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A Tale of Two Twins: Agency vs. In-house

Photo by Parker Byrd on Unsplash

Published on October 7 , 2019, at 4:02 p.m.
by Kennedy Schwefler.

One hardship that many public relations professionals face is deciding whether to jump into agency life or in-house communications. Although both paths are very distinct, two twins prove the divide is not as big as one might think.

Twins Anna Catherine and Mary Elizabeth Roberson are public relations gurus in their respective fields. Anna Catherine works for Alabama Power’s Charitable Giving department and also serves as the associate director for the Alabama Power Service Organization. Mary Elizabeth is the director of public affairs for PERITUS Public Relations, an agency based out of Birmingham, Alabama.

Both twins followed the same public relations and business curricula at The University of Alabama and participated in similar campus activities as well as comparable interests; yet, one is an in-house communications specialist, and another serves as a director at a boutique agency.

Photo courtesy of Anna Catherine

Both Robersons arrived at the Capstone curious about public relations but had not thought extensively about their future careers. However, Anna Catherine admitted she was drawn to the field from day one.

“It was during orientation that I visited the communications school, and I really loved everything they were saying and became more interested in the PR field,” she explained. “I thought I would decide later, but I was hooked after my first semester classes.”

Mary Elizabeth had a similar train of thought, but she found clarity after getting involved with the student government association and summer internships.

“I went to UA not knowing what exactly I wanted to go into, but I loved learning about the various opportunities within the broader public relations field,” she noted.

While in school, they discussed classes and opportunities around campus, but never knew where their careers would lead them. Growing up, Mary Elizabeth said that she and Anna Catherine had akin interests and were both “news and political junkies.” They often reminisce about their memories in the public relations program, including writing for Platform Magazine.

Both sisters were involved on campus with organizations in the communications college, but their real-world experiences were what really helped them decide in what direction they wanted to take their careers.

Anna Catherine interned at Alabama Power and knew she wanted to pursue a career in the corporate sector.

“I’ve always been interested in the corporate side and how a company interacts with stakeholders and the community,” she said. “I was interested in the agency world, but working for Alabama Power was a natural fit.”

Mary Elizabeth started her PR career as an in-house communications coordinator at a non-profit and enjoyed the valuable experience but always had an interest in agency life.

Photo courtesy of Mary Elizabeth

“I enjoyed serving in an in-house communications role, but was also looking to grow in my career and get some different experience,” she said. “When the position at Peritus presented itself, I knew that it aligned with my goals to work at an agency and provided an opportunity to work in a variety of industries.”

At Alabama Power, Anna Catherine has had the opportunity to serve in roles where she has experienced different sides of the business. She started as the public information representative for Alabama Power’s Western Division where she was responsible for public relations and communications. Now, she works in the Charitable Giving department supporting the Alabama Power Foundation’s communications strategies and manages employee volunteer initiatives.

“Working at Alabama Power, I have had the opportunity to practice PR through external and internal communications efforts,” said Anna Catherine. “This experience has allowed me to work across departments and grow in my career.”

At PERITUS, Mary Elizabeth serves as director of public affairs. In this role, she manages policy-related communications and initiatives for their clients. She has worked at Peritus since 2012. When she started at the agency, there was only one other co-worker but she has enjoyed being part of the firm’s growth as their clientele and team continue to grow.

“Working at a smaller firm, you have the opportunity to get hands-on experience and make an impact immediately,” she explained. “I think everything I’ve learned from working in a group dynamic and being part of the firm’s growth growing the firm has helped me become a better PR practitioner.”

Both Anna Catherine and Mary Elizabeth are driven in their careers but also have a passion for mentoring others.

The sisters’ advice to young professionals and students trying to find their fit rang true for both positions. They recommend keeping an open mind and learning about all possible opportunities in each role. The most beneficial thing for them was sitting down with mentors who are in-house professionals as well as agency professionals.

“Now that one of us went the corporate route and one went the agency route, it’s even more fun to talk about the PR world and compare and contrast,” said Anna Catherine. “It’s a great way to learn from each other’s experiences and discuss best practices… it makes for fun conversation.”

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