PR: How to find work - Network, network, network

If you’ve been working within an established PR agency before freelancing, it can come as a bit of a shock to suddenly be alone with your phone, computer and printer with everything now resting on your shoulders.

That’s why freelancing isn’t right for everyone. According to Leeds Metropolitan University a freelance PR consultant needs to have a positive attitude, experience, be hard working, have integrity, be flexible and confident. When you first start you need to decide whether you want to work for your own clients or work within an agency or in-house set up. Going down the agency route gives you more structure and camaraderie, but you may feel it doesn’t offer the flexibility you went freelance to achieve.

If you’re looking for your own clients, word of mouth is an excellent place to start. Who do you know who might need some PR or know someone who does? If you’ve left an agency you might have restrictions on contacting clients, but there are also former clients and the many other contacts you’ve met through work.

Contacts in similar industries, such as design, advertising and marketing are often useful, because if the clients need their services they’ll probably need PR as well.

Once you’ve secured your first piece of business you’ll be amazed how that can lead to the next and the one after that. If you’re a member of the CIPR – and if you’re not you should be – you can use their matchmaker service, which links freelances up with potential clients. Many freelancers have found excellent pieces of business this way.

The boom in freelancing has also spawned a number of agencies specialising in placing freelancers. The most notable are www.xchangeteam.com and www.stopgap.co.uk. They mostly place freelancers within agencies and in-house departments.

One thing you probably don’t want to be when you first start is too fussy. By saying you only want to work for Blue Chip companies or major record labels you are probably losing the opportunity of doing some other interesting work.

One advantage of freelancing is that you can work in all sorts of different sectors. And once you’ve worked with one company within a sector it could well lead to you finding others. Working for nothing or much lower than your normal rate is probably not a good idea. If you’re freelance the chances are you’ve already got a lot of experience under your belt, and working for nothing – unless it’s a particular favourite charity cause – would probably not benefit your career.

So what about networking? As well as the CIPR, which has regional groups that meet all over the country, there are local business groups and client functions. Even social functions can turn up the odd client. If you’re keen to find work within your local area keep a close eye on the local media. Job ads are a good way of finding out about new restaurants, bars, health clubs, etc that are coming your way as well as businesses that are relocating to your area or expanding. If a PR company or department is advertising for staff they may need interim back up. Also look at editorial. The appointment of a new head of PR at a company you’d like to work for could be an opportunity to get in touch, or an agency that has just won a major contract within an area you have experience.

And if a company is spending lots on advertising but never has any editorial coverage you could contact them to let them know how you could help them save money. Find out what’s new to your area before anyone else by keeping tabs on local planning applications – most councils post these on line.

And don’t forget your journalist contacts. As well as being able to give you some media coverage they are dealing with your potential clients every day and may be asked for recommendations. And if you have a positive meeting with a potential client that then doesn’t lead anywhere, keep in touch by sending through interesting articles or ideas.

Once established you might think about getting your own website – which you can do for as little as £5 a month. Potential clients are more likely to Google than reach for the Yellow pages when looking for freelancers, so make sure you’re there. There’s nothing to lose putting your name in the Yellow Pages, Thomson’s etc, but often it does led to a lot of CVs arriving in the post.

Judith Gaskell


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