Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Enough already with the PR career planning!

One of the best parts of my working life is mentoring young graduates keen to break into media and PR. But so many of those I meet, have put themselves under enormous pressure by attempting to define exactly what it is they are going to do for the rest of their lives. 


Hush now, I must plan my PR career.
Not just, ‘Oh I think I’d like to be in PR cos I quite like writing and engaging people’; but, ‘I want to be in PR, I want to work in an international agency for two years, on blue chip brands, and then go in house, for a FTSE 100. I want to work in corporate and probably focus on CSR although I think crisis comms may offer good opportunities for rapid progression…’

I've said this before, but how can you possibly know? I don’t even know what I want for Christmas, though if someone gave me such a career plan I might try and swap of for something more useful - like a biro.

It’s not just the rigidity of the approach which is alarming, I mean look at all those X Factor contestants, ‘It’s all I've ever wanted to do, sing.’ I mean it doesn't pan out so well for many of them does it?

It means that talented, young people, who are naturally full of get up and go, find themselves stuck at home, living with their parents (which, along with the student debt, probably contributes to the pressure to get it ‘right’) plotting and scheming how to break into their particular niche rather than just taking a job, rocking up with a big smile, rolling up their sleeves and becoming indispensable by the end of week one.

When I look at my own comms career and all the very successful people I get to work with, I don’t see that many of us ever had a career strategy other than ‘this is fun,can I do more?’ or 'that was crap I’m not doing that again’. Interestingly I was talking to an industry bod the other day, who definitely has always had a game plan and as she proudly talked me through all her clever moves, I asked of each role, ‘So did that make you happy?’ She seemed to think my question an irrelevance and skipped over it. Admittedly she had a Mulberry bag whereas mine came from a street market, so maybe that made her happy. I do hope so.

Possibly the way you find yourself a great comms career is as much down to trial and error as it is to having a plan. Maybe you can just stumble upon the things you love doing and you do them well because they make you happy, you learn from the people you admire, and apply yourself to the mad opportunities that come your way. And instead of focusing on your career success, you focus on the success of your clients and the company that hired you. It’s my belief that loyalty can be spotted above sycophancy, that steadfastness is appreciated more than shrewd cunning, and that just being a great person to be around often gets you further than being the cleverest person in the room. I know this, cos sometimes I was the cleverest person in the room and it didn't necessarily do me any favours.

The young people with whom I have the privilege to work, are smart, conscientious and ready to give it their best shot. And that’s all our industry needs, let’s just give ‘em permission to take a job, any job, and then step back as we watch them fly – all over the place.

Friday, 12 October 2012

You know you’re a fully-fledged freelancer when:

Is it freelance for life or just 'til Christmas? Take my festive quiz to find out.
Beautiful HBC:
 flaunting that freelance look

Tot up how many of these apply to you:

1. If you spend longer than six minutes getting ready of a morning, you consider yourself to be ‘faffing’.

2. When it comes to the three minute lunch break, soup bowls seem an unnecessary middle man, and are no longer required.

3. It never occurred to you before, but now, instead of religiously visiting the salon every six weeks, cos you’re so worth it – every so often, you just yank your hair into a big ponytail and lop off the top bit with the bacon scissors.

4. Your City client asks for an 8.30 briefing and you have jet lag for the rest of the day.

5. You get a pair of sheepskin house boots to keep your tootsies warm all winter long, spending over a hundred quid on what are effectively a pair of uggly slippers.

6. When asked what are doing at the weekend you look at people blankly, then reply, ‘working’ I mean what else would you do?

7. Next bank holiday, instead of gallivanting off on a City break, you’re going to re-grout the kitchen tiles as they are looking really grubby - funny you never noticed that when you had a proper job and was out of the house for 60 hours a week.

8. Your City high heels haven’t seen daylight for six months and when you do eventually try them out, you now walk with less grace than lad in a frock on a stag do.

9. You catch up with a City friend. She regales you with tales of ridiculous internal politics, bodacious power plays and incompetent bosses - but all you can contribute is that the dog ate your Amazon parcel this morning.

10. Dress down Friday has become dress up Friday as that’s the day you go to the supermarket.

If you scored:
5 or less: It’s too late for me, but you must save yourself, book in for a weekend spa retreat, a full make over and hire a personal shopper, so no one need ever know what happened here.
6 and more: Consider yourself utterly unemployable and welcome to our world – we are your people now.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Ten tips for better tech media interviews

How tech companies can give better interviews. 

Media training - that's a terrible phrase isn't it? Makes you think of all those awful politicians that enunciate every syllable emphatically, use all their fingers to underline each phrase and talk at you as if you were Jeremy Paxman. So let's not go there. But there is still much you can do to make sure your conversations with journalists go well. Key, is to remember the journalist has very little time to create a very good story, and it's your job to help them with that.

Wow!
It's Adaptable, Scaleable, Innovative & Flexible?
Such a shame I forgot my pen...
Some sensible tips for sensible interviews:

1) The Press as a whole are more concerned with business arguments than technology methodologies so the WHY needs to be answered way before the HOW and this is where many tech companies need to lift up their heads. The WHO is pretty interesting too, so whatever you do, don't tone down your colourful characters. Look at Boris - he's a media darling and for most of the 'wrong' reasons. 

2) The old truism,' no-one is that interested in you' is - erm - true. They are interested in issues though, so if you can help solve them, then that's the angle to go in on.


3) Journalists are very busy people, so PLEASE get to the point. Work out how your issue-based messages can be delivered top down, so  if you've struck a chord you can drill down with more insight or leave it as a one liner if it gets no traction.

4) It sounds obvious, but actively listen to the question and genuinely try to answer it.You need to answer questions as best you can and weave in your messaging where appropriate and leave it out where it isn't. It's critical to be seen as someone who understands the market and how it ticks. This is more important than getting all your messages across in each and every interview, euch! You may manage it the first time, but I doubt if anyone will want to talk to you a second time. However if you can establish yourself as a credible and trusted source, then the journalist is more likely to make time to talk to you when you do have relevant news.

5) The journalist is looking to create a compelling story from a mixture of background information, intelligent argument and quotes, so if you want to be quoted you need to have a view and be incisive; otherwise you find most of your effort gets swallowed up in unattributed body copy or as background information. Answers can be your own thoughts based on experience or theory, statistically or anecdotally-based or ideally a mixture of the lot.

6) Spokespeople should be reading a weekly digest of relevant hot stories, remember head up!

7) It should go without saying but follow the publication and the journalists you are hoping to meet, so you can assess what messaging will resonate best for that particular journalist.

8) Be courteous, Allow time for the journalist to finish their note taking and prepare their next question, do not dictate or just talk into the silence. Offer sustenance, and DO NOT look at your phones.

9) Remember this is a two way conversation, ask what the journalist is seeing and hearing in the market and future story ideas he is working on.

10) Every interview is different but you should be able to answer the following fundamental questions:
. In these cash strapped times, where are your customers spending their IT budget in your sector?
. What are the drivers behind this (i.e. sticks and carrots)?
. So where do you fit in?
. Other companies do what you do why are you better?
. What tech Holy Grail are you customers chasing right now?
. What's preventing organisations from achieving it?
. What are the key trends in your technology sector right now?
. What's your sector going to look like in five years' time?
You can download these tips in a handy Pdf if you like to keep on your desk and front of mind. Just visit our website http://commscrowd.com/latest-2/

Monday, 10 September 2012

When men inspire words, and words inspire men

Thanks for the warm up. Now meet the Superhumans.
If writing strap lines was an Olympic sport,
that's your gold medal winner right there
So clearly, clearly it’s not ‘disabled’ it’s ‘differently-abled’. A term that’s been around for years, but now looks set to be embraced wholesale after the last two awe-filled, outrageously beautiful, amazingly uplifting weeks, which have left us feeling awed and proud.

So what to do now with the defunct phrase ‘disabled’? It works ok if you throw ‘temporarily’ in front of it. Like, you fall off your skis and break a load of bones - you are temporarily disabled. Cos you’re probably just going to sit it out and sulk about a bit while you can’t do anything, until such time as you can.

Another way it could be applied is to those of us that are just useless at sport. At 6ft I”,  all shoulders, arms legs and feet - you’d think I’d be good at something, anything. But as my sporty father could testify, from the earliest age I've been quite rubbish at everything. Whip smart in my classes I’d get my comeuppance in PE,  three times weekly. Instead of letting my sporty dad coach/cajole me into doing anything involving developing physical skills, I preferred to stay indoors writing angsty poems and drawing very thin, dead-looking people. I have remained steadfastly crap at sports, as now my sporty son can testify.

I take some comfort in the belief that I’m not the only one, and I’d very much like to think that maybe it was a sportily-challenged person like myself, sitting in Channel 4's superb in-house agency 4Creative, that came up with the concept and the words, Thanks for the warm up. Now meet the Superhumans. For those are mighty fine words, that provided the spark that lit the touch paper for the Paralympic flame to burn so very brightly.

A Paralympian, a differently-abled person, a Games Maker, a sports-incompetent, a creative - there’s room enough for all of us to contribute, to make a difference and to make it better.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

On PR work experience and where to get it

When it comms to forging a career in comms, mixing it up a little can be as valid as going all out for a pedigree in PR.
I can do anything me


With employees now trusted more than CEOs, the end user increasingly seen as the key influencer and media channels publishing every type of content to every type of platform, being good, even very good at just PR isn't necessarily going to get you very far. 

When you look at the people behind the current brand success stories, there is increasingly more evidence to substantiate my long held belief that being a Jack of many trades, is the surest way to become Master of your own career.

Talk to industry recruiters and the dream hires are those that that have deep dive domain expertise (hopefully that will never go out of fashion) but combined with wide ranging skills across a full range of comms channels. This means for those starting out, any work experience that gives exposure to any one of the multitude of disciplines you need to affect behavioral change - is one worth having. It matters not whether marketing or PR, social or traditional, event or content - you will gain invaluable experience and become more valuable as a result.

Not convinced? Think the straight arrow approach is still the best way to go? Following the logic that if you intern at Webber you could become its CEO by the time you're 27 and ¾? Well I guess you could, but think of it this way - if your dream job is to be head of PR for at Giorgio Armani do you actually want to intern there? Really?

Surely you’d not prefer to wobble off on your tender Bambi career legs to a few other pastures first and having journalists throw the phone down on you for being base incompetent when Giorgio isn't watching? ie somewhere, anywhere else?

My advice is to learn your skills and make your mistakes elsewhere. For example say you want to be in fashion PR: Work on a shop floor, work in customer service, set up a fashion savvy blog , throw a charity catwalk show, do PR for a local store, then go agency side work on some high street and online brands, go in house see what couture looks like from the inside and then knock on his villa door when you know the industry inside and out and back to front, know the people in it, how to create the advocates, silence the competitors and convert the detractors, how to get them talking, and most importantly - shopping. 


Then knock on Mr Armani's door then, and say, "Well I doubt if you can afford me, but if you wan to take your PR to the next level, here I am." 

No learning experience is wasted, get out there, get learning.


Monday, 6 August 2012

Freelance! Glorious Freelance!

my work all mine,
not sharing it with anyone
How to survive and thrive on the freelance diet

Most freelancers say they took this path to have a better quality of life. Most ex-freelancers say they gave it up because the feast and famine aspect was completely counter intuitive to achieving the work life balance they craved. 

Ergo to sustain independence you need a strategy for coping with the Cabbage Soup Diet one week and the All You Can Eat Buffet the next. Here's mine:

Feast: I love the pace, the focus, and the fear of The Feast! But this year, instead of doing my impression of an overworked Scrat and chasing down every last acorn, as the work ramped up I pulled in fellow freelancer experts to do the bits that they do best, leaving me to what I do best. Net result - very happy clients (several experts for the price of one) and several happy experts instead of one, which karmicly is a good thing right? In the short term slightly less acorns for me, but by delivering really good work (i.e. better than I could manage on my own) hopefully we planted a few metaphorical oak trees for the long term.

Famine: So I could stay in bed, stare at the ceiling and wonder if I haven’t completely ruined my career... or, instead I could actually look forward to the downtime and line up a load of projects designed to get out of the office, rest the brain and exercise the brawn. You might of heard the whoop of joy as I slammed down the lid of my laptop on 15th May, 10.45am. Over the coming weeks I finally redecorated the bedroom after nine years of dreaming in bloody magnolia. Net result - I swapped eight hours a day for a twelve but achieved an almost zen like mental status and when the ‘real’ work kicked back in, both client side and the house-keeping I returned to it quite refreshed and with rather shapely upper arms.

Regular meals: I struggle when, to my mind, there is not enough 'real' work to lace the day with the Fear - so I don’t do it at all. Instead I sand down the kitchen worktops. After several days of this, yes the worktops are very shiny but the real work has insidiously mounted up. The Fear has a genuine reason to be there and I’m in a self-induced state of work bulimia.

Grazing seems beyond me.

But at least if ever I do feel tempted to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and ponder the vagaries of freelance - I can also admire the paintwork.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

What price freedom? part III When to offer a discount

How not to give away your work as a PR freelancer: 


enough with the nibbling -
you're killing me man, you're killing me
The last two posts, looked at how to calculate your basement rate ( how much do you need to charge to survive) and your ceiling rate, (what the market will bear). Hopefully the first calculation is lower than the second one, if not please stop reading this now and use this time to send out your resume. You're are not going to be able to make it work as a freelancer.This post briefly covers what factors to consider when contemplating discounting your work.

Reasonable reasons to discount

  • Do you know them? Sounds obvious but if you know them already, then proving you’re the right person for the job, aka pitching and then over-servicing, shouldn't take too long as your immaculate reputation will proceed you. So the time you save in not going OTT in the early months can be passed on in a discounted rate for the same period. (not indefinitely)
  • Do you know and like them? By that I mean do you know that they are really easy to work with? That your judgement is valued, that the client will take risks, that emails can be six words long (and four of those spelled incorrectly), that decisions are made in real-time and it’s OK to vent rather than labouring over such a delicately worded email you might as well have crocheted it. (This is my idea of a perfect client, I concede you may have a different set of selection criteria.) If you have a perfect client, then treasure them, working with them is a pleasure and you're rate should reflect that.
  • Is it something that will help you grow? OK so moving into an adjacent sector, expanding your skill set, working with a client that you can learn much from, these are all reasons to invest in your portfolio and discount.( again just for a while say six months while you 'come up to speed').
Just double check the sum total of all these discounts isn't lower than your basement rate and for every client you take on that skims or even dips below that rate you need to take one with a higher yield, remember this always has to be win/win.

Rubbish reasons to discount:

  • You’re really broke: So you’re staring at your laptop, willing for that one email to arrive, that will put a smile on your face and some cash into your account. But when it comes, (and it will) think carefully about pricing. It’s so tempting to come in really low, 'cos you're desperate. But what does it say about the value of your work? As scary as it is, put in the right price, that reflects the skill and effort involved to do a great job. Yes, you may end up negotiating down, but no one ever gets to negotiate up.
  • They're really broke: Whether they're those sparkly eyed start-ups or family friends, those customers that really, really want to work with you, but have no money... FYI they’re not customers, they’re window shoppers. So move them along and find someone to work with that can treat you with the respect you've earned. And with the money generated from real work for real customers you can afford to buy the sparkly eyed start-up or the family friend a pint - or three if they really do need your support.
  • Discounted trial projects: Not convinced myself. You need to be hanging out with people that know how to be professional in business, after all you have to represent them. If they come across as timid amateurs to you then that's how thy are going to come across to press.

Doing it for free


I hate working on the cheap, feeling like someone has got something over on me, de-valued my contribution - but I love working for free. One of the best bits about working for yourself, is being able to contribute your skills and expertise to a cause you believe in and make a small difference in the world. Maybe it’s providing your professional services to a cause, or painting fences or washing out kennels. But if you've managed your finances and time sensibly, then you can afford to give it away and come home with your pockets full of physic income and your conscience having had a spa day.


Image courtesy of wallpaper.com

Sunday, 6 May 2012

What price freedom? How do you price up work as a PR freelancer part II

What the market will bear

Following on from my last post, which looked at how to calculate your bottom line day rate as a freelancer, this one looks at the ceiling day rate.

My child’s first bakes sale, he was about seven and asked to make scones. 
Elliot now a
Master scone maker &
serious capitalist

"How much are you selling them for?" I asked dispensing with the niceties. 
He hadn't given it much thought, but guessed 10p each.
"Why?" I asked. He didn’t know. 
I told him to think harder. 
"OK cost of ingredients," he said. 
So how does that help the charity you are making them for? 
"OK cost plus 10p," he said and so we discovered the concept of profit. 
"So what about packaging and wastage?"
So we got up to 30p. And he hoped that might be the end of it. 
"But then," I said triumphantly, "have you thought of what the market will bear?" 
He looked pretty annoyed at this point. "No", he said, he had not. 
So I explained what people paid for a scone in a nice tea shop at one end of the scale and how much you paid for a pack of scones in a low-end supermarket. We decided that if ours were fresh baked and prettily presented with a winning toothy smile, we might be able push that up to 50p a scone. It was a pretty successful bake sale by all accounts… 

So what will the market bear for your services, given that you are not baking muffins, all proceeds are not going to charity, and that you’re probably not as cute as the average seven year old salesperson?

Local rate
First stop, so what are local freelancers charging? Here’s a jan 2010 survery that I found that might be helpful, and this on a freelance website, but I’m not sure how fresh it is. Do they compare to you and your skills? Make sure these are valid, long term freelancers/independents. It’s a competitive market out there, but if people are offering to work for ‘silly money’ like you see on the bid sites, are you really going to compete with them, what are you competing for? To see who can go bust first?

Agency equivalent
You need to understand what local agencies are charging. if you’re former agency this is a no brainer. If you’re not, then you need to do some research to try and understand where you map on to the agency hierarchy, don’t go on your old salary (probably higher) but more on your experience and responsibilities, here’s a very very rough guide:
  • 1 -3 years PR experience - account exec: Support role - admin, research, supervised outreach, supervised content creation, no direct reports ( not sure this is a good time to go freelance myself unless you have very low out goings), reports to account manager.
  • 3 - 6 years PR experience - account manager: Implementation role, heads up tactics, main outreach person, day to day client go to person, directly manages juniors, reports to account director. Possibly knows the account better than anyone else.
  • 6 - 8 years PR experience - account director, lead role, heads up strategy, leads client relationships, oversees budgeting, heavily involved in pitching, manages account managers, reports to group account director/director. Tasked with making money.
  • 8+ years PR experience - group account director, senior account director etc – same as above but entrusted with more clients, more accounts, bigger budgets, bigger teams, and some development initiatives, reports to director.
  • 10+ years of experience – director, running division, sits on key strategic accounts, leads new business drives, develops new services/territories, leads team, responsible for financial health of division, runs P&L, reports to CEO. Tasked with making profit.
Once you can map your role to an agency hierarchy, find out the local day rates for this role. Then to my mind you don’t just round your rate down, but you slash it. You don’t have the group expertise or the combined reach of an agency, also you don’t have the overheads. I tend to charge under half as this makes me viable for agency work too.

The bitter pill
Now you compare your market research to your notional day rate If your notional day rate tops the market rates, you have a problem. Really why is any one going to hire you in this climate if they can tap into the same services and expertise elsewhere for less? And if you take on a loss leader project, there is only one of you, while you’re not making enough money, there is no one else to make any money at all. Every day you work at the ‘wrong rate’ only puts even more pressure on the other days to over price. You need to think long and hard about how you are going to make this work. Possibly this is not the right time in your career to go freelance, mayber you need more skills/experience, so you can charge a stronger day rate or you need to wait until there is a time in your life when you don’t need to earn quite so much (eg the mortgage isn't making your eyes water, the kids day care bills aren't making you wish you’d got a dog instead.).

The sweet spot
The sweet spot for a freelancer is having a low cost base and a high/in demand skills base. If your notional day rate is at the low end of the market rate scale, you’re looking at win/win, you can round up your notional rate, still be extremely competitive and know you are going to be earning enough to be able to sustain the freelance life over the longer term. Who knows perhaps you can develop a side line in home-baked goods too...

Next blog looking at the variablesthat allow you to tweak the day rate.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

What price freedom? How to price up work as a freelance consultant?

If you are good with words, I've noticed, sooner or later you need to get good with maths.The first of three posts looking at how to price up your freelance comms work.

But I need it, I really need it.

A recent survey in PRmoment, showed that most freelancers charge between £200 and £500 a day. So where might you fit in? The next few blogs  share my ideas on how you decide what to charge. Hopefully useful if you are considering becoming a freelance PR, starting out, or just sense your business model might be a bit broke. 

Part one – calculating a notional day rate, aka what you need to charge to survive. 
 

Step 1) What do you need to earn?
Did you really go freelance to become rich? Really? Most people I know have gone freelance to take back control of their lives, to be able to make their own decisions, to be there for their families and generally to feel like they are living a more balanced and healthier life. And in that sense we are all very successful, though none of us ‘rich’. So when you are working out what you need to earn, if you really want to be a freelancer, I doubt if it’s anything like what you used to earn. Do a monthly budget of what you can cope with, (you’ll be surprised freelance currency goes along way). 
This gives you your base line figure of what you need to clear after tax. For easy maths' sake lets say that’s a £1,500 a month so £18,000 a year. So how does that convert to a day rate? 

Step 2) How many days in the year do you have to earn it?
Answer: it’s not 365, though this is where you start.
Days in the year 365
Less main public holidays 5
Less weekends 104 (don’t actually schedule to work weekends)
Less holidays/family/emergency days 25
Less sick/jet lag/ hangover days 12 ( just being realistic)
Days available to work 220 ( standard industry figure) 

Now assume that 50% of that time you are not doing client work, either because there just isn't any, or because you are working but not being ‘paid’ for it, eg admin, networking, training, research, marketing, pitching, preparing materials etc. That leaves 110 days to cover your budget, plus tax plus expenses.

Step 3) Not all that money is yours you know.
Tax and expenses. 
So sticking with our notional sum of £18,000 a year,
Plus expenses say 15% £2,700 ( if you are working from home, can easily be more if you are not), 
Plus tax, say 25% £4,500. 
So in theory you need to earn around £25,200, to give you £18,000 and meet that £1,500 budget. 

Step 4) Calculating the notional day rate
So now just look at how much you need in total, and divide it by client days. In our model that’s
£25,200 /110 days = £229/day notional day rate. 

Next blog: how does that compare to what the market will bear? Favourably we hope. After that, take a look at when to discount your work so that you find that sweet spot that keeps your clients happy and your finances healthy. 

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Happy freelance birthday to me – I am one


After 17 years of having a 'proper' PR job, taking a moment to reflect on my first year as a freelancer. 
OK so maybe the office parties
aren't that great  as a freelancer
but at least i don't have
to share the cake

So I took the leap of freelance faith one year ago now. I started with just one contract (that’s all you need) and an old laptop (such a bad idea). A year later and I’m busy and increasingly teaming up with industry mates to deliver on a wider brief. And I'm know I shouldn't boast but also the proud owner of: 

· A shiny new laptop (bought in great distress):
· A comfortable office chair (couldn't actually stand after that first month perched on rustic dining room chair);
· An all-singing all-dancing printer (I tried a basic one, but running to the shop to pay 10p for photocopy soon lost its appeal);
· A fan heater (essential);
· A dog (absolutely not essential and quite possibly a really bad idea but I’m sticking with it.)

I've celebrated making it to Year One with a new office rug and several cocktail parties for those who have looked after me most. ("Mind the rug!"). Forgive this nostalgic moment while I reflect on the year gone by…


What was the best revelation?
That I would enjoy it quite so much, even the dodgy days are somewhat thrilling. I love the diversity of work and the random twists opportunities offer. Given my commercial brain, I don’t seem to be overly obsessed with making a fortune (handy). Just doing good work and getting paid well enough for it, works fine for me.

Check out the new rug!
What was a complete let down?
My misperception that if I didn't have any paid work I’d be just working on my tan. If you don’t have paid work, you feel somewhat obliged to look for it, and even if it’s already on the horizon, then you still labour over laptop every day staying on top of admin marketing accounts etc. A year in, and Loose Women still remains a mystery to me. Damn that work ethic. And it turns out I hate doing my own PR. I ordered some business cards off the internet and I do enjoy writing this occasional blog, as long as I don’t have to pitch myself as a ‘thought leader’, but beyond that, turns out I’m not very interested - which I think, given my training, is a bit rubbish.

Is there anything you miss about your old life?
Well I’m not lonely which I was a bit worried about, but I walk the dog every morning so usually bump into someone to chat to, and then I shout at self-same dog quite a lot all day which keeps the volume up. As predicted, it’s the IT department that I miss. The combination of having a giant house rabbit that’s addicted to power cables and my own complete inability to do anything other than cry when the black blinky screen shows, means, I've truly and repeatedly suffered.

If it’s so great do you wish you’d done it sooner?
Erm maybe, not sure. If I’d gone solo earlier in my career I’m not convinced I would really have known what I was doing, ten years in a busy agency means you are learning every day and I’m really glad I have that experience. Without it I think I would have been just too freaked to enjoy this solo life. As it is, my instincts are nicely honed and the advice I give has usually been proven.
So what’s next?
Well no plans for global domination or any more pets (there’s more of them than us now). But perhaps I should go on a dating site just to spice things up a little. Place an ad that might read: “Mostly chirpy freelancer, smelling slightly of wet dog, would occasionally like to meet IT Geek with too much time on his hands and an endless supply of cables for emergency assistance and fun times (deadline dependent).”

Huge thanks to my early adopter clients who were kind enough to hire me, pay me and refer me. And to my gorgeous friends who have looked after me this just-a-bit-scary, year. My round this next time.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

In the world of freelance, is it wrong?



I love them really
Sharing ethical ponderings facing this particular PR freelancer who may have bitten off more than she can chew:

#Is it wrong?
1. Just in case he’s the only person you’re going to get to talk to all day, is it wrong to launch in with your most perplexing business issues, work fears, and brilliant new ideas while your 11 year munches on his morning porridge and does up his shoe laces?
2. To wear leg warmers and fingerless gloves indoors?
3. To pretend the web camera on your Skype call isn't working when in truth it’s cos you look like shit and The Bloody Dog is jumping around in the background, trying to bury his Kong toy in the sofa?
4. To have full blown conversations with the rabbit, cat and dog in an effort to recreate those water cooler moments?
5. To have the fan heater and the central heating on at the same time?
6. To stuff dog treats in your brand new £40 sheepskin slippers, that were a Christmas present from your lovely mum, in an effort to keep The Bloody Dog amused for ten minutes, so you can reach your copy-writing deadline?
7. To eat your soup straight out of the pan and then give the carton and the pan to The Bloody Dog keep him quiet for another five minutes?
8. To hang up on a conference call because you've just spotted The Bloody Dog has got the rabbit’s head in his mouth?
9. To top up your afternoon coffee with a large dose of Tia Maria? And then put its purchase against your tax expenses as ‘office beverages’?
10. To open the door to your child as he comes home from school, starving hungry, freezing cold and soaked through, with the greeting:
“Can you PLEASE take The Bloody Dog out! I have had him all day and he’s driving me frickin crazy. GO! NOW! GO!”

Monday, 2 January 2012

PR Agency or PR freelancer? Who best to tell your particular company story?

Having spent six years in house then ten agency side and now freelance, a little guidance on who is best to look after you. Recently I turned down a brief. Even my 11 year old questioned the sanity of that one, “Have you seen my Christmas list?” he queried. 

Leave it to the big boy's we've got this
Thing is, although the brief specified a freelancer it was for one that had specialist knowledge of everything basically - from travel to technology, from business to design, from gaming to food and a fair few other categories for good measure. I’m not exactly a one trick pony but this had AGENCY stamped all over it. I recommended a favourite one and waved bye bye to it. I’m as good as my last job and I didn't see how I could shine at that one. Besides what’s the point of spending 100 hours bringing in results that I 
quoted I could do in ten?


You and me and the wind beneath our wings

So if you’re thinking your comms might need a boost from some professional help and your budget is borderline here’s five things to consider when deciding if a freelancer or an agency is in the best position to help:

1) Budget: is the first factor that most people consider. Freelancers should be charging about half their agency rate. “Bargain!” I hear you yip, but it’s not that simple… Say you hire a senior freelancer who is at account director level or above, do bear in mind that day rate is fixed whatever the task, so yes amazing value for money when it comes to strategy and guidance, good value for media outreach and creating content, but when it comes to sourcing coverage, building media lists, feature research, reporting tools etc, not so much. In an agency, a junior or intern would be tasked with such mundane and time consuming activities, and could charge accordingly. So if you have an admin heavy/consultancy light brief, you might be better with an agency. News heavy accounts ( eg a release a week) also qualify for this model as they fit better into an agency ‘machine’.

2)Expertise: So if you need lots of different sectors covered off as described above, 100s of media outlets, it’s agency all the way, if you need integrated services, again an agency is often a smart choice although most freelancers have a trusted network they partner up with. But if you want access to senior level support or a fair amount of hand holding again a freelancer might be a better fit as account directors can be pretty thinly spread in a busy agency across six accounts or more. So your monthly retainer may only allows for a day – to half a day of precious 'AD' time.

3)Capacity: Everyone knows it's feast or famine for freelancers, but feast for a freelancer might not be a banquet for you, the client. Be sure to have a good understanding of your chosen freelancer’s workload and exactly how many concurrent clients they have. It maybe their eyes are bigger than their hands on abilities. This is less of a problem for agencies who have a bigger pool of staff and of course can hire should work levels remain consistently high.

4) Best practice: A good agency continues to hone and develop best practice, the opportunity to learn in an agency is one of the most compelling reason to work there. A freelancer from ‘birth’ will not have had the same exposure and will have had a different learning experience, They may have developed some shabby habits and I’m not just talking about dress code. If you are going to work with a freelancer, check their pedigree and make sure they have a good few years agency or established in- house experience that they can bring to the table with them. Ask some journalists what they think.

5) Payment terms: And finally if you know your company is somewhat backward at coming forward when it comes to settling its bills, again go to an agency where the two account departments can fight it out between themselves leaving your client relationship cosy. Working directly with a near hysterical, half-starved freelancer who hasn't been paid for 100 days plus is not going to necessarily get you the kind of exposure you had in mind. Think Sideshow Bob on twitter.

Whoever you chose to partner with for your comms, go in with a glad heart and some real commitment, so that 2012 is a great year for you both.