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The PR industry is more dependent on freelancers than ever

The PR industry is heavily dependent on freelancers, and this dependency is increasing. Andy Chamberlain, deputy director of policy at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), says: “The appetite for freelance marketing and PR professionals has seen a dramatic increase in recent years. According to the Office for National Statistics(ONS), the number of self-employed marketing professionals has more than doubled since 2011, and the number of public relations professionals now sits at around 9,000, having previously been too low a figure to report on (ONS doesn’t publish information on professions with fewer than 5,000 people working in them).”

But all is not rosey in freelance land, largely because of Brexit. Chamberlain explains: “Brexit has cast a degree of uncertainty over freelancers in the UK. Latest figures from IPSE’s quarterly national survey point to a still less-than-confident freelance population. Along with government fiscal policy, the outcome of the EU referendum was cited as the top factor harming freelancers’ business propects. Following the Brexit vote, freelancer day rates overall have also dipped, but it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue.”

However, Chamberlain believes that Brexit could be good for freelancers in the longer term: “In a post-Brexit landscape it is IPSE’s view that the flexibility freelancers provide to our economy will be more valuable than ever. Clients will need fast access to specialist skills for quick turnaround projects, and freelance marketing and PR professionals will increasingly be in demand. One thing is clear from our own research - freelancers are more confident in the success of their business than the economy as a whole. Hopefully this will mean that a positive trend will continue, as freelancers continue to rely on themselves for innovative ways to grow.”

If you are considering going freelance, the new year could be a good time to give it a go. The agency Media Recruitment says that freelancers should be in demand. Sarah Fell, senior talent lead at Media Recruitment, explains: “Freelancers are representing nearly 40% of the workforce, and are becoming a mainstream part of any team. This is reflected as more start-ups turn to freelancers for help scaling up, and as such freelancers are given more responsibility, from developing strategy to campaign planning. Naturally, towards the end of the final quarter freelance opportunities are less frequent, this is purely due to the time of year, as there’s less buoyancy in the market place. When we come into the first quarter, this picks up, meaning that staffing needs are increased as a result."              

Sam Howard, founder of freelance PR collective The Comms Crowd, agrees that freelancers are particulary helpful for start-ups as most don’t have the budget or the resources to work with a PR agency, but still need access to senior PR experience as they may have none in-house. “By working with a band of freelancers like us they still have a consistent retained PR resource, with access to copywriters, digital marketers and graphic designers, but for a budget that a decent agency would snort at!” 

Howard explains how start-ups are great places for freelancers to work: “With start-ups you are often working directly with the CEOs and founders of the companies, who expect a consultative relationship of equals, which again works well with freelancers as most of us held down fairly senior positions before we made the break.”

Freelance life offers great flexibility, albeit with an edge of uncertainty. Yet IPSE’s Chamberlain says people do not seem to be worried too much about this: ”We have seen a huge increase in the popularity of working for yourself, and the freedom it provides”. This suggests that, overall, the benefits of freelancing outweigh the drawbacks. Maybe 2017 is the year you should take the plunge…

Case studies

Agency perspective

Jane Fordham, executive director marketing and talent at PR firm Golin, describes the role freelancers play in the agency: “Freelancers have been a vital and valid source of talent to Golin for years. They may not be our FD’s favourite talent-base because they come at a premium, but with appropriate planning and effective recruitment structures in place, freelancers are an excellent and essential mechanism by which a busy, growing agency can prosper.

“Evidently our industry has a seen a growth in project work over retainers (projects are particularly characteristic in our digital business) and with a constantly moving feast of uncertainty hanging over UK, Europe and the global economy, clients are notoriously less likely to plan for the long term. So, when business lands unexpectedly - even the best recruitment takes weeks not days - or a short-term project hits, freelancers come into play. To remain competitive Golin needs to be agile in response to client needs.

“So in summary, we typically rely on freelancers or contractors for something short-term, urgent or as interim cover whilst a perm search progresses.

“Golin has worked hard to cultivate relationships with a ‘top 50 list’ of preferred freelancers with whom we maintain regular contact. We are fortunate that many freelancers, both old and new, keep us proactively updated of their movements. We are able to fill many roles ourselves, but also rely on a small group of trusted partners to support us here too.”

Freelance perspective

Freelancer Tessa Molloy describes why she loves the freedom she now has: "I can't imagine going back to office-based working now that I'm working freelance for Heaven Publicity. Not having to commute means I get more done. The truth is that, previously, most of my office time was spent on computer - and much of that was emailing - which I can do just as easily from home, courtesy of fast broadband (I converted the garage into a cosy work area complete with desk and shelves). I'm lucky enough to have a great boss, who is a parent herself, and to live in central London so it's easy enough to hop on a train to visit clients. The best part of the arrangement is that I get to see more of my family. The worst part is that the contents of the fridge are temptingly close."

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