In-house versus agency

Posted by Prospect‘s Asia Pacific Team

Have the tables turned? Is working in-house now less attractive than working in agency?

Are agencies getting better at retaining their staff and stopping their staff from moving in-house? Or is in-house becoming less attractive to agency folk? With teams being ever more streamlined and stretched, it appears that the role of an in-house comms head is a far more difficult job.

For years the perception is that you’ve made it in communications when you’ve got the top comms gig with an MNC. This is what many junior PR’s dream of becoming- the top dog; the boss of comms. This is when you’ve made it, right?

Wrong. Many Heads of Communications feel they have the toughest job at the moment. Over the last year research from Prospect’s and Public Affairs Asia’s State of the Industry report has shown that in-house communications functions are reducing their headcount despite their company’s experiencing growth. In-house functions are having to do far more with far less resources. They are having to prove their worth to the business more so than ever before. Due to these functions restructuring and downsizing they find themselves in either a stand-alone role or with a very small team. Being hands- on, and turning their hand to anything and everything, is the new role of the Head of Comms.  Yes, they still devise the communications strategy but they also now need to implement it with (maybe) help from an external consultancy if they are lucky. With the in-house teams downsizing, they are having to outsource more work to the agencies.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many communications teams out there in APAC that have resources and investment and so the Head of Communications has a meaty, challenging and rewarding role. They have a seat at the boardroom table and comms plays a key role in hitting business objectives.  However, many comms experts admit that moving in-house was not what they thought. Shorter working hours, better pay and benefits, flexible working, job security and the chance to really make a difference are no longer guaranteed. Spending weeks on a plane, working 24/7, turning your hand to everything and constantly having to justify your role are more realistic traits of the in-house gig.

Over this year, in particular, we have noticed that agencies are now managing to retain their staff better and dissuade them from taking an in-house role. Agencies are moving into an integrated model, rather than offering just pure PR and this has enabled them to give their staff a broader, more varied role where they are learning new skills within digital, social, advertising and marketing. In addition to this breadth of disciplines agencies are keeping staff with more global transfers, flexible working options, paid sabbaticals, part- time options and fun and creative cultures.

So if you are looking for job security, a fun and varied role, surely agency life is now overtaking in-house as the more attractive option.