By Kimberley Gray, Freelance PR Consultant, with more than 13 years experience. She is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and has a wide range of expertise in both business to business and consumer sectors
With all eyes on the world economy at present, there are genuine concerns about what lies around the corner for the UK market. Those in banking and retail may already be feeling the pinch and no doubt UK subsidiaries of US-based organisations have seen a number of marketing budget cuts over the last couple of years.
PR support is an integral part of any marketing campaign, yet when the future looks unsettled, public relations is probably one of the first things to be cut, along with advertising.
A more cautious approach to economic uncertainty is to look at maintaining current PR activity at a lower budget, or to develop a programme which can be turned on and off again when there is something important to announce. In fact, now might be the right time to evaluate whether a freelancer can provide the PR support to sustain you through leaner times.
Hiring a freelancer for half the cost of most PR agencies may sound very attractive but a company really must do its homework first. There will be nothing more annoying than investing time in getting a PR consultant up to speed on an account, only to find they were freelance as a stop-gap and that they have decided to take a job elsewhere.
A useful place to start looking for a freelance PR consultant is via the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. They have access to a database of independent PR consultants and can also match practitioners to your business area.
It’s important to check out a consultant’s credentials. Do they have relevant qualifications, how many years experience do they have in PR, and as a freelancer? What was their role before they went freelance and why did they decide to become freelance?
Freelancers that have been independent for a number of years will probably have developed a good network of trusted PR consultants. If you’re the type of company that is likely to want additional projects, make sure that your PR consultant has this back-up, it will ensure that your project is delivered professionally and on time.
Once you’ve developed a shortlist, try to avoid a competitive 6-way credentials pitch. This will be unappealing to a busy PR consultant and you may end up with little response to your offer to pitch. Instead, try to get as much information as you can about them over the telephone and give them a clear brief about what you are trying to achieve, who you are targeting, the timeframe and an indication of budget.
Once you’ve had an informal chat on the phone, you’ll get a feel for who you would most like to work with. To support this, ask for examples of writing and media coverage and also ask for references. A good way to check out references early is to see whether your consultant is on business networking sites such as Linked In. Once you feel confident that you know who you would like to work with, invite them in to present a proposal.
Following appointment, companies do need to be mindful that freelancers may operate slightly differently from an agency. Think of your consultant as an individual who is an extension to your marketing team and you won’t go far wrong. You need to bear in mind that all PR activity is likely to be carried out by your consultant and that he or she is likely to be juggling the demands of other clients as well as yours, so help them by planning ahead where possible.
Requests for daily reporting, administrative tasks and unscheduled meetings will all eat into your consultancy time and may be an inefficient use of your PR budget. By far the best way to work well with your freelancer is to plan well-ahead strategically and have regular meetings, but only when you really need them. Use the phone for weekly or fortnightly PR updates and make sure that any new or additional activities are planned well in advance, so that the freelancer can call in additional PR resources, if required.
Working with a very experienced professional, at all levels, is an incredible advantage. They tend to learn quickly and soon become an extension to your team. By dealing direct with a decision-maker, strategy can be formulated quickly and so too can written material. They are unlikely to leave, quality and standard of work should be high and they will soon develop trust and credibility with journalists and members of your team.
There is little doubt that if you choose your consultant well and you both have mutual respect for each other, then the relationship will serve you well. Here’s hoping the recent economic trend pushes you towards developing a new and better client-consultant relationship.
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