Answer: A corporate HR liaison, in my opinion, can be very helpful as a source for internal information about the organization, executive staff and teams involved in the process. However, factors to consider when evaluating internal vs external resources include determining whether the HR team and its leadership are aware of what it can competently tackle and identifying who makes the decision about retaining additional resources.
Outlining the expertise required to complete an assignment is rarely spelled out by communications leaders but would be extremely valuable. It would form the basis for deciding if there were sufficient internal resources to complete the project. Often the capability to perform sophisticated search work is lacking. In addition, if a goal is identifying qualified diversity candidates, special efforts must be made to tap a broad candidate pool of fully qualified finalists. That research is highly specialized, challenging and generally requires retaining external expertise.
Depending upon the organization and budgetary considerations, there may be a bias toward saving the cost of the fee and attempting to recruit for the position using in-house recruiting staff. In some companies the internal staff regards using a search firm as an admission they are not competent and see themselves in an adversarial role. That is an unfortunate situation. A joint effort where the internal HR staff develops a close working relationship with the search firm can lead to efficiencies and more effective evaluation of candidates.
On occasion the in-house staff has developed an expertise to source and evaluate senior level comms executives, but that is rare.
A key question in the decision making process is, who controls the budget for retaining outside consultants? Often, that is centralized in HR. If that is the case, I recommend that the decision-making process be shared with the group/department that has made the request for outside consultants. There should be provisions for reviewing/overriding the decision if HR rejects the request. This financial policy reflects the point that project management of a search should be in the hands of the department that is filling a vacancy, supported by HR.