Going the wrong way in your PR career – from in-house to agency, and why is it so hard?

We all know how a PR career usually works. You spend your formative years in a PR agency. You find a specialism or sector. You work long hours, win clients, lose clients, fall out with journalists, work hard and play hard. But then, when the time is right, you jump ship and cross to the ‘other side’ – you find yourself a comfortable in-house role to see out the rest of your career.

I’m generalising here of course. Many PR professionals stay on the agency side, and some start and finish in-house. But today I want to talk about the other guys. Those that start in-house and then after making their mark quite fancy hopping the other way into a PR agency. While it’s not unheard of, it remains frowned upon. In-house managers will happily take on someone who only has agency experience, but how many hiring managers from an agency will take on someone from an exclusively in-house background??

Obviously this is pretty much determined by level and experience. I doubt if someone with one or two years in-house experience would have any trouble finding an Account Exec level role in an agency. but how about a seven/eight year veteran (can you be a veteran after eight years? a discussion for another blog post perhaps), looking to return to agency at around AD or similar level? (e.g. me!)

Please forgive a sporting analogy here (particularly if you’re not that into sports), but I’ve always thought of the difference to that of 5 aside and 11 aside football (or Rugby 7’s and full International if you prefer). It’s the same sport, but the skills and talents are slightly different. And being good at one, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be good at the other.

But how are the PR skills between agency and in-house different? Are they that different? What is it that scares agency types about hiring an in-house guy like me?

OK, so maybe we don’t have to worry about time sheets, but juggling multiple issues, with multiple stakeholders goes hand in hand with an in-house role, just as it does with agency work. In fact, doesn’t being immersed within a business offer a different perspective to those who have only ever experienced life within an agency?

New business? Yep, so this may well be a major factor in why it’s hard to go from in-house to a senior agency role. However, by sitting client side for so long, and having been pitched to so often we can spot a bad pitch from twenty paces. And don’t get me started on the number of times I’ve been at a networking event and an agency type has tried to ‘new business’ me – again, experience and being on the end of it surely offers an interesting perspective, and a view point not necessary available from within an agency?

I appreciate that there is a chance that I’m very wrong about this and that they are not just different sports, but one that uses your hands and one that uses a bat (a future blog post will (hopefully) cover my experience of working in an agency after being in-house for so long).

Does anyone have experience of going about your PR career the wrong way? Or maybe there are some hiring managers that are adverse to taking an in-house type into an agency – do please share your thoughts.

Ollie Lawson