Adrienne Cohen, 39, lives in Hertfordshire and set up Hothouse Communications ten years ago. Before that she was a PR manager at Hays and an NHS comms manager.
She says life in-house can be very frustrating. ‘I used to call myself "the queen of futile exercises’’,’ she says. ‘I would come up with all these ideas and my employers would say "no, it’s going to take up people’s time" or "it’s going to cost money".
‘You need to have the tenacity to see it through, and often do it on little or no budget. Your power of persuasion needs to be very strong.
‘A lot of people go into agency work because they want to get on with their jobs and move out of the political atmosphere that exists in any organisation.’
Cohen says many of the skills needed are similar, but agency work requires a more objective view. ‘You have to be slightly hands-off and be a little bit cool,’ she says. ‘And remember that, at the end of the day, we are engaged to deliver a service.
‘There is a need to develop a thick skin and not become upset if you are not asked to celebrate the clients’ successes.’
Nicola Brown, 40, lives in Diss, Norfolk, and has two-year-old triplets. She is head of comms at Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust and was previously a senior account manager at Geronimo Communications, now Kindred.
She was editor of the Diss Express before moving into PR and says she wanted a new challenge but did not want to relocate. ‘If I moved into PR, I could carry on living in Diss but explore new challenges and use transferable skills,’ she says.
An interest in health issues led her to Geronimo Communications, which specialises in public sector work, particularly supporting NHS press offices. ‘It offered a different set of challenges,’ she says. ‘As a journalist, you were all about the story – you would do your story and you would move on. From a PR point of view, one would see the impact the story has on the people involved.’
She decided to move in-house because of an interest in mental health. ‘I was very interested in the challenges faced in getting mental health on the news agenda and putting across positive messages,’ she says. ‘Working in-house, you get to know a lot more in depth about what is going on. You are much more involved in planning strategically.’