In-house communications team or PR firm: What works better for a startup

A startup has a range of challenges to address- from building a viable business model, to getting the right team in place, and expanding the customer base. Hence, for an entrepreneur, every decision matters. One of the most critical decisions for a startup founder is to decide on the right strategy to build his/her brand. Interestingly, one of the key components for brand building in case of a startup is driving an impactful PR campaign across traditional and new age media.

One of the primary differences between an established brand and a startup is that while big organisations need PR teams to protect their brand while continuing with the defined processes, startups need PR professionals to build their brand first. 

There are two ways a startup founder can drive PR for his brand. He/she can either onboard a PR firm to define messaging, devise strategy and run the show, or build an in-house team to drive its PR outreach. While both the strategies have their pros and cons, it is recommended that one takes a decision based on the brand’s focus, degree of brand awareness, the business that the brand is operating in, amongst others. 

What makes in-house communication team/specialist a good bet

There are quite a few advantages of an in-house communication team/ specialist. These include:

Undivided attention

If the entrepreneur wants a focused PR and communications campaign that can help drive impactful results, an in-house, full-time communications professional is a good bet. The advantage with in-house communication professionals is that they invest all their time on the company’s PR and Communications campaign. Unlike in the case of PR firms, they do not have other clients and cannot get busy due to another client’s work/ event.

Better storytelling

In case you need to build a compelling brand story with focused messaging, that is not solely dependent on new announcements, in-house communications specialist can do the trick. The reason for this is simple. An in-house Communications person has a thorough understanding of the business and hence, can weave better stories, as compared to PR firm that does not eat, sleep and breathe your brand.

In case PR has a seat on the table, he/she can create a better storyline- that clearly outlines the problem that the brand is trying to solve, weaves details on the solution suggested and highlights why it is better than the others.

Higher accessibility

An in-house communications professional is more accessible and hence, can do a better job in leveraging successes from a media and communications standpoint. On the other hand, PR consultancy professionals are mostly available only on calls that need to be scheduled in advance. The face-to-face conversations with PR firm representatives is much lesser, even if the consultancy team is based in the same city. This is because they budget in for a fixed number of hours and face-to-face meetings every month.

Media likes to interact with in-house team

Another important reason for building an in-house team is that the media is more open to interacting with an in-house communications person than a PR firm. The key reasons for this being better understanding of the brand’s business and latest developments as well as quick response time. This trend is fast catching up. Some media persons have totally closed their doors to any PR consultancy conversations. This is a big reason for brands to have an in-house communications person/ team

Consistent messaging

One big advantage of in-house communications team is that the messaging stays consistent. With a PR firm, the team members might not have the same level of understanding about the brand and hence, will not be able to deliver consistent messaging when interacting with external stakeholders.

PR consultancy has its own set of advantages

If we look at the other side of the coin, we will see that the PR firm approach has its own set of challenges. These include

Cost versus output

Startup founders need to evaluate the need for a full-time communications specialist or a PR firm based on the state of the PR campaign. If the company is just starting its brand awareness/PR campaign and has never ever touch based with the media, PR firms work best as they help the brand get a jumpstart. At a competitive cost, they help to drive impactful output as against a full-time resource who might not be able to justify the hours he/she needs to spend at work

Access to diverse skill sets 

PR consultancies have a team of domain experts like media specialists, content writers, social media experts and brand specialists. If the startup is keen to get the attention of top media, or create impactful content, the PR firm can act as one-stop solution. This cannot be possible with the in-house team, unless the startup can shell out huge amounts of money to hire highly experienced resources.

Better media relations

An in-house communications professional may/may not have great media contacts. However, if a Founder partners with a renowned PR firm, the strong media relationships and network of the firm’s team can outshine that of a single individual or a small in-house communications team, and be of great benefit for his/her brand

Easy access to reports

With a PR firm onboard, a brand can be rest assured of getting reports on media stories, share of voice, ad value etc. for all their key announcements. Also, most of the PR firms track competition very closely and this can come in handy for the brand that is trying to cut through the clutter and create a differentiated positioning for itself. In case of no consultancy, the in-house team would have had to budget for atleast 1-2 headcount to work on these reports.

Crisis communication

While some of the in-house communication professionals can have extensive experience of crisis communication, there could a whole bunch that is oblivious of this side of PR. With a PR firm onboard, brands can have access to a set of experienced crisis management professionals who can devise the right strategy in case of critical times, and execute it well.

New market entry

PR consultancy is the best bet if a startup is entering a new country/ geography. This is because the company can depend on the existing network and business knowledge of the consultancy to do a good job of the launch/ initial days brand building exercise in a new market.

Impact across cities

Consultancies tend to have an extensive network/ offices across top cities in the country. Hence, a startup that has been there for atleast 4-5 years should definitely opt for a PR firm to drive national impact for any of its announcements. The consultancy approach is much cheaper that hiring local full-time resources who may not be utilised to the best of their potential at all times.

To conclude

In-house vs PR firm is an ongoing debate that has been doing the rounds for years. One should remember that a successful PR campaign is a result of a collaborative effort of a focused team. There is no one-size-fits all approach. 

It is advisable to identify the key objectives of a PR campaign and accordingly decide on going ahead with one of the two suggested approach roads. Also, it is important to note that as the brand grows, its PR requirements and priorities will vary. Startups should focus on clearly outlining the impact generated from their PR campaign and revisit their strategy, as need be.


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha is a seasoned brand communications professional with over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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