Opinion: Freelance PRs are a strategic resource, not a stopgap

Opinion: Freelance PRs are a strategic resource, not a stopgap

Nigel Sarbutts, founder of freelance network The PR Cavalry, argues that senior comms professionals need to include freelance PRs in their long-term strategies.

It’s indisputable that the range of tasks that in-house staff and consultants now perform has expanded more rapidly in the last few years than at any time.

PR programmes now range far beyond the core function of media relations. SEO, content creation, influencer marketing, native advertising and others feature in even routine meetings.

Exciting, but highly volatile and the challenge is obvious. How can your team offer genuine expertise in new activities while maintaining your fundamental ability to know the media in numerous sectors?

Volatility and traditional team structures don’t mix. This explains the huge growth in freelancing as in-house and agency teams have seen how freelance talent brings niche expertise and the priceless emotional energy of new perspectives and contacts.

Freelance PRs are no longer a stopgap solution

But we have barely scraped the surface of shifting from a stopgap use of freelancers to viewing them as a strategic resource.

The obstacle is that the huge pool of mid to senior freelance talent is not searchable, making it haphazard and laborious to find the right people, with the right experience at the right time.

That is the problem we are fixing using search technology and an algorithm that matches detailed freelancer profiles to detailed client briefs.

Making that resource truly searchable by industry sector, by the type of work required and recency of experience (as well as by other factors like day rate and proximity) would transform the way teams approach resource planning because you reduce that challenge of volatility, confident that the right person for the right brief was identifiable.

Matching freelancers to the right brief

The industry needs better ways of finding freelance talent than posting requests on social media and asking around. It’s laborious and isn’t a strategic response to the opportunities of a new way of working.

For freelancers, finding the right brief is equally time consuming. Hunting for clients in ways that haven’t changed in decades: networking events, word of mouth and personal branding, costs freelancers money and precious billable time each month. Recruitment agencies have been a solution but at significant cost.

A comms director for a number of famous UK brands told me recently: “It’s hard to get approval on full-time staff so hiring freelancers is easier – but my board look at me like I’m mad when I explain there’s a 20% recruiter fee to pay on top”.

We are taking that barrier away by charging a far more modest commission (10%) to freelancers, reflecting the value they get of not having to forego billable time and costs to hunt for new clients (and for finding them highly profitable work because the brief is accurately matched to their skill set). Every freelancer we have recruited grasps that saving immediately.

By harnessing technology to a formerly laborious, haphazard task for both freelancer and client, the numbers make sense; on the one hand for freelancers to realise a much bigger financial benefit and for clients it makes it easier to plan for and make hiring decisions.

Come and join the disruption.

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