I’ve been lucky enough to dip my toes in multiple areas of the public relations (PR) industry and can tell you it’s true when they say no two careers in PR are the same. I’ve interned for a federal government department, as well as local and large-scale agencies, and noticed key differences in how they operate. Whether you’re unsure of which area to go into, looking for a career change, or just simply curious, here are the differences between working for the government vs. a PR agency.
One of the standout differences I’ve noticed going from working in communications for the government to a private agency is the processes involved. In an agency, there is you and there is a client. When a client has commissioned an agency to complete work on their behalf, typically everything requires client approval before proceeding with implementation. Well, if you’re an intern there might be a few other stages before reaching the final product but the point is that client approval is typically all that’s required.
Government, however, has several approval processes. There are usually different departments for each audience. So the people who are communicating with the general public won’t be the same as those who talk to large or small business. On campaigns with multiple audiences, anything from a Tweet to a case study requires approval from each audience team.
If you’re the PR professional at a private agency you could be handling everything from media relations to social media to events; sometimes all within the one day. On the contrary, in addition to different teams for each audience, government has specific areas and departments for each communication function. This means a separate department for media relations, social media, or community relations. So if you’re looking for a fast paced, diverse role, a PR role at an agency is a great place to learn multiple skills, whereas if you want to specialise in a particular area, working in government might be more suited.
It’s no secret that working for the government has great benefits, the working hours included. Depending which department you work for you have a set amount of hours per day. Anything over this is recorded as ‘flex time,’ which gets stored as leave. This means that if you stay late one night, you could have an early finish the following day. You can even store up your ‘flex’ time and take a few days off (pending manager approval, of course).
Now, if you’ve worked in an agency then you’ll know luxuries such as this do not exist. Often you will find yourself arriving well before and well after the standard nine to five, sorry to break it to you. Although, if you love the job it might very well be worth it! Some PR agencies present the opportunity to work on major clients and brands, which can sometimes be more fun than your average taxpayer.
By Nelson Fogarty