In my industry, large companies that are looking to hire a public relations (PR)/communications agency will most often select a very large PR company to partner with. One of the main reasons these companies do this is because it’s safe. The thinking is that if the agency is as big as it is, then it must be doing something right.
Many large, established firms are effective at PR. However, before hiring a PR firm with offices around the world, and with scores of people working at each location, consider the following:
Costs: At large firms with satellite locations, office space and employees cost a lot of money. When a large company hires a large PR firm, as much as one-half or more of its costs go to overhead, not to the people actually working on your company’s behalf.
Teams: Team and multi-staff collaboration is the way many large businesses operate today; well, so do large PR agencies. The problem is, combining these teams often ends up with a lot of people talking at each other, with relatively little getting done.
Cultures: Related to the “team” issue is company cultures. If the client has a half a dozen people on its team and the PR agency has half a dozen people on its side, guess what happens? Both companies have cultures that may not mesh all that well. This makes it harder to get things done and often results in an unhappy customer. With a small PR firm with just a couple of people, blending into a large client’s company culture is typically not a problem.
Specialists: One reason those big PR firms get so big is because they are involved with a variety of different industries—from restaurants and healthcare to high-tech and travel. While they certainly will have people who know specific industries well, the same people promoting healthcare, for instance, may also be on the team focusing on travel PR. No one really specializes in any one industry. It’s always best to work with a PR specialist. A small communications company that focuses on just a couple of industries is invariably a specialist in those industries.
Faster: As referenced earlier, smaller firms tend to get things done faster. Instead of having a couple dozen clients, a smaller firm may have only a few. When a smaller PR agency is working on your projects, your company becomes its only focus.
Go deeper: Because large firms will likely have many projects on the burner, it can be difficult for them to go behind the scenes and learn a client’s products and services. I know of one small PR firm whose client was a vacuum cleaner manufacturer. To learn the machines from the inside out, the firm’s owner worked on the assembly line for a couple of days, seeing how the machines were put together, what each part did and the role each component played, quality control procedures, and even how the machines were packaged. And, he did this on his own time. It’s unlikely a large PR firm would do this—unless, of course, the client was paying amply for the visit.
We should add one more benefit for big companies that select small PR firms and that is a smaller PR firm is typically more of a risk-taker. Just the fact that they are on their own indicates they are risk-takers. Many times, large companies are afraid to take risks. It’s just not “safe” and if things don’t work out, heads likely will roll.
But, big companies need to take risks; that’s how they grow and innovate. Because they already are risk-takers, smaller PR firms often come up with new, innovative, and possibly unusual, ideas and strategies that big agencies would be hesitant to try.