#PRFest is A Test of Our Vision

Sponsor post: The PR Cavalry

If you’re going to change the world of PR, it’s a good idea to be amongst (and learning from) the people who think really hard about the industry’s future.

That’s how we think about #PRFest and why we are proud to be a sponsor as we recruit our talent bank of skilled PR freelancers for The PR Cavalry.

Freelancers and consultants – a growing area

Our ambition is to change the world of PR by making the vast pool of talent in the freelance PR sector codified and searchable. It currently isn’t and in 2018 that’s just plain weird and the numbers, if we don’t address the problem, are scary.

With such a huge wealth of freelance talent out there, matching the person with the right mix of skills, experience & contacts to the right brief ought to be simple, but it remains a laborious and haphazard process for both freelancer and client.  That’s the problem we are solving.

By making that national pool (often very senior) transparent and clearly defined, the PR industry can do some very exciting things.

We can turn the decision to hire a freelancer from being a stop gap tactic into a strategic resource for clients and agencies – you can reliably plan for the right people, right seats, right time.

Whether you are in-house or in an agency, matching your fixed resource of people to a demand for capacity and specific skills that is increasingly volatile is a huge problem.

Understanding the client’s business

The typical staff turnover in an agency is 25% but the turnover in clients is around 40-50%. In other words, in the four years an account handler works there, the agency’s client list will change more than six times.

Is it any wonder that clients (or internal stakeholders for in house teams) complain that account handlers don’t really understand their business?

Skills development

As the nature of PR work expands far beyond the core skill of media relations, the demands we place on PR staff to not only have deep sectoral knowledge but also deep task knowledge has exploded. A typical campaign planning meeting (both in-house and agency) today will feature types of task unimaginable two or three years ago and even if the list doesn’t grow, the nature of work will continue to change.

Again, even if your team is A grade and they are given the opportunity to develop professionally, can you really expect them to be sufficiently expert or even effective on types of work or comms channels that didn’t feature in their workload a year or two ago?

More importantly, can you expect them to keep expanding their expertise in new emerging types of work whilst still remaining at the top of their game in PR’s core discipline of media relations – itself changing more rapidly than ever before?

The challenge

The picture is a simple one – of more demands on PR & comms teams to be both adaptable, expert and available, whilst budgets especially in the public sector are being squeezed.

We are living right in the middle of the conundrum of quick/quality/cheap: now pick two.

That is an enormous challenge to the logic of the traditionally formed agency or in house team – let’s break it down.

Think of the numbers in a team of 30

-Three or four board directors who own the strategy but spend most time on managing the business or working with other departments or in an agency, seeking new business

-Three or four admin/finance staff

-Ten or so junior staff who are busy doing a huge range of admin heavy very tactical work – reporting, evaluating, catching lots of balls, dealing with suppliers etc..

That leaves barely a third of staff in positions where they are at the coal face, really capable of making campaigns work and having day to day contact with the clients/stakeholders/media.

Then remember that amongst those 10 or so people, you have 25% staff turnover. Two of them have been with you a year, two of them are either already leaving you (or about to) so out of your thirty head count, only one fifth are in the best possible place to deliver results.

Now do the maths for a team of 15 or ten….

Nobody would start out now to build a pyramid team, but if you are in one, adapting is hard and until now the solution of flexible tiers and plugging in specialist skills has been needlessly hard to do.

Freelancers provide a solution to that problem of quick v. quality v. cheap because they bring some unique values, not least what I’d call emotional energy – the pure contribution of skills and perspective without the baggage of internal politics or dealing with fun-sapping meetings that full time employees have to deal with.

Recruitment agencies have been a solution but at real financial cost – so we are also changing the recruitment model.

A comms director responsible for some the UK’s most famous brands told me this week “God knows it’s hard to get sign off on new full-time staff members so hiring freelancers is easier to get approved – but my board still look at me like I’m mad when I explain there’s a 20% fee to pay on top to an agency”

We are taking that barrier to recruiting a freelancer away by charging a far more modest commission (10%) to the freelancer to reflect the savings they will make by not having to forego billable time and costs to hunt for new clients (and for finding them the work).

By harnessing technology to a formerly laborious task for both buyer and seller in a transaction, the numbers suddenly make sense for freelancer to pay a small amount for a much bigger benefit and makes it easier clients to make hiring decisions and more work is generated overall.

We expect to be challenged, we expect to get things wrong as we try to make a dent in two well established industries and mixing it with some of the best minds in the PR business at #PRFest seems a pretty good place to test our vision and learn and improve.

See you in Edinburgh, we’ll buy you a beer.

Nigel Sarbutts – founder The PR Cavalry