PR’s one man bands: More PR people are enjoying the freedom of working from small offices at home. Nicola Tyrrell reports

Every PR professional must wonder at some point in their career whether they would be better off throwing in the towel and working for themselves, but is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?

Every PR professional must wonder at some point in their career

whether they would be better off throwing in the towel and working for

themselves, but is the grass really greener on the other side of the

fence?



Commercial property and art specialist Melissa Kojan went freelance two

years ago for the second time in her career. ’Freelancing gives you a

kind of freedom that’s worth more than anything - the freedom to pick

and choose your clients, the hours you work, how much you charge, and

the environment you work in,’ says Kojan, whose clients include the

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre and the Contemporary Art Society.

Her view was crystallised when she was briefly seduced back into agency

life by the prospect of greater security and professional back-up. ’I

realised I could offer a better service, charge what I like and not have

to deal with the constant interruptions of an office.’



According to this year’s PR Week/Media Appointments Salary Survey, the

average freelance practitioner earns pounds 41,340 a year, with the top

10 per cent earning close to pounds 70,000, which compares favourably to

an average salary of pounds 50,678 for a PR director. Kojan says she

earns twice the salary she could expect in senior management at an

agency, and spends less time on new business pitches since most of her

work comes through client recommendation.



’I am in my mid-40s and have always been a frantic networker.

Freelancing is not something you can do in your 20s, because you need to

have built up enough connections,’ she says.



Lynda Hardy Maskell, who went freelance four months ago after leaving

the Stock Exchange to have a baby, has clients including CIGNA Insurance

and Infopress. She says she has needed to work consistently hard to

establish herself. ’You work all the time and are still concerned that

you don’t have enough work, so you keep taking on more,’ she says.



Like many sole practitioners, Hardy Maskell decided to go freelance to

improve her lifestyle. ’It is a way of balancing quality of work with

quality of life. I wanted to work at a senior level without going into

the City for 70 hours a week,’ she says.



Generalist Janie Joel, a sole practitioner for eight years, has found

that some companies actively prefer to use freelancers. ’You charge on a

daily basis so in their eyes you are not an overhead they are carrying,’

says Joel, whose clients include the Royal Brompton Hospital and

Battersea Business 2000. Like most freelance PR people, the majority of

her work comes through recommendation and, she is rarely involved in

competitive pitches.



Technology has no doubt contributed to a shift in expectation. The

advent of mobile phone, fax and the internet have enabled freelance PR

people to compete with agencies when it comes to efficiency and quality

of service.



Ex-journalist Anne Massey is not unusual in having a fully-equipped

office at her home, with a range of hi-tech computers, scanners and

faxes to serve clients including Maikom and Crawfords Computing. ’It is

so easy to get things to people that I hardly ever need to see my

clients which is value for money as far as they are concerned,’ she

says.



This does not mean life as a sole practitioner is plain sailing. Apart

from rarely feeling off duty,it can lonely. ’You miss the esprit de

corps of an office environment,’ says PR veteran Richard Pollen.



In the 1980s, Pollen set up Valin Pollen, which in 1984 was the largest

agency of the decade to be floated on the Stock Exchange. His second

enterprise, Richard Pollen and Company, merged with Ludgate

Communications in 1994.



Now working for himself under the banner Pollen Associates, he says:

’When you are on your own, you need to stay one step of everybody else.

Salaries can be higher but the tax rules for self-employed are so

appalling.’



Despite the drawbacks, few freelance PR specialists would consider

returning to agency life, and many shy away from the hassle of setting

up their own agencies. Apart from achieving an improvement in lifestyle,

those who jump the agency ship believe they have more credibility as a

lone practitioner.



CRISIS TALKS ... WHO TO TURN TO FOR HELP



Anne Massey is aware of the risk she runs every time she takes on new

business. She once spent six months working for a client before plucking

up the courage to query why they were not paying her invoices. ’In the

end they agreed to pay half my fees and when I threatened to take them

to court, they kept raising queries to block the case,’ she says.

Feeling she had no support structure to help her, she wrote off the

pounds 5,500 she was owed. Massey has invested in expensive health

insurance, a pension plan and public liability insurance to buffer her

in a crisis. However, she is not a member of the IPR. ’I can’t see how I

would benefit,’ she says. IPR President Peter Walker admits that the

level of support offered to lone practitioners has been insufficient in

the past, but is taking steps to address the problem. The IPR is

currently setting up a national support network involving annual

regional seminars; the institute’s magazine and internet sites are being

upgraded, and a mentoring service is also on the cards.



However, lone practitioners need not have waited for these changes. ’We

already offer a professional indemnity scheme whereby we act as an

arbitration service,’ says Walker. ’We advise sole practitioners to have

it built into their contracts with clients that, in the event of a

dispute, they agree to use the institute as an arbitrator.’ The IPR also

holds a database of sole practitioners and small companies, which acts

like a matchmaker service for members seeking others who offer specific

services.



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