PR Insight

How to work in PR with a young family

Date: 07 March 2012 15:41

With today‘s long-hours working culture, is it impossible to juggle work and a career in PR? We asked two mothers, one who runs her own small business, and one who works for a large firm, for their views. The PR professional bodies offer their own perspectives..

A small agency owner describes being a working mum
 

Pamela Lyddon, CEO of digital agency Bright Star Digital, says that if you want to be there for your kids, it helps if you work for yourself:

“I see so many women leave our industry because childcare is not supported. Having my own business means that I am able to be flexible around my young daughter. Many women I see in agencies spend loads of money on childcare, work all the hours and look so unhappy, in the end they just end up leaving. As an industry, we should do more to help parents with kids, as we are starting to see women getting to the top and then leaving as soon as children come along – this is nuts considering we are quite a female-heavy industry.”

“When I met PR guru Lynne Franks last year, she said that the future of PR will be more women going out on their own to be flexible for their families. She told me this after admitting going back to work after a week when her child was born and she said it was something she deeply regretted,”

Advantages for parents who work in large firms
 

Zoe Ensor, director of consumer PR at Bell Pottinger North, says that it’s not easy being a parent and having a PR job, but you have useful skills that those without kids don’t possess:

“If you work full-time and have children, chances are you will spend your life with lists of lists and a nagging feeling that you may have forgotten something. But that’s true of any profession and I’ll bet my last chocolate button that you’re 100 per cent more effective than most of your childless colleagues."

“Kids bring challenges: when they’re sick you balance your laptop on their sleeping bodies as you work from the sofa and your day doesn’t end in the pub with colleagues. But children bring a wealth and quality of experience to you and your job and boy, do they give you stamina."

"Negotiating a £100K contract is a breeze after you’ve done the pocket-money deal, there’s no conflict-resolution training like refereeing the battle over the Wii remote and if you want to talk multi-tasking, then talk to a working mum in December.“

View from the CIPR and PRCA
 

Sarah McMonagle, CIPR PR manager, says that it’s important for all organisations to offer flexible PR roles that parents can manage, particularly when they are returning to work:

“A serious point to consider is how easy the public relations industry is to re-enter after an extended period of maternity or paternity leave, or absence for other family related reasons. One of the key aims of the CIPR’s Diversity Strategy is to establish a best-practice approach to re-employment and return to work. Public relations has a reputation for involving long and unsociable working hours with regular late nights, but many PR roles can be accommodating in terms of working flexible hours and working from home.”

Francis Ingham, chief executive of PRCA, says that PR is a flexible industry, but more can still be done to support parents:

“The Independent Access Commission, established by the PRCA last year, investigated how family-friendly the industry is in some depth. Its conclusion was that overall, the industry is more flexible than others, but that more could be done. There is a compelling business case for flexibility – the highest industry staff-churn rates are at account director level – the point when families start to grow. That churn has a definite impact on the costs, corporate knowledge and skills base of companies.”

PROs who have decided to go it alone
 

Jill Hawkins, director of PR agency Aniseed PR:

“One of the reasons I started up my own business was to have more flexibility and to be able to spend more time with my daughter. I think that being a freelance PR consultant is one of the most child-friendly jobs. I fit my work around my daughter. I pick her up from school most days, but I can still respond to urgent emails if I need to on my BlackBerry. Although I have to say that having to do a full-blown pitch to a journalist whilst at the playground can be tricky.”

Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR:

“I don't have holiday pay, there's no career structure as such and I won't get a huge pension, but I do get to see much more of my family and that, in the words of a certain credit card advert, is priceless.”

Written by Daney Parker

 

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    Comments

    Smaller agencies have it harder than larger one because there are fewer people to take the strain. Clients don't care that you have to do the swimming, school, football, tennis, Beavers run at 5pm or that your kid is ill. Why should they anyway? They expect results. It's up to you how you deliver. Juggling childcare can also affect new biz development. Take today as an example. I was due to attend a business networking meeting at 8am, but child no 1 has a temperature - so no show at the event and housebound trying to time calls with applying Calpol.

    Name: Nigel Charlesworth
    www.thesmartagency.co.uk
    Date: 09 Mar 2012 09:50 AM

    I have worked in agencies for over 15 years, reaching board level for the last five in an international agency. I was fortunate to find an agency that recognised the value of experience and were generally supportive of part-time positions at senior level. However, I have seen first hand that women cannot have it all. Those that do have a family and don't want to hand over all the childcare, struggle to continue to build their career. There is still a perception that part time or flexible working means lack of commitment; certain roles are not open to these women. Until this attitude changes, experienced women will continue to either leave the profession - a waste of talent - or set up on their own. I chose the latter and, as a b2b freelancer, have found there is a demand for experienced professionals who can deliver real value to specific projects or campaigns. The same high standard and results are expected and achieved - the main difference for me is that I can still make it to the school gate most days.

    Name: Emma Edwards

    Date: 09 Mar 2012 10:15 AM

    I've run my own PR show for 16 years from a home office, the last six with my son, Adam a major factor in life. A bit of juggling - my wife is the freelance writer side of the business - is needed for school runs, supermarket trips and so on but the business is not affected. Not afraid of late-night or early (very) starts to make sure all clients are serviced properly and effectively. Child care options are expensive but a fact of our lives when necessary. The work gets done, the business thrives and I see lots of my adorable child.

    Name: Mike Ritchie
    www.mikeritchiemedia.co.uk
    Date: 09 Mar 2012 10:45 AM

    Many PR firms aren't helping themselves. When I started my career, I worked with a number of mums but the clients were not told that these people were actually part-time. The junior staff were then left playing a game of smoke and mirrors with the client as they struggled to respond to client demands without the support of their part time colleagues. Not being honest with clients about part-time working arrangements doesn't help anyone - the clients, the mums or the colleagues having to 'cover' for them. Being transparent about working arrangements should strengthen the client / consultant relationship. As other comments have stated, clients simply want results, they don't need their PR consultants deceiving them from the outset.

    Name: Jillian Alexander
    www.alexander-pr.co.uk
    Date: 09 Mar 2012 11:41 AM

    I've been working freelance part time for the last 19 years in Scotland with many of my own clients, as well as bringing up a family of 4 boys. I so agree with Zoe Ensor that negotaiting with clients is much easier than negotiating with stroppy teenagers, tantrum toddlers or stubborn 10 year olds. I have been able to do lots of interesting PR and through lots of juggling, asking favours from friends and family and trying never to get stressed have found this is the perfect work/life balance. You can take time off when needed and I'm always very honest with clients about my situation - they can ring me at 9 at night but might get me in the middle of helping with homework and most people nowadays like someone who is flexible as long as they can deliver.

    Name: Fenella Taylor
    www.fenellataylorpr.co.uk
    Date: 09 Mar 2012 12:05 PM

    It is good to hear that you can juggle a PR job successfully with a small family and more in-house PR teams and organisations need to learn how this can work for both employees and employers to stop losing skilled workers. Unfortunately, I experienced difficulties sustaining a suitable working balance after returning to work, due to inflexible attitudes to flexible working. As a result, I have made my own flexible working environment by setting myself up as a freelance PR and starting an online organic children's wear business. This gives me time to focus on my little one whilst still being able to deliver results for clients and customers. It is a shame that attitudes towards flexible working within industries (not just PR) are still behind the times and managers are reluctant to adopt options such as job share and working from home, it really is a cultural problem and it is particularly prevalent at senior levels. For interesting reading on the subject go to. http://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/pm/articles/2012/02/female-leaders-suffer-maternity-penalty.htm

    Name: Beth Cameron
    www.imogenswardrobe.co.uk
    Date: 09 Mar 2012 01:31 PM

    I was freelance when I had my children, and since then have worked for small PR companies before resuming freelancing again a few years on. I've found it pays to be upfront - if your child is sick, your child is sick, and there's not a lot you can do about that, other than making up the time by working at home, which most people can do anyway. I have never found it a problem with clients - as long as you get the work done, that's all that matters. After all, plenty of clients are parents themselves, and men as well as women can understand that children don't always fit in with the 9-5. It may be different in a big corporate environment, but in this day and age why should women, or men for that matter, have to bend over backwards to pretend that their families don't exist?

    Name: Mary Whitehouse
    www.word-service.com
    Date: 12 Mar 2012 12:54 PM

    I agree with Nigel, it's definitely more difficult if you work for a smaller agency.

    Name: London PR
    www.licensetopr.co.uk/
    Date: 01 Jun 2012 10:21 AM

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