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Why Choose Agency vs In-House for Your Next PR Career

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Darlene Doyle, Chief Client Officer at PAN Communications, headshot
Darlene Doyle
Chief Client Officer | Boston, MA
  • Blog
  • Culture/Agency Life

Why Choose Agency vs In-House for Your Next PR Career

Darlene Doyle, Chief Client Officer at PAN Communications, headshot
Darlene Doyle
Chief Client Officer | Boston, MA

As an agency boomeranger, I’m often asked: “why did you go back?”  

It’s a natural curiosity, whether to advance a public relations career at an agency versus in-house. After a while, one begins to wonder what it’s like on the other side. I myself started at an agency right out of college, as most PR pros do. Sure enough, I had the opportunity to find out if the grass was truly greener elsewhere. I spent quite a few years in-house, working at three different tech companies. While I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences, it helped crystalize why I was always bound to return to an agency: I missed working with people who live and breathe every aspect of communications and get jazzed by it. I missed the collaboration, creative brainstorming, ideas sharing and daily learning from people who do what I do and love it just as much. 

We’ve recently been hosting a series of Flip Panels at PAN – open forums where we connect our senior team members with various levels of the agency to share and learn about each other’s career paths and experiences. The “why agency” question comes up in nearly every conversation. So, we sourced our Senior Vice Presidents and Vice Presidents to capture their “why agency” sentiment. Here’s what they had to say: 

Team collaboration within Marketing & PR Agency

“The collaboration, talent and dynamism of an agency environment have always appealed to me. I have enjoyed the opportunity to shift gears regularly and sharpen my skills across new business, people management, client relations and the business of agency. I am always surprised by how much more there is to learn and grow at every level.” — Meg Kessler, Senior Vice President 

“There is nothing like working with a group of people who are truly enthusiastic about the work we are doing. It’s such a connected community – if you say it’s a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ day, every single person in the organization knows EXACTLY what that means. At an agency, you’re in the trenches together. They are there to celebrate every hit, win, team kudos and will also be there to help you out of a jam. We’ve all been there before and will all be there again. That kind of camaraderie and depth of understanding is not only rare, but invaluable.” — Nikki Festa, Senior Vice President 

“What other industry allows you to work in multiple areas all from the same desk? What other career exposes you to some of the top minds that are shaping what our world looks like and how we live in it?”

“Every day is different. One day you could be working in enterprise collaboration and the next in precision medicine. What other industry allows you to work in multiple areas all from the same desk? What other career exposes you to some of the top minds that are shaping what our world looks like and how we live in it? I may work for PAN, but through this firm I get to work for eight other companies. Agency life immerses you in so many exciting fields day to day and hour to hour. You work for one agency but are fortunate to claim so many individuals as part of your team. I don’t believe there are many other professions that allow such versatility.” — Matthew Briggs, Vice President 

“I love that every day is a new challenge and a new opportunity. Literally no two days are the same, whether it’s through the work that we’re doing for clients, or the work that we’re doing to learn, grow and improve ourselves. The access that we have to industry-leading thinkers and the ability to transform those thoughts into stories is so powerful. Working together we can drive the conversations that matter. There is no other team I’d rather be in the trenches with.” — Catherine Doyle, Vice President and GM of PAN San Francisco 

“I enjoy the professional challenge of working with a variety of brands. Every situation is unique, every account has a cast of characters both internally and externally that come together to produce great work. The sheer volume and variety of experiences that you accumulate is incredibly rewarding, because you feel like you’ve helped so many companies with so many different challenges. Over time, that produces a professional list of experiences that’s unmatched in any other setting. You achieve those accomplishments with the backbone of talented, supportive and fun people that you build relationships with over time. I love it.” — Adam Novak, Vice President 

“My time in-house sharpened my business and analytical skills. It was invaluable learning, especially the hard-knock lessons related to revenue growth. Every day, I apply that experience to my B2B go-to-market client strategies. It allows me to ground our wildly creative team generated ideas in probable outcomes. Talk about motivation. The expectation that I’ll know the answer keeps me curious, reading, listening and asking lots of questions. Personally, I find that fulfilling and something only agency life delivers.” — Michele Frost, Vice President, Integrated Marketing 

“I have always been a person who appreciates variety, collaboration, and community in my day-to-day interactions. Agency life has been a natural fit; allowing me to usually be exposed to all these elements at once. I’ve been fortunate to have four meaningful agency journeys that have each taught/still teach me new ways of working, management and learning.” — Brandon Thomas, Vice President and General Manager of PAN NY 

“I started my career in-house working in comms for the British government, but switched to agency side after three years and never looked back. Aside from getting to work with people who understand what I do, and appreciate the value it adds, the biggest bonus for me is that you get to work with hundreds of companies over your career, even if you only ever work for one agency. I’ve always loved that you get to intimately understand so many firms and that you get privileged access to super-smart people at the top. You’re always learning and developing as each new client brings new puzzles to solve and sector knowledge to acquire.” — Gareth Thomas, Managing Director, PAN UK 

“I always counsel recent college grads who are just getting into the field of IM/PR to go the agency route. The exposure to multiple management styles, wide range of different clients/industries, and variety of skills/roles/responsibilities is amazing. Additionally, I have always found the culture a highly desirable environment to work in. And, this isn’t just talk; I started my career in the mid 1990s at an agency and I have never left. Personally, I have always enjoyed the fast pace and have valued greatly the fact that clients look to their agency partners for the latest and greatest thinking, tools, strategies and approaches. As an agency we are 1-2 steps ahead and have exposure to where things are going before counter parts and peers in-house. This has created a challenging, fun, and dynamic situation for me at all times, allowed me to build a great network of talented professionals and friends, and, always kept my interest and desire to do better each and every day.” — Dan Martin, Senior Vice President, Healthcare  

“Coming back to the agency world felt like a difficult decision at the time, but I quickly realized how much more insight I had into the way companies work and the challenges our clients face which helped me become a better consultant.”

“For me, working in both agency and in-house environments have both been great experiences, but for different reasons. Starting on the agency side was beneficial because you get to learn so many more things right out of the gate, and I’ve often said if you can cut it in high-tech PR agency life, you can work just about anywhere. Things were much different in-house; the PR aspect was still there but it was combined with IR, AR, trade shows, lead-gen, internal comms and even website development. Coming back to the agency world felt like a difficult decision at the time, but I quickly realized how much more insight I had into the way companies work and the challenges our clients face which helped me become a better consultant.” — Gene Carozza, Senior Vice President 

“I have had an opportunity to develop so many different skills in an agency setting – from content, to media, to social, IM, executive thought leadership, people management, client relations – the list goes on. At the same time, I have also had exposure to different working styles, industries and types of companies. I have represented global, publicly traded companies where we’re pitching earnings and giving strategic crisis counsel. Other times, I’ve worked with emerging growth brands where we can be scrappier and are tasked with getting them on the map. I’ve also traveled to some cool places for client meetings and events – including Spain and Germany! No day is the same and I am always challenged and learning something new. On top of all that, we are on teams. This means when someone is out of office or busy, someone else supports, so we truly can and should step away when needed. I love watching my teams succeed and my teammates grow as individuals too. That’s the benefit of working across different account teams.” — Jenny Radloff, Vice President 

Check out our #WeMoveCareers employee spotlights to learn more about what drives our talented staff in this ever-changing industry.

“The opportunity to work in a dynamic agency like PAN, affords you the opportunity to surround and immerse yourself with amazing minds all working towards similar goals yet with nearly exponential diversity. With clients of all sizes across a spectrum of industries, we celebrate our successes and learn from losses and this collection of experience truly puts you at the forefront of your industry.” — Adam Cormier, Vice President

“I started my PR career on the agency side and after seven/eight years had the itch (like many) to move in-house and see what it was all about. Working client side was highly valuable. I was exposed to all aspects of a fast-growing tech business and it helped broaden my skillset as a marketing and communications professional. However, I knew early on in-house wasn’t for me. I missed being surrounded by other comms professionals and the camaraderie you get amongst your team members. At an agency you share all the highs and the occasional lows with your team and as a result make friends for life. Aside from working with great people, you also get to do amazing work for companies that are truly changing the way we live our lives. Yes, it can sometimes be a bit of a crazy world but it’s a fantastic one to be a part of.” — Nia Evans, Vice President and General Manager, PAN UK 

“My attraction to agency has always been due to an appreciation for variety as a critical part of having an informed perspective. This is especially true for the cybersecurity industry, which protects so many different technologies and industries, with no single solution to address every threat. The agency model enables our staff to work with such fantastic technology and subject matter experts from across the world, and it provides an exciting and broad view of the issues, solutions and their global impact. It also offers a unique opportunity to continuously evolve with the industry as we work with the new emerging innovators and established companies that are on the front lines protecting businesses, consumers and government, and the technologies they rely on.” — Dave Bowker, Vice President 

One of the best pieces of advice I was given by my comms professor in college was to begin my PR career at an agency. He told me agency life would set the strongest foundation for my career path.”

“One of the best pieces of advice I was given by my comms professor in college was to begin my PR career at an agency. He told me agency life would set the strongest foundation for my career path and specifically, give me three things: 1) the opportunity to work across multiple industries to determine my passion areas, 2) the chance to get my hand’s wet in many different aspects of PR/marketing right out of the gate and 3) the ability to work with and learn from many different people which would help inform my own workstyle. He was one hundred percent correct. Even now, years later from intern to VP, those three reasons are still the driving forces keeping me working at – and loving – agency life!” — Kari Hulley, Vice President 

P.S. If you’re nodding after reading this, you’re our people too! And we’re hiring! Check out our careers page to learn more. 

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