One of the most frequent comments that I get when my agency cohorts find out I am a corporate PR practitioner is, “Wow, it must be great to have no clients and no restrictions!”
My first response is, “But I DO have clients, and they shape my day-to-day world as much as yours do!”
Corporate public relations practice has more similarities to the agency model than may be realized, starting with the client structure.
Many corporate practices have a specialization or client model, where one practitioner works exclusively (for the most part) with specific product lines or corporate functions, similar to account teams at PR firms. Despite the term “specialization,” I am far from a laser-focused specialist. Rather, I have multiple clients from each function. For example, being the in-house multicultural PR expert means I will get work requests from multicultural marketing, Diversity & Inclusion, employee resource groups such as our Association of Latinos at MassMutual and Allies (ALMMA), recruiting, sales, and other corporate units. To work with each of these clients, a general knowledge set beyond public relations is needed in the areas of demographics and psychographics, event planning, human resources, community, and government relations and recruiting, to name a few.
Client relationships are equally similar. Most often I play a more consultative role, rather than completing a work request. As is expected, I have direct work requests but also ones for consultation and advice from my multiple clients. Based on their objectives, I may refer them to other areas of the company. Corporate PR provided me with key career skills like understanding strategic objectives and cascading them to meaningful PR approaches and business results, as well as setting appropriate expectations with clients, particularly when ever-so-gracefully leading them in a more suitable direction.
Even though my clients work for the same financial services company, they range from conservative to adventurous, and gauging their appetite for cutting-edge solutions can be tricky. Keeping abreast of the latest innovations is a must so that we provide up-to-date service and consultation to clients. Always leading with proposals that incorporate the latest trend may, however, potentially alienate some, so the approach must be measured and oftentimes nurtured over time.
At the end of the day, the corporate and agency PR worlds are really similar in the most important way: We both use our expertise, whether in multicultural and research-driven PR as I do, or in technology, government, packaged goods, or service industries, or whatever our particular expertise is, to enhance our clients’ brand recognition and reputation. We’re not so different, at all.