It is a well-known truth that an agency PR professional will sooner or later be on the lookout for that dream job in-house.
What are the qualities needed to make the switch? Should you take advantage of the opportunity emerging from the start-up sector and go in for a direct entry? PRmoment India find out.
What qualities do you need?
Seema Ahuja, VP and global head of communications, with a leading biotech company, flags off a 'high sense of ownership' and the' ability to deep dive' as important qualities in an in-house corporate communications professional.
Ahuja warns that it is a challenge to shift from an agency to a corporate. She points out that, “ At a PR agency the professionals largely engage with only media, and tend to have a limited understanding of clients’ businesses since they have to deal with multiple clients. Hence, the quality of engagement with the client and media is limited, so is their liability. “
Ahuja feels that on the other hand, “An in-house communications expert, as the company’s spokesperson has to invest a lot of time in learning about the company, its strengths & weaknesses, the industry, as well as the competitive landscape to be able to position the company and tell a compelling story for its brand. As the corporate brand custodian, she or he has to work with a much greater sense of focus, responsibility and accountability.”
Sandeep Rao, PR professional, and founder member, PR community One Source agrees that, “ The ability to take ownership for one's brand becomes imperative, because in-house is not just about external communications and coverage dossiers, but stakeholder management, crises communications and aspects such as internal and external liaison to a huge degree as well.”
Sushmita Bandopadhyay, communications and identity advisor, Becton, Dickinson & Co, flags off resilience, influencing skills without authority, and matrix management, as key skills needed in an in-house job.
Challenges agency professionals face in-house
Rao who has led communications and sustainability in-house for the Wockhardt group in earlier stints bluntly says that, “Agency professionals are used to being hand held by senior management, even agency CEOs, in order to maintain a stable client relationship. On the client side, perform or perish becomes the mantra, and sometimes transition is a challenge. Lack of understanding of communication and its contribution to business numbers beyond coverage dossiers and AVE is often a problem as well.”
Pratishtha Kaura, drawing from her experience at a leading PR agency, says that, “ At the agency, there is homogeneity in terms of work profile as well as work culture. This entirely changes when working as an in-house PR professional. While working in-house, there are lots of challenges such as making the non-PR people understand how the media works and also what qualifies as news worthy announcements. Secondly, working in-house requires the understanding of the role of various stakeholders in the functioning of the organization and none can be ignored. At the agency, all these things do not come under play and because of this some of the agency professionals find it difficult to work in-house.”
The Start-up influence
With the start-up boom, PR opportunities are fast opening up in-house making it easier for PR professionals to tap into this and bypassing the traditional agency to in-house route.
Rao feels that the, “ Agency side is the best place to 'make one's bones' in the communications business. Start-ups open doors of opportunity, but in my opinion, such a jump too early may hamper a strong base or platform to build one's career over the long run in communication.”
Ahuja too advises a stint at a non start-up first saying that a more formal and traditional corporate set-up can teach you skills needed to handle a start-up PR job.
A mid-level PR executive we spoke to shared this experience with us as cautionary tale about start-ups saying, “ I have had an ugly experience of joining a start-up and within 10-12 days, I was asked to leave the company soon after completing the rigorous process of being found as a suitable candidate for a job there. And I was not the only employee that faced this situation. In 10-12 days, you cannot judge performance of a person and this is highly unprofessional. I am sure there would have been reasons for this but the management could have simply stopped hiring people. Additionally, even if you try to know about the company among your network, there are probable chances that such things are not familiar to anyone. And a similar instance happened to one of my friends too. "