You’ve decided that it’s time to bring in some external PR and marketing expertise. But knowing where to find the support you need isn’t so easy. The traditional option would be an agency with a track record in your industry sector. But, with such a wealth of talent now on offer in the freelance community, perhaps an independent consultant would suit your business better?
There is no right or wrong answer. Both options have their pros and cons, depending on your business, your budget and the kind of support you’re looking for. Here, we run through the benefits and disadvantages of each, to help you make your decision.
What are the benefits of choosing a freelancer?
- More cost-effective: As self-employed individuals, freelancers have far fewer overheads than full-service agencies, and this means that they can offer their skills and expertise far more cost-effectively. Hiring a freelancer is therefore a great way to get top-notch experience, without busting your budget.
- Specialist skills: Freelancers have often spent years as agency workers before striking out on their own. They’ve had time to develop their craft, and they know exactly what they’re doing. So, if you’re looking for specialist skills, freelancers will be able to provide well-honed expertise without the price tag of an agency.
- You know who you’re working with: One major advantage of working with freelancers is that you know exactly who you’re getting. Working with a freelancer enables you to build a personal relationship with that individual, developing a working style and approach that fits both of you. This is often not the case with agencies, who may pass your work on to a number of different employees through the course of a project – many of whom will be less experienced.
- Ease of communication: Working with a freelancer also means that you’re able to communicate directly with the person responsible for your project, rather than relaying messages via an account manager or director, as can be the case with agencies. Working directly with a freelancer can therefore be much easier, and often means the service is more reactive to your needs.
- Flexibility: As you’re just dealing with a single individual, freelancers are often more flexible that agencies. Where an agency may require a long-term contract, or have set hours, reporting and management structures etc., a freelancer can mix it up quickly and easily, with the ability to scale their support up and down as your needs change.
And the downsides?
- Time and workload limitations: There’s only so much that one person can do. So, if your project is on the larger side, it could be a step too far for a single freelancer. Having said that, an increasing number of freelancers are now choosing to operate as part of a team, in order to offer a more integrated service. So, this is something to consider for bigger projects, as a compromise between agency and freelance options.
- Less versatility: Similarly, while freelancers may be very skilled, they can also have a very specialised focus. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course, however, if you’re looking for a wide range of services, you will probably need to work with a number of individuals, a team of freelancers, or seek out a full-service agency.
- Delays may be harder to overcome: Delays are part of life, when the unexpected inevitably throws a spanner in the works. Whether you can make up for lost time depends a lot on the resources at your disposal and, as mentioned above, freelancers can only do so much on their own. Having said that, freelancers are usually highly productive, so you may be surprised by their speed and output.
- Fewer reporting and management structures: Without the structure and process of an agency, freelancers are unlikely to provide the same level of reporting. Furthermore, if you do face issues, there is no way of going up the level of command to complain. However, it’s worth noting that freelancers are reliant upon their reputation to keep their businesses afloat, so they do have a very big vested interest in making their clients happy. While they may not be accountable to a ‘boss’ per se, they are usually very particular about maintaining high standards.
What are the advantages of an agency?
- More resources: Delays, extra work, project diversification – all of these present far less of a problem for agencies than they do for freelancers. Agencies have a wide set of human resources to draw upon and can easily bring in extra brains to work on a project, as and when required. They also tend to have a wider range of software, licences, equipment and so on at their disposal. So, if your project expands and/or diversifies, an agency is usually more able to rise to the challenge than a freelancer would be.
- A wider network: Having a big agency team at your disposal usually means more contacts and connections to draw on, which may be beneficial for your company or project. This is a particular consideration for PR campaigns, when you’re trying to reach journalists and other influencers. An agency of 30 people will naturally have more connections than a single freelancer, so it is something to think about, depending on your project and objectives.
- More accountable. An agency will usually assign a manager to your account, who will oversee and manage progress, report back, and update you on results achieved. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, it’s the account manager’s entire job to sort the issue out. This can potentially make it easier to hold agencies accountable, and sort out any issues.
And any disadvantages?
- Usually more expensive: Agencies have wages to pay, offices to maintain, marketing to produce… in short, they have many more overheads than freelancers. That means higher prices, which can be prohibitive for smaller businesses.
- Loss of control: Depending on the agency, it’s likely that the people you meet at the pitch stage won’t actually be the people working on your account. While theoretically your account manager should ensure accountability, in practice many businesses find the lack of a direct relationship with workers frustrating. Depending on your project, this distance from the people doing the work can result in a lack of consistency, transparency, and efficiency.
- Less flexibility: The bigger something is, the harder it is to manoeuvre. Where freelancers can easily join a team or switch their working hours with a minimum of fuss, the same is not true of agencies. So, while the versatility of skills is useful, if you anticipate wanting to scale your support up and down, the more nimble working style of freelancers can be a big advantage.
With a bit of research, it usually becomes clear which option will suit your business best, based on your budget and objectives. However, if you’re still unsure, don’t be afraid to shop around and speak to a few different options to get the lay of the land. Be sure, as well, that you know as much about what your project will entail as is possible. The more you know about the kinds of skills and working styles you’re looking for, the better able you are to make the right choice.