Career Development: Looking at Agency vs. Corporate PR

Career Development: Looking at Agency vs. Corporate PR
November 6, 2014 Doug Haslam

By Karen Lavariere-Sanchez, APR, PRSA Boston member

Conventional wisdom once indicated that public relations career advancement could only be obtained by changing positions and/or agencies every two years. While some faithfully subscribed to this adage, others who were more inclined to a career path that entailed less upheaval—likely due to family ties or a desire for stability—looked longingly at a corporate practice.

Although many of the business practices and office protocol of the Mad Men era have fallen out of use (and in some cases, we say, “Thank Goodness”!), it is still true that agency PR practice provides a more fast-track career option, while a corporate practice requires a longer-view plan.

Broad vs. Specialized Knowledge: Agency practitioners work with a number of clients in a number of industries, gaining knowledge about businesses, what they do and what key stories work best for them. This knowledge can be easily transferred to other industries, businesses and clients, and so the range of experience that one gains in a PR agency accumulates very quickly.

On the other hand, corporate practitioners specialize in one industry. In a corporate PR office, a more detailed knowledge of the industry, business, products, services, target audiences and stakeholders must be obtained, and a variety of key storylines must be developed to continue to garner interest from the media. However, little experience is gained with other industries, business models, products, services and storylines.

Upward vs. Lateral Movement: Gaining bigger clients and more influential positions in larger and larger agencies is a common roadmap for career advancement in a PR agency. “Climbing the ladder of success” is an adage that still works in this environment, when it comes to career advancement.

Corporate settings have a shorter, narrower ladder to climb. As a general rule, the corporate practice consists of a small team that is part of a larger related division, but is not always strictly PR. In a corporate practice, less PR positions means less opportunity to advance. Climbing the ladder to the next rung may take longer when there is only room for one person on that rung. More patience and a longer timeframe may be required in a corporate setting. For those whose plan does not entail waiting, making lateral moves to other departments is another option. Gaining more experience and knowledge about the company and its business provides additional ladders to climb.

Implicit in these two career advancement strategies is the work-life balance that one achieves in the process. The fast-paced demands of an agency often dictate long hours, meaning evenings and weekends may not be free for personal pursuits. In a corporate setting, evenings and weekends are generally free, or as free as the profession allows, potentially providing more time for those personal pursuits.

The trade-offs are many, but whatever the career path, PR practitioners have a variety of options to achieve their goals.

Image credit: Abhijit Bhaduri on Flickr

K kavariere-sanchez2011About the Author: Karen Lavariere-Sanchez is director of public relations at the life insurance and financial services company Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), specializing in multicultural, diversity, and research-driven media relations. She can be reached at


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