James Crawford is managing director at PR Agency One, the CIPR’s Outstanding Public Relations Consultancy 2016/17
The first point I’d like to make – I have generally had good experiences of hiring freelancers.
But I’ve never particularly been enthusiastic about hiring them in the past based on the times I’ve had my fingers burned.
For an agency, it’s much better to get someone in full time, mostly I think because clients prefer to be serviced by a full time team and it makes them feel more secure, so we’ve always preferred to hire people permanently.
Sometimes though it’s not suitable to keep hiring full time staff and you need to be a bit more flexible when it comes to looking for freelancers to help sustain growth and support the team.
two of the best hires I’ve made for the agency started out as freelancers and just ended up never leaving
As I say, I have had good experiences when it comes to freelancers – two of the best hires I’ve made for the agency started out as freelancers and just ended up never leaving. Now they’ve become integral to the agency, so sometimes going down the freelance route can be a good way of finding people.
Depending on your staff requirements, freelancers can be specialists in certain skills, whether it’s product placement, writing, or media relations and selling in stories, and that can be a really useful resource, especially during bigger projects when you need temporary help.
Be careful who you take on
You do have to be careful when taking on a freelancer though, because they can be harder to vet than potential fulltime members of staff and you do get some (not all) who say they’ve had lots of previous experience, but when you check they’ve hardly got any agency experience, or you follow up with journalists they say they’ve got relationships with and work hasn’t been done or it’s exaggerated.
Also, a lot of freelancers like to work from home, but we like them to come into the office, so they’re working more closely with the teams they are doing work with.
You have to be a bit more flexible when looking for a freelancer, but at the same time, they need to be a bit more flexible about where they are willing to work, and if an agency wants them to work from the office, then they need to be willing to do that.
Some people though, I think, take the freelance route because – although they might be able to do the job – they just don’t fit in with an agency environment, either because their personality might be a bit quirky, or they don’t like the general ethos you often find with an agency.
you do get some who are just bonkers
I’ve known a few freelancers who have a strong personality and they’ve been fine, but you do get some who are just bonkers and don’t fit in (sorry freelancers).
Others prefer to go down the freelance route because they get to be more flexible in what they do, and they don’t fall into some of the traps of agency life that can take up a lot of your time. Team meetings and brainstorms are an essential part of PR, but they can take up a lot of your day.
Generally, freelancers – unless they’ve been brought in specifically for this – don’t get involved in those aspects of agency life so they get to focus more on what they’re doing.
Pay and commercial understanding
There are a lot of freelancers out there, and there is an element of getting what you pay for.
There are some out there who cost a lot of money but get a really good job done – there are some gems out there if you’re willing to look.
there is a certain kind of relationship that develops between an agency and a freelancer
Commercially also, there is a certain kind of relationship that develops between an agency and a freelancer that is different to hiring a full time member of staff in that there is a bit more – or there can be anyway – commercial accountability and understanding between the two.
You’re slightly more dependent on each other in a way so, as an agency, we want to make sure we treat you well and give you good work so you’ll be willing to provide a service to us again in the future when we need you to.
On the other side of that, as a freelancer you can be more reliant on temporary agency work, so you’ll want to come in and be reliable and committed because you’re putting your reputation out there.
You want the agency to offer you future work, and you also want them to recommend you to other agencies.
PR is a village, and a pretty small and close knit one at that, particularly in Manchester, and a lot of freelancers here are known quantities who’ve been around the circuit for a while, so I’ve got competitive friendships in the industry that I can call and ask about a freelancer.
If the freelancer is known for being reliable, agencies are always willing to recommend them to others.
PR Agency One has recently launched a drive to compile a list of talented and reliable freelance PR professionals. If you’re interested, go to: http://www.pragencyone.co.uk/blog/pr-freelancer-get-touch/
Top tips to improve your chances of getting hired as a freelancer in PR
Don’t oversell yourself – overstating your experience (especially if you don’t have any) is an easy way to get on the wrong side of an agency
Try to specialise – being able to come into an agency with a particular skill – whether writing, social media or media relations – can be particularly useful for short-term projects
Network – PR is a small community and agencies are always willing to recommend talented people to each other
Be flexible – Whether it’s taking on projects or just being open to working from an office, you need to be able to accommodate the requirements of an agency