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The PR Counselor: The Outside Agency

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Outside PR counselors are of two broad genres: 1) the agency type organization used by a great many larger companies, almost all associations representing industries and a big share of the non profit organizations and institutions. The type No 2) is more literally a counselor whose operation is often a partnership and whose client list is confined to three moderate size clients, usually in the manufacturing or trade industry association fields.

Almost without exception, the agency types of consultants are engaged by the chief officer or general manager and work with personnel, marketing or perhaps financial. Unlike advertising agencies, PR is always paid by fees that are subject to very sharp measurements in man hours and other costs incurred in fulfilling the assignments. The rate of payment tends to cover a wider range than in other widely used services such as management or marketing counselors, and advertising agencies.

The PR agency manned for a wide range of services that might include opinion research or other studies for personnel, marketing or corporate (management) objectives, financial reporting and materials preparation, governmental services and other publics such as education, commands fees that usually exceed $50,000 annually and may total several times that figure.

Partnership agencies in large cities are paid between SI, 500 and $2,000 monthly for services that may cover several areas, but in duties shared by staff personnel. The one man counselor tends to seek comfortable two, three or even four clients that net him an income in the $20,000 to $25,000 annual range.

Experience and Expertise

The counselor rarely has had that role as a career ambition either in college or as a starting career choice. His clients usually have a staff operation, usually a single PR executive whose job load is overburdening, before they seek out the ready made services of the counselor.

As the reader may have noted in our earlier discussions of the high degree of vocational attraction in the PR craft, most career practitioners have some degree of affinity for the industry, business or service fields where their careers are. In larger companies organization experts often recommend the transfer of recent trainees in operations to the PR department because they show aptitudes. As a rule the apparent aptitude suggesting" the transfer is in some way related to an understanding of the products or services that attract buyers: an athlete's understanding of sports equipment uses; or a good salesman's attractions for recreational activities that fit into the company's business. The vocational aptitudes of counselors tend to be strictly in PR itself. A great many come from college into the big counseling agencies where they move up as they would in a client company.

Expertise and experience are what counselors sell. But these are in PR techniques. As individuals they have reached their career objectives in their PR roles. In the offices of medium size or larger concerns their direct dealings may center in the office of a vice president who heads communications or employee services, but their interest remains with the PR application suited to whatever is assigned. Unlike the general characteristics of selling and marketing services, PR techniques do not merge into, or become a part of the commodity or service. Many types of PR staff assignments in organizations are basically expansions of operating functions: employee relations, dealer relations or financial relations; but counseling services retain as their essential value the understanding of the technique and a degree of familiarity with channels: media, associations, public offices and sometimes with other modes of counseling.

What the Outside Counselor Does Best

Considering that counsel may be employed as a single highly specialized individual or at the other extreme as an agency group suited to a wide scope of services and strategies, there are a wide variety of situations that trigger his employment. In the order of degrees of essentiality, the following listing was gleaned from the records of more than 100 counselors showing their respective top priority functions:

There were almost as many priorities or reasons for engaging outsiders that were shown once or twice, such as management leadership, corporate image, publicity support in specific cities, California or New York representative, etc.

The above listing reflects PR's own appraisal of priority function, usually based upon the need that brought them into the client's service. Almost all offices listed press relations, and a great many showed community relations, but here the aim is to show the specific situation that caused the move to outside counsel.

Except for 12 one man counseling services, almost all of the functions shown were included in most of the counselors' roster of services: the aim here is to show the types of work they formally seek, or are considered to specialize in.

PR Service May Be a Part of Advertising Agencies

Although a majority of advertising" agencies offer a PR service, and the majority of these are integrated into then basic functions, the large advertising agencies tend to operate PR agencies not differing greatly from regular PR agencies of their respective sizes.

At base, PR is heavily oriented to communications: in turn, many advertising agencies of the smaller types serving industrial accounts are vocationally inclined toward then clients. For example: they may have wide experience in the transportation field and their clients tend to be members of that field. In the same way, their communications skills may be in both advertising and PR techniques. These agencies have among their greatest assets a capability to perform spot assignments with little or no advance preparation, to represent the client at industry activities, represent him in legislative matters and generally to perform as augmented staff.

Career Advantages of PR Counseling

In its broadest sense the practitioner on company staff has greater security and far greater potential for advancement into management than does the practitioner in counseling work. However, the career counselor lays far greater movability than possible in the client organization. There is very little psychic income in counseling: whatever he earns he has collected by the end of the year. If his income runs ahead of his salary (as an owner member) he controls its re investment, or other disposal.

Individuals in counseling organizations are relatively vulnerable to business attrition: an account goes, usually someone in the agency goes; an account conies in, more people are needed. Those facts of life are not often the major differences between PR on company staff and in counseling. When an agency views attrition it also sees the other side: the new account. When a counseling practitioner feels the axe of attrition he knows it is not the end: some one, some place, has gained an account. He finds his niche.

From the company viewpoint the advantages of employing PR outside counsel include the absence of a moral or financial commitment beyond the term of their essentiality. He may terminate the service to try another, or to confine PR to staff. His freedom to dismiss a staff member is somewhat more involved. Whether he is immediately aware of it or not, job security is near the top in considerations leading to candidates joining companies. As matters stand, there is room for both types, and both career candidates and clients will continue to make their choices.


The PR counselor or outside agency sells expertise and experience to the company employing him. These individuals in agencies are most often employed for new model/ product assignments, employee/union difficulties, merger/ acquisitions and added PR loads too heavy for staff practitioners.

The large agency, or advertising agency with PR service, may serve many different types of company. The smaller PR counselor is usually vocationally oriented to his clients.


What are the major functions performed by outside PR counseling agencies?
What are the career advantages of outside counseling as opposed to staff work?
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