Public affairs: in-house vs. consultancy

 
Amandeep Gill of Michael Page Policy explores the pros and cons of choosing an ‘in-house’ role over a consultancy role or vice versa. Whether you are making this decision early on in your career, or after having already worked in the industry for some time, you want to make sure the move is right for you and opens up new opportunities. 
 

Consultancy

 
Pros:
  • Inherently within a consultancy role, you will be required to work on a plethora of different projects and clients. This in itself presents challenges on a daily basis but also means work is exciting and varied.
  • The role will constantly be changing and evolving. Consultancies are meritocracies with a clear structure and opportunities in place for their employees to progress through the ranks. 
  • As a consultant, you will be trained to develop skills in order to achieve the consultancy’s commercial objectives – a valuable addition to your CV. 
  • Through a target driven environment, you will learn to chase leads, win new business, attend pitches, network and sell your skills and products in a competitive market place. 
  • Invariably it is easier to move from consultancy to in-house positions. Ultimately, if you are not sure about what you want to do or specialise in, you can get a more generalist skill set early on and later decide which area you want to specialise in.
Cons:
  • At their core, consultancies are businesses interested in maximising revenue and profits. Unpredictable, long hours can be a strain on work/life balance, although the extent of which will vary depending on the consultancy and sectors they specialise in. 
  • There is a lack of control over the type of work you do in a consultancy – you will be at the beck and call of some demanding clients.
  • Not being able to see a project to completion from beginning to end. You may be required to dip in and out of various projects for clients and rarely will you have the opportunity to be involved from the outset and see a process through to completion. 
  • The accumulation of targets, long hours and unpredictability can be a strain, both mentally and physically. 

In-house

 
Pros:
  • You will become a specialist in a particular market and industry gaining in-depth knowledge and expertise within it. 
  • Being able to see a project through from inception to completion may give you a greater sense of satisfaction and allow you to develop your expertise within that industry. 
  • You may have greater input in the development of the policy and communications strategy together with its implementation.
  • It’s tempting to generalise and describe the role as being more work/life balance friendly or ‘9 to 5’. This depends on the company.
Cons:
  • Smaller teams mean it tends to be more difficult to progress through the ranks in in-house roles compared to consultancy roles. You may find it difficult to move internally unless your boss resigns or moves. 
  • The role may eventually become a bit stale and repetitive. In order to further develop your skills you cannot allow yourself to get too comfortable in one post and will need to look for fresh challenges. 
  • It is more difficult to start in-house to then leave and enter consultancy. Consultancies place a premium on candidates with previous experience in a consultancy environment. Similarly, if you decided you wanted to move sectors, due to the competitive nature of in-house roles and the number of candidates available on the market, it may be difficult to find a role outside of that particular sector. 
Overall, if you do want to get exposure to the consultancy space, do it early in your career rather than later. It seems sensible if you are still unsure exactly what you would like to do, to start in a consultancy environment. This will give you exposure to a broader range of work and thus allow you to make a more informed decision later on. If you are passionate about a particular sector, there is probably a stronger pull to move in-house straight away, however the commercial experience you gain in a consultancy role is invaluable regardless. 
 
For more information about working in public affairs or to find out what roles are currently available, contact Amandeep Gill now.
 
T: +44 20 7269 2416