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PR: an outside view of the inside

Having spent the bulk of my PR career working ‘in-house’ as part of an internal PR team – both as a one-woman band and as part of a 20-strong communications function – I thought I knew plenty about Content Marketing agencies, how they worked, and what they could and couldn’t do for me as an in-house client.

But with the benefit of hindsight, and experience working for an agency, there are some things I’d point out to my in-house self. Here they are:

1. Compliance and sign-off

Until you’ve dealt with the compliance challenges facing internal PR teams first-hand, it’s hard to imagine just how crucial it is. For financial services clients in particular staying on the right side of the marketing rules is critical, and often part of a stringent sign-off process. It can’t be skipped, or avoided. As a PR person – in-house or agency side – you need to understand it, and work with it.

Having this experience now I’m agency side is invaluable – my advice to my client-side self would be this: if your agency team don’t understand the nuances of your sign off process from having been there exactly, explain to them in detail – invite them to meet the people that matter if you can. Don’t assume they know what your brand does – everyone is different. It will save everyone time later on, and often in PR, timing is crucial to landing a story or comment.

Also, I’d tell myself to make better friends with the compliance team –they should be one of the first teams to build a good working relationship with.

2. Complaints

Dealing with customer complaints that have attracted the attention of a consumer affairs column might seem like an all-consuming in-house job, and not one to divert agency side experience. BUT agency staff often have cross-industry experience and might have a good example of a new approach to dealing with complaints. Or, even better, they may have a story from another client they can offer the journalist to buy you time or on occasion halt the story altogether. All too often now customer service complaints that start with a printed letter to a consumer champion columnist take off on social media or an online review becomes print worthy. Keeping your agency team up to date will make it easier for them to help battle on your behalf when needed.
I’d also remind myself it’s PR, not ER and that customers having a pop at you personally are only doing so because you’re the face of the business – when you’re inexperienced it can feel VERY personal.

3. Permission to work

As an in-house PR you’re relatively fortunate that you don’t have to ask permission for everything you want to do or say to a journalist, especially as you gain more experience. Your agency won’t have this freedom, unless you specifically give it to them. Time matters when you’re beating the competition to a story so if they can ‘just do it’ to coin a phrase, authorize it. If not, sign it off quickly, with the right people, to give the joint in-house and agency team the best chance of landing the coverage you want. Collaboration is key so be bold in acting as the centre-point between your organization and your agency to deliver the best possible results.

4. Let’s get political

In-house politics. Every business has them in some shape or form. It’s hard enough getting your head round them if you work for the organization itself, let alone when you’re an agency extension of the team. And agencies can be just that, an extension of your team. You can bet that they’ll have either worked in a business liked yours or experienced politics like it. And as an agency you can also bet their strategic influencing skills are top notch. Take notes! Learn from them and keep them abreast of internal developments so they can shape campaigns around the influencers you need to work closely with.

Written by Zoe Paines who is our Senior Account Manager for PR she has 15 years in communications having worked in-house for PR departments including Nationwide, Confused.com, Friends Life and Aviva

Zoe Paines

Hi, I’m Zoe, Senior Account Manager on the PR side at Brand Content. I’ve spent 15 years in communications having worked in-house for PR departments including Nationwide, Confused.com, Friends Life and Aviva (a bit of a financial services geek I suppose). From broadcast PR on house prices, consumer coverage for pensions, crisis communications and managing changes of listed company brand name I’ve covered most products and services in financial services. Having spent a year in the accountancy team at WHSmith as part of my degree I’m (perhaps unusually for a PR) a lover of spreadsheets and numbers so happy to hunt out the news behind the numbers. Outside of work I’m a mummy of two and I love to run (when I have time). My husband is a personal trainer and runs a gym so life is fun-filled but hectic. A glass of wine and a movie at the end of the week helps me relax but for a real recharge of batteries there’s nothing I like better than a family beach holiday somewhere hot and sunny!

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