A tale of three public relations career paths: agency, corporate and solo PR

Aug 01, 2016
A tale of three public relations career paths: agency, corporate and solo PR

Three months ago, I did something crazy. I left my corporate PR job to become a solopreneur.

When people hear that I work for myself, they assume it’s all fun and games. They think I make my own schedule (true) and that I skip out in the middle of the day to catch a movie (not true).

Here’s the thing: there are pros and cons to being a solopreneur, just as there are pros and cons to working at an agency or in-house.

Maybe you’re at a crossroads in your career and aren’t sure where to go next. Before you decide, hear from someone who has experienced all three. Here’s how agency, corporate and solo PR stack up against one another.

Work/life balance

Agency: Think fast-paced and high stress. Some thrive on the excitement, others burn out quickly. The pros? You’ll learn to handle multiple deadlines and priorities – a skill that will serve you well throughout your career.

Corporate: Work/life balance is more manageable. There are times when you need to put in extra hours (we are in PR after all), but there’s a lot more flexibility. When I worked in corporate, it was rare to find people at their desks after 5:30pm.

Solo: Work/life balance is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you make your own schedule. The curse is that it’s easy to blur the line between work and personal life - especially if there’s no one to stop you.

Client management

Agency: The pro is that you’ll learn to juggle multiple clients. The con is that some clients don’t understand PR and have unrealistic expectations.

Corporate: Typically PR and marketing are in the same department and in some cases PR reports to marketing. Be clear about your role and what PR can deliver.  

Solo: While there’s freedom in working for yourself, you’re also working by yourself. Be realistic about what you can accomplish, set boundaries with clients and learn to say no.

Media relations

Agency: You get to pitch different stories and build relationships with reporters who cover multiple beats. The downside? Dealing with clients who have high expectations about media coverage. Remember, it’s your job to educate them on what warrants media attention.

Corporate: You’ll form long-term relationships with reporters who cover your industry. But - and you knew there was a but - those reporters will also come to you when there’s an issue or crisis.

Solo: It’s tough to establish credibility with reporters when you’re on your own. Not to mention you may not have the budget for a media software database. This means you have to work harder to find the right contacts.

Career advancement

Agency: Promotions and raises come quickly. The tradeoff is that you’ll work longer hours for less pay.

Corporate: While the pay is usually better than an agency, the organizational structure doesn’t allow for much upward mobility. It’s up to you to prove your worth, so make sure you share your accomplishments with your manager.

Solo: The sky’s the limit. You can advance as quickly as you want to. The downside is that you don’t have a manager to foster professional growth – that part is up to you.


Agency: Laid back, relaxed atmosphere (think jeans everyday and wine in the office on Fridays). The flip side is that teams change frequently, which means you’ll have to deal with a wide range of personalities (some that will clash with yours).

Corporate: The culture is less flexible. Teams are smaller and there’s often a larger age gap among co-workers. However, you’ll consistently work with the same people and can learn a lot from those who have been with the company a long time.

Solo: The life of a solopreneur can be lonely. It’s challenging to be creative when you don’t have anyone to brainstorm with. On the other hand, you have the time and flexibility to join professional organizations and mingle with other industry pros.

No one size fits all when it comes to PR. Weigh your options and make a list of two or three “non-negotiables” that you must have in your next role. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. A PR career is like dating - the value isn’t just in knowing what you want, but in learning what you don’t want.

Have you experienced all three types of PR? We'd love to hear your experiences. Tweet us!

Michelle Vroom is CEO/Founder of Vroom Communications, a boutique agency specializing in public relations, marketing and social media for small businesses. Michelle has more than 10 years of experience in public relations and marketing in the non-profit, agency and corporate sectors. Follow Michelle on Twitter.

Photo: Businesswoman via Shutterstock

About the author

Founder of @vroomcomm. Helping #smallbusinesses market their services. Mompreneur, blogger and @runDisney marathoner.

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