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Some inspiring stories from PR people who have relaunched their careers in lockdown

The lockdowns have given people a time to reflect, plus these uncertain times have led to job insecurity and losses. This means many are reconsidering their careers, either through choice or necessity. We hear from those who have decided to take new directions, whilst a career coach explains why now is a good time to think about moving jobs.

I moved from employed to self-employed
Claire Hutchings, freelance marketing consultant, CH Marketing: “Having been made redundant from a networked PR agency at the beginning of the first lockdown I was in a fortuitous position to have time to take stock, work with a career coach and set up my freelancing business. Just three sessions with a career coach gave me the confidence and direction I needed to go it alone. I would highly recommend anyone considering a career change at this time works with a coach. The industry as a whole is far from doom and gloom, I’ve had incredibly positive conversations with clients and connections across the communications landscape. Change brings opportunity, which can be exploited by those willing to take the risk.”

Nick Rewcastle, founder of NRPR: “I was made redundant from my role as communications lead at Harlequins in the summer, as a result of Covid. After a painful and challenging job hunt, I realised that the sports PR market was too saturated. As a result I set up as freelance and launched I have worked with a range of clients, primarily in sports, and enjoyed working on developing myself and new experiences.” Surena Chande, freelance writer: “The pandemic made me completely re-evaluate my life and career. Writing has always been a passion of mine and, after a work experience stint on a magazine, I was adamant to pursue a career in journalism. 

“However, in 2017 I diversified into digital PR. Though I initially loved the field, by mid-2020 I couldn’t ignore the niggling feeling that something wasn’t right. My gruelling agency job left me burnt out and feeling unfulfilled. I missed writing. 

“After some thought I decided to return to writing in November 2020 by going freelance. I’m now my own boss and work my own hours, whilst choosing what I want to write about. 

“I’m also able to enjoy the best of both worlds as I still write about digital PR strategy for one of my clients. Overall, so far I’ve found that it’s the best decision I could’ve made and, fortunately, it’s currently working out surprisingly well for me.”

I swapped journalism for PR
Megan Turner, PR executive at agency “At the start of the pandemic, I was graduating from a print journalism course and had a part-time job at a local television and radio news station. The Covid climate made me re-evaluate the uncertainty of being a newly graduated freelancer with no guaranteed income. It had started to take a toll on my work/life balance too, due to the sheer volume of unsociable shifts. I decided to make the jump over to PR and join the team at Motive because I have always been good at communicating ideas and knew I could transfer my skills gained in broadcast and print over to gaining great creative coverage. It is treating me really well; I’m enjoying writing more, getting my thinking cap on, coming up with engaging stories and using social media to be nosey and clock great campaigns.”

I have a greater sense of purpose
Rachel Allison, director of communications consultancy Axe & Saw: “This year, for the first time in my life, the world seemed to collectively draw for breath. For me this meant downing tools and re-evaluating why I was drawn to this industry (newsflash: it wasn't a desire to create endless consumer polls).

“I knew I needed work that was driven by purpose. Malcolm Gladwell said that 'hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning', and during lockdown I felt this acutely.

“Whilst many brands and agencies rush to create campaigns that more often than not fall into the category of greenwashing, purpose-washing, and woke-washing, I strongly believe there is an urgency to provide better campaigns. Campaigns that come from a genuine place, because the team creating them have done *the work* along the way.

“Axe & Saw, launching in March, is a consultancy grounded in diversity and inclusion. We’ll also provide services such as communication channel audits to help you unpick, learn, and evolve a brand model for the future.”

I worked out what I loved
Juanita Wyght, digital PR executive at agency Media Vision: “I’ll admit, since the pandemic started, I’ve gone through waves of ‘do I even want to do this anymore?’, particularly during the first half of 2020. I wasn’t enjoying my role at the time, and, when I was placed on furlough, I decided to use the time to do courses, watch webinars and skill up.

“On several occasions, before I was made redundant in July, I had seriously considered taking a junior role in something utterly different from digital PR altogether. But after doing a webinar for Girls in Marketing, it reminded me how much I love what I do and that I just needed a new experience.

“Having that break really helped me evaluate things properly and realise what I do and don’t love. Now I’m in a new role and enjoying it more than ever!”

I moved from stage to YouTube
Robin Hahn, director, YouTuber, and disability advocate: “For me, the pandemic meant changing my career became an absolute necessity. Before Covid, I was a full-time opera singer and stage director, booking contracts that centred entirely on people expectorating loudly in each other’s faces for dramatic effect. Obviously, that’s not possible anymore, and government support has only helped so much. So I’ve pivoted my practice online, and learned to create operatic content on YouTube, instead. I’ve developed a channel all about opera, disability, queerness, cats and tea… and I love it. It’s a new passion I didn’t expect, all because of Covid-19. “I expect live opera, what with all the loud singing and spitting, to be disrupted for years to come. So I make videos about how opera can adjust for modern audiences, challenge its own internalised ableism, racism and homophobia, and in the end, adapt just like the artists within the field have had to.“

I realised the power of government funding

Sarah Brockwell owner of agency sarahBee marketing and PR : “Since the company’s launch in 2010, sarahBee marketing has supported 1000+ entrepreneurs and SMEs with strategic and tactical PR and marketing.

“During the pandemic, the company has ‘pivoted’ PR services to offer PR support to SMEs that is fully or part-funded by government support schemes (which are designed to help overcome the economic effects of Covid-19 and EU-Transition.) Therefore the company is still billing, but instead of billing companies directly, is billing the public sector. An example of one such project is (a £20m government-funded business support programme in the East of England).

“In an economic downturn, marketing and PR budgets are often the first to be cut by SMEs. What many people don’t realise is that they can apply for government funding that will contribute towards the costs of outsourced marketing and PR (from agencies or consultants), which helps keep the lights on.”

Explore your options now

Amy Watt, specialist coach for comms professionals, Megawatt Coaching: "Whilst I can completely understand why comms professionals at all levels might be hesitant to think about changing jobs currently, right now is always the best time to start exploring new opportunities, particularly when the industry is changing so fast. Waiting for things to settle down and playing it safe could mean being left behind. Plus, there’s nothing to say that the safe option today will guarantee long-term stability. 

“Mindset and self-care are really important for those who do decide to explore fresh opportunities, as putting too much pressure on yourself to find work quickly can lead to a state of overwhelm or a confidence crisis. 

“Before embarking on a job search, start by getting really clear on why you enjoy your work and where it supports others. By focusing on your motivation, alongside your strengths, and the service you offer, you can show up in a compelling, energised way that will help you to stand out and attract the best opportunities, even whilst the world turns on its head."

You might not feel like making big plans right now, but sitting back and waiting for things to change is never a good career move. No one is ever in complete control of their destinies, but at least you can make sure you are ready to take advantage of any opportunities that do arise.

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