FIT Vol 4: Big Agency vs. Small Agency

(CC) flickr // Javier Kohen

If you’re currently looking for a job in PR, you probably don’t have the luxury of choosing exactly where you want to work. And if you only have one or two internships under your belt, you might not have enough experience to know the differences between a large and a small agency, which means you don’t know which environment suits you. That being said, I think it’s important to know what you’ll be getting yourself into when you land your first position. Since I’ve worked for both a large (close to 50 people and multiple departments) and a small (less than 10 executives working on a handful of accounts) agency, I’ve formed my own opinions on the pros and cons of each situation, based on what I’ve observed and experienced. And since we all come from different walks of life, I’ve consulted my fellow #prbc-ers to get their take on the situation so that I can give all the other entry-level flacks out there a heads up.

Environment: When you were little, and you pictured yourself going to work every day, were you wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase? Or were you clad in jeans and flipflops? That’s the way I like to think about the differences between environments in large and small agencies. I’m not saying that all small agencies will let you wear jeans on a daily basis (although, mine did). However, the atmosphere is a lot more casual, whereas a large agency tends to be on the corporate side. They depend on organization, protocol, procedure and rules. In my experience, there is a good and a bad side to the beauracracy. Everyone loves a relaxed atmosphere, but a lack of these things can result in a situation like an inappropriate boss who makes unprofessional comments when you’re trying to do your job (it’s happened). It really all depends on how professional you want your experience to be. On the subject of bosses, the daily mood of the head honcho can truly affect the way your day goes in a small agency- at a large one you’ll probably be more removed.

Day-to-Day Responsibilities: If you’re looking to learn about the public relations industry by being thrown headfirst into the mix, and learn from experience rather than from watching your superiors, a small agency might be a better match for you. At a large agency, where the structures and hierarchies are more rigid, there’s a chance that most of your time will be spent conducting clerical and administrative work. At a smaller place, you’re more likely to be working on client work from day one. Client relations, pitching media, and major writing assignments are all fair game. If that sounds terrifying to you at your age, try picking a place where Account Coordinator actually MEANS Account Coordinator. Another important thing to consider is whether or not you’re interested in being a specialist in every industry. Large agencies have departments, which means your clients will be focused in one area. At a small company you could have clients from consumer products, technology, and B2B all at the same time, which can be stressful.

Social Interaction: Although it might be considered less important, the social situation and the type of relationships you form in the office can affect your life just as much as the work you are doing. When thinking of small agencies, one word comes to mind: La Familia. When you’re hired into a company with only a handful of employees, you’re immediately one of the gang. Sounds nice right? What about when there’s conflict, or even a little bit of tension in the office (as there’s bound to be)? Think of all the drama a real family has- there is no such thing as a secret. It gets pretty hard to escape when you’re in a small office. At a large agency there might be someone you don’t like, but there’s a chance you’ll never have to work with them. On the other hand, it’s always great to have a tight-knit support system; you might meet some of your best friends through bonding over a bad day or a crazy boss.

Promotions and Raises: A smaller agency means less positions and less new business, which means there is little room for growth and mobility. Some people place a high value on being loyal to one agency for many years, whether it be the comfort of familiarity or the desire to grow with the company. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it will probably be harder for you to reach the level or salary you desire. Most flacks in this position are forced to go outside the agency to get what they want. Going back to the La Familia concept, it also may be difficult for you to negotiate more money without feeling guilty or like you’re asking for too much.

Reputation and Appearance: Let’s face it, names are important to people. Even I can admit that part of the reason I made the decision to go to NYU was that I didn’t have to say New York University to get people to understand where I attended school. If you love the look on people’s faces when you tell them you work at XYZ or it’s important to you that you work in a spacious, modern looking office, then big agency life might be for you. Unfortunately, not many perks come from working at Smalltown Communications in Nowhere, Wyoming (man I really hope that doesn’t actually exist). But I’m hoping this is the very last thing on your list of what means a lot to you.

If I sound a bit biased, it’s probably because I am. But what’s right for me might not be what’s right for you. It’s important to consider all of these factors when making a decision on the kind of agency you want to pursue. I’d love to hear all of your thoughts and experiences on large vs. small agencies! Comment it up.

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