Best PR setup is agency, in-house combination

There have been several instances recently of large companies and organizations restructuring their PR capabilities and, in the process, scrapping their in-house teams in favor of agencies that may provide some necessary fresh thinking.

There have been several instances recently of large companies and organizations restructuring their PR capabilities and, in the process, scrapping their in-house teams in favor of agencies that may provide some necessary fresh thinking.

The opposite has also occurred: An organization decides to stop its work with an agency and turns to a full in-house setup.

The most recent example came this month when Tenet Healthcare, the $8 billion hospital operator that has weathered its share of controversy, announced it had laid off six people and hired Texas-based Public Strategies.

Conversely, over the past several years, the National Education Association (NEA), the largest professional employee group in the US, has gone from relying on outside firms to focusing on an in-house setup and aims to eventually build its staff to more than 40.

Clearly, the first scenario is preferred by agencies. In Public Strategies' case, the business is good enough for the firm to place seven people in Tenet's offices to work on the account full time. Meanwhile, the NEA has made the case that, with an in-house staff, it is able to exercise greater control over outreach and make use of a more energized, dedicated staff.

But what do these examples say about the function of PR and communications' role in driving business strategy overall? The positive take is that PR is being considered more important to corporate decision making than ever before. Whether PR is developed in-house, or an agency is brought in, it must be part of the business plan just as much as manufacturing or human resources.

Still, in an ideal world, a strong in-house team with real organizational relevance would work in partnership with agencies. An effective in-house team can ensure PR has a seat at the table, while the right firm can push a company away from habit and toward effective and even groundbreaking communications.

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