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The Top 3 Reasons Clients Hire Outside Agencies, Consultants and Freelancers

A survey of comms pros finds the top three reasons clients hire outside help are an extra pair of hands, outside objectivity and advice and expertise in a niche

If you ask communicators and PR professionals why clients hire outside help, the majority will find consensus around one answer: execution, or in other words, an extra pair of hands.

That’s according to 53% of the 483 communicators that responded to the 5th Annual JOTW Strategic Communications Survey for 2022 (summary and highlights). It’s a fairly senior group too, since 70% of respondents have 11 or more years of experience.

An extra pair of hands was followed by “outside objectivity and advice” (45%) and “expertise in a niche, vertical market or subject matter” (34%).

Here’s how the top 10 reasons look in context:

  • 53% said execution (extra pair of hands);
  • 45% said outside objectivity and advice;
  • 34% said expertise in a niche, vertical market or subject matter;
  • 33% said planning and strategy;
  • 27% said strategic projects;
  • 26% said transactional or short-term project help;
  • 24% said existing relationships and connections;
  • 18% said better cost-to-value than additional headcount;
  • 15% said monitoring and measurement;
  • 15% said geographic reach or scale;

Here’s how that looks graphically:

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Some of the open-ended comments around that question provide context.

“My clients don’t have the people hours to do the work they hire me to do,” wrote another respondent. “The internal meetings and communications that on-staff comms people have to do prevents them from having the time and focus required to write and edit the content marketing and thought leadership.”

I can identify with that sentiment. When I was on the in-house side, many internal meetings just added to the already very long to-do list I had. When do you expect me to do all this?

(click image for higher resolution)

Comparing in-house and outside answers

There were some differences by role. For example, when responses are segmented by in-house teams – and outside resources, we can see how views shift:

  • Clients. The client-side clearly believes execution (55%) is the top reason, followed by outside objectivity and advice (35%) and expertise in a niche (30%).
  • Agencies. Agencies, on the other hand, have a very different view. The majority believe the top reasons they are hired for outside objectivity and advice (73%). This is followed – with quite some distance – by execution (37%) and planning and strategy (32%).
  • Consultants and freelancers. This group’s answers reflected those from the client side: 59% said execution, 50% said outside objectivity and advice and 43% said planning and strategy.

There does seem to be a disconnect between client and agency views on the top reason for hiring outside help. However, I’d be cautious about concluding agencies have it all wrong because several factors could be at play here. For example, an agency’s capabilities, experience, and market all influence value – both real and perceived.

The other piece here is that each side brings their own biases of their self-worth to the question. Further, agency leaders tend to be keen observers of human nature – and nature isn’t always what we say.

Here’s how that looks side-by-side:

(click image for higher resolution)

Comparing B2B and B2C answers

There were also some noticeable differences when comparing answers by market segments. For example, respondents that work for B2C organizations put a greater value on transactional or short-term project help (41%).

Another difference is among companies that straddle both B2B and B2C markets. This group seemed to put a greater emphasis on outside objectivity and advice (76%) than their peers that operate purely on one side or the other.

Here’s how that looks side-by-side:

(click image for higher resolution)

The economy wants an extra pair of hands

There continues to be a whole lot of uncertainty around the economy. There are certain signs that business hiring has slowed, even if it hasn’t stopped…yet. The Fed has been clear that it will continue to raise rates to get inflation under control, even if that means job losses.

When and if that happens, all these companies will still need to get market and communications jobs done. Hiring an agency, a consultant, or a freelancer is one way of doing just that without adding headcount.

In other words, “an extra pair of hands” is going to be a compelling value proposition for the foreseeable future.

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Image credit: Unsplash

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