I’ve been a freelance PR consultant for the best part of two decades, so I’ve seen a few ups and downs. When the 2008 crash hit, my client list was dominated by commercial property companies; a year later it had quite a different focus.
To even consider becoming a freelancer or independent consultant you’ve got to enjoy an element of risk, be adaptable, flexible and happy not to know what the next day, never mind the next month or year, might hold. You could say then that when the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown that followed came along we were better placed than most to ride the storm. Yes and no.
Yes, for the very reasons I’ve just outlined. We’re always expecting the unexpected: the client who doesn’t come good after promising the earth, the one who doesn’t pay, the one who suddenly reappears after going quiet. At the end of March, as employed people started working from home and you couldn’t move for blogs offering WFH tips we smiled wryly. But then even the home office (our comfortable territory) started to change. Most of us may have previously made the odd Skype call, but Zoom and Teams were as new to us as to anyone else. Some of us also suddenly had other people in the house during the day – some of them even children! This was now an alien landscape for us too!
Then as Chancellor Rishi Sunak came back day after day offering goodies to different elements of the workforce, it slowly dawned on us many of us (those with limited companies) that there would be no safety net. Of course we’re used to feast or famine, it’s how we operate. But this felt different.
I was extremely lucky to have picked up an internal communications client just before lockdown. This work suddenly became more urgent, decisions were being made more quickly and, because everyone felt in the same boat at home, I gelled with the team there much more quickly than if I’d been going in and out of their office. Interestingly it was internal comms that came up as one of the biggest opportunities for independents as we move through this crisis at a webinar for PR freelancers organised by the CIPR Independents’ Group and Women in PR this month.
I’ve already said we’re good at adapting, and experts on the webinar also suggested that the nimble and cost effective nature of freelancers will put us at the forefront of the recovery. We just have to be ready for what’s out there, which could mean brushing up on or developing some new skills. Having said that, most experienced freelancers will have experience that fits most possible scenarios and can turn their hands to most comms-related activities.
If you’ve time on your hands you can also take advantage of the many experts offering free or very affordable online training, such as with the CIPR’s webinar series. Also offering time and support has been the communications freelance community, which has pulled together through offers of support for struggling colleagues and via networking groups. Darren Caveney (a speaker at last year’s CIPR East Anglia Best Practice Conference) has for example set up a support group through WhatsApp, Slack and weekly Zoom coffee and Twitter chats. I’ve found these a great support along with regular catch-ups with my colleagues on the CIPR East Anglia committee.
Like many others I’ve been re-watching favourite boxsets in lockdown, the most recent being W1A. So to borrow from the language of *Siobhan Sharpe from ‘pr company’ Perfect Curve: “Let’s do this freelancers, let’s ride this train, let’s nail this puppy to the floor!”
Judith Gaskell, Cambridge PR