By Larry Alton, Freelance Writer
There’s more than one way to take on corporate PR. You can build an internal team, hire external consultants, or combine the two. In many cases, companies think it’s a good idea to stick with internal staff—after all, who understands the business better than your team? But it turns out this may be a restrictive and potentially harmful strategy. If you’re not bringing in external consultants, you may be selling your company short.
What can external PR consultants do that in-house staff can’t? At its core, the greatest differences come from the advanced education and research available to external consultants. While your internal PR team may be great, they’re probably not top of their class, up on all the research people—and that’s who you need.
The consultant advantage
PR consultants are an unusual breed of professional. Unlike most in the business world, almost every consultant with a major firm graduated from a top business school. These firms scout them and the hiring process is extremely selective. You can bet that, in the face of the invasive wildflowers scandal, Cheerios turned to external consultants, not the in-house team that helped devise the original marketing concept.
In addition to being at the top of their class in school, most top consultants continue to take courses that keep them on the cutting edge of their field. Grabbing six weeks of education on finance essentials or participating in a series of entrepreneur interviews can offer PR consultants insights that in-house staff don’t have access to, due to their focused, brand-specific role.
Calling up key research
One interesting thing about PR consulting—and one of the things that makes it such a challenging field—is that it draws on many different disciplines, including psychology and the social sciences, economics, the arts, and business. Keeping up with the research in all of these fields would be nearly impossible for anyone who had responsibilities beyond being a PR guru, aka a consultant.
Consider, for example, that’s there’s an entire body, the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), which produces studies about effective advertising. Consultants are well versed in this work and this allows them to take an internally driven PR strategy and transform it into effective content and messaging. There’s a difference between knowing what you want to say—the role of an internal team—and knowing how to say it.
A two-pronged solution
In stating that you need to bring in external PR consultants to assist with your company’s messaging, what we’re really suggesting is that you need a two-pronged solution to PR management. Ideally, your in-house PR team should be in ongoing communication with your consultants. They need to know what you’re working on, what feedback you’re receiving, and if you’ve met any major goals so they can find the best ways to communicate those things.
External PR teams are masters of framing—and how you frame a topic determines what the public hears. Additional, internal PR teams tend to know the material and the plan so well from living with the brand every day, they can’t always see the nuances and gaps that outside eyes can spot. When you bring together both internal and external PR professionals, though, you get the perfect combination of familiarity and critical, data-driven project development.
It’s time for brands to recognize that they can’t do it all. Hiring an external PR team isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather one of wisdom. PR consultants have skills that your average in-house staff member neither has nor needs.
Whether you’re grappling with a crisis or simply launching a new marketing angle, external consultants can bring the expertise you need to the table, helping the process run more smoothly.