What are the pros/cons of going agency first or in-house first?
I'm a big fan of going to an agency to kick-of your PR career, and that's what I did. Here's why:
1) You will learn a crazy amount. Starting your career at a PR agency is like PR bootcamp, IMO. The agency's #1 goal is to help its clients meet their business objectives through producing world-class results. Because of that, they really don't want you to drop the ball or screw up, and there are lots and checks and balances in place to ensure that doesn't happen. This might sound daunting, but it's a very positive thing for you as a new PR pro. For example, at an agency you're going to consistently have senior people on the account reviewing your work and providing feedback. They want your work to be "client ready" and this constant feedback cycle on every project you work on will engrain these skills until they become second nature to you. Aside from feedback, many PR agencies offer opportunities to learn outside of the regular billable work you do for the client. Some stuff I went through included mandatory pitching practice and getting access to lunch n' learns where reporters or other PR pros would come into the agency and share on a topic. If you take a job in the PR department of a company, it's very unlikely that you'll have access to the same amount of PR-specific training. Your boss at a company is beholden to the business objectives - and you might have a great manager - but it's less likely this person has the time to invest teaching you all of the fundamentals whereas this stuff is required at an agency. Trust me, the fundamentals that you can learn at an agency are things you don't want to miss out on! It'll only limit you down the road.
2) You will work on a greater diversity of things. When you work in a PR department at a company, your north star is your company's business objectives, like driving user acquisition of a new product that the company is launching. At an agency, you're probably going to be put on a few different accounts, meaning you get to context-switch between different business objectives all of the time, and subsequently you'll work on a variety of tasks, projects and potentially even with different media verticals, if you're involved in direct outreach. This broader scope of tasks not only forces you to learn how to prioritize your time, but it'll reveal over time what clients/industries you like and don't like. Working on food clients and tech clients simultaneously illuminated to me that I wanted to work at a tech company down the line. Even if you're working on three clients in the same industry, you'll still get a sense of where you want to point your arrow in the future.
3) Companies prefer it. For an entry level role, company PR departments value candidates who have had PR agency experience. The company knows an agency is going to groom you as discussed above. This makes you a more valuable candidate. I can't tell you how many times recruiters have told me that having agency experience prior to my in-house roles is valuable. In fact, many companies require prior PR or marketing agency experience to even consider you for an entry-level in-house role (like: PR Specialist or PR Coordinator).
There are a bunch of other benefits not discussed here, but these are the biggies for me. Some grads shy away from PR agencies because they've heard horror stories: long hours, scrutiny on every piece of work, competition with your account peers, getting reprimanded by a client. These types of experiences are right-of-passage in my opinion - and they will only make you stronger.
Reply me if you want to talk more about this.