PR agencies come in all shapes and sizes. Some are big, flashy and have a long and sprawling client list. Other agencies — often described as “boutique” — are smaller and less known, yet capable of producing work of the highest quality. When considering a career in PR — or a pivot from another industry — size can matter. In general, larger agencies have a more traditional work atmosphere and all that goes with it — a more formal hierarchy, multiple layers of management, and set policies about work hours. Smaller agencies are often less formal and can be less organized when it comes to personnel matters. Both, however, can offer a very positive experience and top-level learning.
With that in mind, here are some of the benefits of working at a small PR firm.
A strong culture
A small PR agency is like a small town. Whether you like it or not, everyone knows you, and you know them. PR pros at smaller agencies tend to develop relationships with one another that just wouldn’t be possible at a bigger place. We know a lot about one another’s personal lives, and it’s not hard to develop almost familial bonds at work. It makes work more fun and less stressful. In between client calls, meetings, or drafting content, it’s typical to talk about the day’s current events or pop culture or sports. At a small agency, everyone gets to know each other, whether they work on the same accounts or not. Fewer people ultimately makes these interactions easier and more meaningful. At a larger agency, you make more contacts, but there is less interaction with people who aren’t a member of your own account team.
Opportunities to thrive
Mobility, mobility, mobility – those are the three reasons many people start off at a smaller firm. Every young PR professional wants an opportunity to show their true value and what they’re made of. A small agency will typically offer a faster rise through the ranks than a larger firm, because those ranks are thinner. Yes, there’s still a hierarchy, and that’s an important part of any functioning business or company. But fewer employees and layers of management mean more opportunities to move up, and to try new things that just wouldn’t be possible at a larger agency. This could be anything from putting together a quarterly PR plan to being a part of a new business presentation. At larger agencies, these are usually reserved for senior team members. In a small environment junior folks get a chance to be a part of them. There, you can accelerate your skill set and move up more quickly.
Another benefit of working at a small agency is the chance for high-level collaboration. Sure, there’s also that opportunity at larger agencies. However, with so many voices in the room, chances are you may not have the occasion to share your ideas and thoughts. At a big agency, these meetings usually consist of the same couple of high-ranking folks dominating the conversation. As a result, junior staff are often muted or intimidated. A small agency, on the other hand, affords the chance for your voice to not only be heard, but also be seriously considered. For example, it’s common to get together with team members to figure out the most effective way to roll out a product announcement for a given client. Since the teams are smaller, you have a real chance to be a critical part of the collaboration and decision-making processes.
Greater client ownership
At a mega-agency, the client organizations tend to be larger, so they require more staff — often multiple layers and levels of staff. In a smaller environment, by contrast, you may actually work on more individual clients, but because they are small or midsize companies, you have more ownership over the work and the client relationship. It’s a great way to develop a deep understanding of what a client does and how to help them achieve success. For someone starting off in PR, this means you can dig in and understand the nuances that go along with PR work. It’s a win-win for both you and the client.
As a team member at a small firm, you learn different aspects of the job very quickly, often by necessity. Yes, smaller agencies may still offer specialist services, like content development or speakers bureau. But chances are, even during your first months on the job, you’ll have the chance to write, pitch media, research business categories, and even participate in high-level creative sessions and business development meetings. Smaller firms tend to be flexible and nimble, and those skills will come in handy no matter where you build your career.
I feel that a boutique PR agency is the best place to learn everything you need to know and offer a chance to get your feet wet. They also allow someone new to the industry to make their name and reputation quickly. To me, there’s no question that a small agency provides the best work environment to make the most of your skill and become the best PR person possible.