and what you are there to do.
“Executives increasingly see public relations not as simply publicity and one-way communication, but rather as a complex and dynamic process of negotiation and compromise with a number of key publics.” (Page 88)