Wish I had a dollar for every time I have been asked to state a preference between corporate and agency life.

Yes, I have been fortunate to have worked for a decade in the trenches for a publicly traded technology hardware provider, LSI Corporation (NYSE: LSI) http://www.lsi.com, and also for three years-plus for an international public relations agency, Edelman Public Relations http://www.edelman.com. And with so many hiring managers and recruiters today seeking a “blend” of the two in this employment seller’s market, the easy answer is that if you don’t have one or the other, then you go out and fill-in the obvious gap on your resume.

Having said that, what choice should you make if you have dueling opportunities in these disciplines? The cop-out answer is that it depends on the individual. Not everybody was programmed from birth to thrive in a corporate culture of a carefully scrutinized and regulated publicly traded company. Likewise not everybody can succeed in an agency environment where compartmentalization and the constant demand to identify and win new business is a daily grind.


Last October, I wrote in an “Almost DailyBrett” post that agency experience is “PR’s Holy Grail.” My views have not changed. Whether you like it or not, hiring managers and recruiters place an inordinate amount of value on agency experience.

There is some justification for this preference because agency life instills a PR practitioner with the ability to simultaneously serve many masters with differing demands, circumstances, problems and abilities. A healthy dose of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), a slavish devotion to documenting every 15 minutes of your life on a billable-hour software spread sheet and a sense of humor are essential to succeeding or at least surviving in this consummate multi-tasking environment.

My “PR’s Holy Grail” post triggered frustration from some readers who tried to crack the agency world, but were turned away because of a lack of…you guessed it, agency experience. The result is a “Catch 22” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch-22_ (logic) quandary with no easy answer.

Keep in mind that compartmentalization and the ability to serve many masters is also a very handy skill set in a corporate environment. The advantage in a company setting is that you are dedicated 24-7 to the greater glory and good of your employer. Having said that, your employer comes complete with a CEO and a CFO, a Finance organization, Investor Relations, Corporate Development, Human Resources, Business Units, Manufacturing and how can we forget Legal (You can never forget Legal)? Trust me, they are not always on the same page and many times you have to take sides without making a permanent enemy (easier said than done).

The publicly traded world also features a myriad of rules and regulations including SEC Reg FD that governs what is a “material” event and when and what can be said and to whom. Reg G requires the reconciliation of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) and Pro-Forma or Non-GAAP. If you are working a deal, you will be asked whether the acquisition or merger is accretive or dilutive and whether it is subject to Hart-Scott-Rodino. Your job will demand you understand not only the top and bottom lines, but COGS, gross margin, operating margin, R&D, SG&A, buy-and-sell side analysts.


And required bi-products of corporate life for publicly traded companies are quarterly earnings reports, annual meetings, and CEO letters to shareholders. Ditto for pre-announcements and most likely, restructurings that cost hundreds of jobs at a time. Wall Street may cheer the latter, but conversely the local media and the surviving employees will question management and put pressure on your external and internal communications programs.

So which is better for you, agency or corporate? The short answer is both. You are better off in the eyes of future employers if you offer a background with these two disciplines. The harder answer is which one should come first or whether you should focus your career on one or the other. One thing is certain: They are two completely different worlds and they are not for everyone.