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Specialist versus generalist PR agency: Which is best?

When it comes to partnering with a PR firm, there are a number considerations to factor into decisions. However, quite often one of the questions we come across is whether a recruitment business should go for a generalist firm or a specialist agency. While there are benefits to both, for staffing companies in particular, having a niche expert on board can often provide the greatest return on investment.

Here’s our take on the specialist versus generalist PR debate:

Expert knowledge is needed

When it comes to getting your message across in a manner that works for your staffing company, having a representative that speaks your language and really ‘gets’ your industry is something that we often find business owners are seeking. But a generalist PR firm will have to start from scratch to develop this knowledge and expertise. With a specialist firm, you will have access to communications professionals who not only possess the PR skills set to design and deliver a comms strategy that’s tailored to your firm, but also the niche knowledge to be able to hit the ground running.

For internal communications teams, having an external PR expert on board that already knows the sector inside and out means they can start delivering strategic communications plans quickly and effectively. Perhaps more importantly, though, they will know how to get the information from your consultants that will ensure PR activity is delivering the results the team needs to grow the business.

Focusing on quality over quantity

We’ve found in the past that when a recruitment business is making a decision on a PR firm, it often comes down to us versus a generalist agency. And when it does, the topic of numbers will undoubtedly be raised. We fully expect to be told “the other firm is promising more coverage or more Twitter followers than you.” Our response is always the same. They may be able to achieve that for the same budget, but what’s the quality of the coverage?

A generalist firm may be using an expensive newswire distribution service to deliver larger volumes of coverage, but often these are made up of news aggregator sites rather than targeted press activity. You may have your name featured on several of these websites, but will your target audiences see these? I’d say it’s highly unlikely, in which case, it’s not delivering the end goal of most PR activity: gaining visibility with new business prospects.

The same can be said for social media follower numbers. If you’re being promised high numbers, is there a guarantee that these will be the right people and not bots? If you gain several followers but none of the accounts are genuine or form part of your target audience, the investment isn’t delivering valuable results for the business in my view.

A lot of the volumes that a generalist firm will promise are what we call vanity metrics. The numbers may look impressive, but if the quality of the coverage or online followers isn’t up to scratch, it’ll be difficult to see real value for money.

Targeted connections

If you take a ‘Jack of all trades’ approach to your external business partners, you will get just that; someone who has the odd connection across a variety of media outlets, but no specific area of expertise. But if you’re a firm placing IT contractors internationally, for example, what does it matter if the PR firm has successfully helped a local restaurant gain coverage in The Sun?

Working with a niche firm that has connections in media that is relevant to your firm will provide more meaningful results. If we take a look at one of our own case studies as an example, it’s perhaps easy to see how a targeted approach can deliver significant ROI. We secured (and drafted) an article for Rethink Energy with a specialist oil publication on a very targeted topic: the lack of process safety engineers in the industry. The coverage resulted in new business opportunities for the consultant the piece was ghost written for and led to upwards of £100,000 in fee opportunities for the business.

Honest advice

Another benefit of a specialist is that they will often give you honest feedback and advice (we will at least!) Based on the expert knowledge that a niche PR firm has, they will be able to guide a business on what does and doesn’t work. As a case in point, we know that a new office opening won’t generate the news interest that a recruitment firm might be after. However, the reasons behind a new office – an increase in business that indicates hiring activity is increasing in you sector vertical, for example – is newsworthy and will be of interest to publications that are relevant to your business.

Specialist versus generalist PR: niche is the way forward

When it comes to choosing a PR firm to engage with, generalist and specialists can both have an appeal. But, much as recruiters will often highlight why their niche abilities will deliver the better result for employers, a specialist recruitment PR expert can provide firms with greater value for money.

Want to know more about BlueSky PR and how we can help your staffing company?  Contact us today

Vickie CollingeAuthor: Vickie Collinge

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