If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that is expanding, that growth can be difficult to manage. What once could be done by you or a staff member can become unmanageable, or may simply not the best use of your time. When that time arrives, you have to make a decision. Do you hire more staff or is it best to outsource some of the work?
As part of that decision model, the question you should ask is what are your core capabilities? And, equally important, what do you want to focus your time on building in the future? If a task is critical and highly strategic to your success as an organization, a compelling argument can be made to “staff up.” This option lets you have the most control while at the same time keeps your intellectual capital tightly in-house. Alternatively, if the task is important, but you could benefit by using a third-party that focuses entirely on this function, it might add greater value to your organization by following their lead and work with them to grow your business.
I have had experience doing both. Based on this knowledge, I would recommend the use of third parties, especially if they have had experience working in your industry doing outreach to the audience of editors, writers and publishers you seek to influence.
It is a time-consuming task to stay “on it” when reaching out to the influencers of your target media contacts. Relationships aren’t made over night, but they can be lost pretty quickly if sufficient conversation and communications are not regularly performed. In the field of Public Relations, there is another important factor – those that are in the PR business can simply achieve greater success in connecting with key media contacts. Think of it as peer-to-peer communications vs. vendor-client relations. Even though a PR firm is technically working for a client, when they reach out with a pitch for a story angle, my experience has found that the pitch is more readily received and considered when coming from a PR pro rather than from a PR staffer at a vendor organization.
The next question to ask is how much can be outsourced? Can a PR firm do all of your Public Relations work, all the way to the strategic planning and messaging goals for the year? Should you bring in your PR firm to quarterly / annual marketing strategic planning events? It is here where I would propose there is a line that can’t effectively be crossed. Strategic messaging and communications objectives are important decisions that must be made in the framework of product and corporate strategy. It is not reasonable to task a firm or group of consultants with trying to understand the direction your company is going, which will then only take away from their time doing what they do best – maintaining the relationships of their peers in the publications and media organizations you are targeting.
Going further, if you were to include your PR firm with strategic planning and corporate messaging discussions, you stand to lose one of the key benefits a PR firm can bring to a vendor organizations – separation in the eyes of the media world. The line that you benefit from when your PR firm is aligned closer to your target media will be blurred. Are they part of the vendor, or are they still a separate PR firm? Once that line is blurred, you might then be in a “lose-lose” situation, having lost the big benefit while at the same time relying on outsiders to tell you how to run your company’s communications strategy.
Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.