Coming Home to a PR Agency After an In-House Gig

Aug 05, 2021 Samantha McGarry

There’s an enormous sense of pride in belonging to the hard-working PR community of storytellers, strategists, writers and media pitching professionals.

Over the last thirty years, I’ve had the good fortune to work in PR agencies (in three countries!) as well as in-house in a comms position, reporting to the CMO. And it’s my honest opinion that your career will benefit from working on both sides of the house. It rounds you out, sharpening your understanding of corporate objectives and politics, and appreciation of how PR is understood (or not) throughout an organization. Every day in the in-house PR role, you have to defend your turf/budget, demonstrate how you’re adding value to the business, and be forever educating peers and stakeholders about the nuances of messaging and storytelling—and why reporters won’t show you their story before it publishes.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really appreciate my in-house years at a start-up. My work contributed tangibly to the growth and eventual acquisition of the company. I got to set the PR strategy, coach the spokespersons, kickstart their social media strategy and presence, and help generate some really amazing media coverage that drove attention and leads. I got to be the client, feeding my PR consultants the direction and content they needed to go out and get our story told. I became a subject matter expert, honing my nerd inclinations as an enterprise tech PR person.

When the time came to move on, the notion of moving back to a PR agency didn’t really cross my mind. I knew that world and what it demanded of me. To have to know just enough about a lot of things. To juggle so much. To get knocked down often, since shit rolls downhill. TBH, I was older and unsure whether I still had the energy or the mental acuity to stretch as much as an agency role demands of you.

I was wrong. Because I was introduced to Inkhouse. 

In a few months, I’ll mark my 11th year here. I was employee number 12; today we’re almost 140 people. It’s been thrilling to be integral to our journey. I firmly believe that my combined in-house and agency experience has helped our teams better understand the daily challenges our clients walk through, the business conditions impacting our work and therefore our counsel, and how to ensure our clients succeed because of the quality of our work. 

Yes, agency life is not for the faint of heart. I always say you need a thick skin and a good sense of humor to thrive. It’s intellectually stimulating to work with clients and business leaders—changemakers—who inspire you. It helps when you are surrounded by smart, creative and strategic people who are pulling for and with you. That kind of camaraderie is infectious. The excitement of having to pivot at a moment’s notice, because of breaking news or a change of plan to a big launch or IPO, or a request from the client’s C-suite. Yes, the mental and creative challenges are rigorous, but that’s what makes it thrilling. 

Some PR agencies have a bad rap, they burn people out with long hours and controlling workplaces. But when you work in an environment where you can come as you are, and work however and wherever you work best—you can truly be your most creative, authentic and fulfilled. As our CEO Beth Monaghan says, “what’s good for people is good for business.”

Right now, there are a lot of in-house comms roles being promoted—and going in-house may well be the right decision for you at this stage in your career. Enjoy it, I say. Do great work, learn, grow.

And then come back to a PR agency.

Did I mention we’re hiring ;)

Topics: Careers, Inkhouse Employees, PR agency, Agency vs. In-house
Samantha McGarry

Samantha is the executive vice president of Story Crafting at Inkhouse. Her curiosity for business and technology - combined with her love of semantics and communication - has translated into a 20+ year career in PR.

Read more from Samantha McGarry

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