PR Place guide to freelance and flexible working

About the author

Richard Bailey Hon FCIPR is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.

Photo by @woolfallalex on Instagram
Photo by @woolfallalex on Instagram

‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.’

There are many reasons people may choose to work independently. 2020 has given us the taste of a work-life balance that doesn’t involve an office or commuting. Before recent travel restrictions the dream of many millennials was to continue working while travelling the world (documented for others to envy on social media). Yet more will have independence thrust upon them this year through furloughing and redundancy.

Careers, as we’ve documented here through Dr Heather Yaxley’s expert eye, are more commonly messy than linear. People move into public relations and comms roles from other fields (and not just journalism). People can switch between in-house and consultancy roles, and move from a comms specialism into general management or leadership roles.

Some go freelance with no further ambition than to enjoy their work and pay their bills – and are delighted to leave office politics behind. Others will use a period of independence as a prelude to becoming entrepreneurial, seeking to expand their workload, their teams and seeking outside expertise and investment.

This year, everyone has learnt about the tools and technologies required to work remotely. So it’s not a big leap to envisage a more dynamic model of matching projects to consultants, and combining expertise into fluid and responsive teams.

Even before the pandemic, there were networks of independent consultants offering the best of both worlds – breadth and depth of expertise without high fixed costs. There were sites for matching clients to independent consultants. It’s never been easier to go it alone.

The CIPR State of the Profession 2020 survey was conducted and published just before the pandemic struck. It recorded that 68% of respondents worked in-house (across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors), 20% worked in a consultancy or agency, and 12% said they were independent practitioners. That number is set to increase this year.

Independent practitioner, consultant, contractor, freelance. But what’s the favoured term? The consensus from a PRCA Business of PR Freelancing conference this year was to stick to the word ‘consultant.’ Freelance is more suggestive of an unsalaried journalist.

Our PR Place Guide to freelance and flexible working uses the ‘f word’ because we think it’s a commonly searched term, but we put it in the context of flexible working. Some may use a period of independence as a stepping stone to another full-time role; others will find it fits well with family and caring responsibilities at different stages of life.

But it also suits employers and the economy to know that there’s a flexible and capable resource that can be called on as needed, in good times and in bad. This has been the year for those with expertise in crisis communication and corporate communication – especially internal communication. There continues to be a shortage of those with strong digital public relations skills. And there will always be a need for wise counsel.

It’s hard to pigeonhole the typical independent consultant. Among them are graduates who never took a salaried job but who have not struggled to find work and win client business. Others are mid-career practitioners with a depth of specialist experience. Yet more are among the ranks of the unretired: people who no longer seek a full-time role but who still have something to contribute and the psychological as well as financial need to keep on working.

Our guide suggests that the era of ‘jobs for life’ was a historic aberration. The notion that you study for a specialism, then work full-time in that same field before retiring on a good pension is becoming less common – and is even less desirable to many. The office was a surrogate family to some, but a prison cell to many others.

So our more flexible working patterns are a return to a pre-industrial economic model, just with higher day rates and more bargaining power for the individual with skills and time to offer.

The guide contains freelancing tips from members of the PR Academy tutor network – an example of a remote, flexible and location-agnostic team that was in existence long before the pandemic struck.

You can download your free guide here using the form below.

Download: Guide to Freelancing and Flexible Working

The guide will help you to:

  • Decide if freelance life is for you.
  • Learn from others who have made the leap.
  • Charge what you’re worth and get paid.
Freelance Guide Cover

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