Tips for integrating an agency with an in-house team

When used properly, agencies can help overwhelmed in-house pros.

Two people shaking hands

There are never enough hours in a day to complete all the work an in-house communicator has on their to-do list. The nagging feeling that there’s more that you could, should, be doing is enough to bring even the most cheerful pro down.

But sometimes, agencies can be a solution to that time crunch.

PR Daily spoke to Laura Emanuel, managing director of Red Thread PR, and Randi Berris, vice president of Marketing and Communications at Business Leaders for Michigan, about when an agency can supplement in-house work.

Emanuel said that she helps in-house teams assess their agency needs and where the best opportunities for collaboration lie.

“Together it’s the ultimate kind of partnership and the ultimate team to really pull everything off to the best of our ability,” Emanuel said.

‘Look under the hood’ first

Before collaboration even begins, it’s critical to understand what your needs are. The first step is to understand what everyone is doing by conducting an audit to understand what tasks are on everyone’s plate, what’s getting done and where another set of hands is needed.

“Look under the hood of what everyone is doing,” Emanuel suggested, to gain insight into how to rebalance workloads for greater success.

For instance, Berris said her company heavily relies on agencies for their media relations acumen, especially when it comes to specific relationships with reporters in local markets across Michigan.

“When I’m looking at different agencies to choose, I need a good thought partner for strategy and tactical support for advertisement placement and bread and butter public relations,” Berris said.

Once needs are identified, it’s time to identify where an agency can really pitch in. Often in-house communicators must stay responsive to quick-turn, high-importance requests from within the organization. But when it comes to looking for opportunities, an agency might bring the fresh eyes you need.

“More of the proactive type things that oftentimes (in-house teams) need an agency to keep an eye on,” Emanuel said of using an agency.

In addition to helping with comms planning, agencies could help an in-house team see things through a new lens.

Emanuel said that an in-house team might be so used to being reactive to internal comms pressures that an external agency has the advantage of seeing the big picture that’s often overlooked when one is immersed in the day-to-day grind.

Berris echoed similar thoughts. Berris said that in her experience working in larger companies, her in-house team relied on agency support as thought partners to bring to life new ideas and comms strategies – especially if they had a fresh take on something that an in-house team might have missed or were too busy to see.

“Now and in my previous roles, having that third-party perspective is really important,” Berris said.

Berris said that in-house teams might not see the forest for the trees in their comms because they’re dealing with it day in and day out. Having an agency could show them what comms angle is working and what’s not and what makes sense and what doesn’t.

“I think it’s very easy for us to assume everyone understands exactly what we’re talking about – how we’re saying it,” Berris said of an in-house team. “And having the third party helps balance us out and be able to push back when we’re getting too comfortable with language that some might see as jargon-y or bureaucratic. An agency is helpful in being that reality check.”


Using agencies for tactical support

Emanuel said that it is vital for agencies to have an ongoing dialogue with their in-house teams about resource allocation and the internal measurement process to best understand the success of the partnership. That also looks like ensuring everyone is on the same page with tracking tools to know how stakeholders engage with internal content to see if the messaging works or should be tweaked.

“It gets pretty granular,” Emanuel said of the data shared with her agency. She added that while clients will share different amounts or kinds of data, it provides agencies with a better understanding of the broader picture.

“It’s not just asking for data for the sake of data,” Emanuel said. “It’s so that we can build the case for where (we’re at) and where we’re falling short.”

Berris said it’s important to have a regular cadence of meetings and check-ins between in-house and agencies to ensure everyone’s aligned.

“I also hold quarterly meetings where I get all of my agencies together on Zoom and we talk about all of the issues. And it’s never my intent for agencies to be competing against each other,” Berris said. “We should be working toward the same goal … to support the client, me, and be on the same page with strategies.”


Sherri Kolade is a writer and conference producer at Ragan Communications. She enjoys watching old films, reading and building an authentically curated life. Follow her on LinkedIn. Have a great PR/comms speaker in mind for one of Ragan’s events? Email her at


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