When PR agencies engage freelancers, it’s often to help with one-off projects or fill in while someone’s on leave. Freelancers become a quasi-team member for a limited period of time, then when they’re no longer needed they’re off to the next job. Like a Mary Poppins of the PR world.
But the number of freelancers is on the rise – in the U.S. it’s expected that half the workforce will be made up of freelancers by 2020. As more employees leave full time work in favor of flexible working arrangements, there will be as many independent workers as there are salaried staff.
So what does this mean for PR?
In order to move with the times and continue to attract the right consultants, PR agencies will need to shift their thinking about the way they utilize freelancers; not just hiring them as a stop-gap solution, but looking to employ them longer term, working as an integrated part of the team.
A new structure
The PR agency of the future will need to restructure the business to allow for multiple employment options, tailored to individual staff needs. Moving beyond the rigid constraints of full time office-based staff, PR agencies will need to expand the way they work by welcoming independent workers as part of the team; not just as an extra set of hands to pick up the slack, but leading accounts, managing clients, and mentoring staff.
By creating a flexible, independent team of consultants who are able to work in the way they’re most productive – which doesn’t always include a traditional workday – this will mean a more efficient workforce delivering maximum results. As long as PR agencies implement the right procedures and invest in technologies which allow for staff collaboration, freelancers can become as much a part of the team as full time staff.
It’s easier than you think
While some PR agencies are already working with freelancers on a long-term basis, others have reservations about bringing freelancers – especially remote workers – onto the team.
- Continuity: Understandably, agencies don’t want client accounts to be disrupted with a high turnover of freelancers. But this can easily be avoided by being clear about expectations upfront and making sure the freelancer is in it for the long haul
- Intellectual property (IP): Freelancers can often work for multiple agencies at once, so it’s reasonable to be concerned about your agency’s IP. But it’s important to remember a freelancer’s reputation is their lifeline, so they’re unlikely to break confidences and risk getting a bad rap
- Visibility: Some employers simply don’t feel comfortable with people working off-site, but as the trend towards remote working becomes the norm, this isn’t something that can be easily avoided. As long as KPIs are met and work is delivered on time, where the work is done shouldn’t matter
- Culture: A strong agency culture is the backbone of PR so it’s a valid concern that independent workers won’t feel part of the team. While it’s true that freelancers miss much of the daily banter, there are still plenty of ways to ensure they become part of the team, whether that’s set days in the office, face to face WIP meetings or attending social events
The happily independent workforce
There are many advantages for PR agencies to shift towards a more flexible, freelance workforce. It’s cost effective, it can help reduce over-servicing, and having access to a pool of specialized freelancers means more opportunities for growth.
Most importantly, studies show that freelance workers are not only more productive, but they’re happier than full time employees. Given public relations is continuously ranked as amongst the most stressful professions, it’s time to take a serious look at how PR agencies can change the way they operate by employing independent workers to help create a more sustainable, more enjoyable work environment.