Platform: Short term solutions to long term problems - Companies aresolving long term strategy problems by calling in top level PR consultants for fixed periods of time, says Robin Swinbank

The headhunters who are reportedly looking at the secondment option for a communications director at Buckingham Palace are following a market trend which is shaping the way forward for the PR industry.

The headhunters who are reportedly looking at the secondment option

for a communications director at Buckingham Palace are following a

market trend which is shaping the way forward for the PR industry.



Why appoint somebody to a permanent position, the argument goes, when

what we really need is someone to come in for a few months, sort the

problem out, point the way forward and then move on?



For Buckingham Palace, this will overcome the need for a spin doctor in

the Mandelson mode perpetually reminding members of the Royal family to

remain ’on-message’ or seeking to discuss Ma’am’s brand values.



The advantages secondment brings to clients are several: they only need

to pay for a PR consultant as and when they are needed; they can acquire

somebody with the relevant experience virtually anywhere in the UK, and

they receive advice which is objectively given and not motivated by the

need to protect a salary or to promote upward career mobility.



Anyone who thinks that those who service this market, the freelance PR

consultants, are probably ’has beens’ or PR industry rejects should

examine the recent PR Week salary survey. This clearly shows why quality

people can be found to work on secondment projects. The average salary

for a freelance consultant (pounds 41,340) is higher than for agency

account directors (pounds 32,005) and approaches that of a board

director (pounds 46,142). The best freelancers, therefore, are evidently

going to be very capable businessmen and women in their own right with a

substantial income.



The survey also showed that the average age of the freelance consultant

is about 42. Typically, they are experienced board or account director

level consultants who have chosen to run and manage their business.



It is clear that if you are any good at PR, but do not have the

financial incentive such as major shareholding to keep you within an

agency, then you are better off working for yourself.



Clients, as well as agencies, who ask about using freelance consultant

on secondment are primarily looking for a ’safe pair of hands’, but

later say they have also gained from the experience and objectivity such

practitioners provide.



The need for a consultant to work on secondment can arise for a variety

of reasons. Maternity leave, projects, unforeseen PR crises, or the

enforced absence of key personnel through illness are the most common

reasons.



Companies like the accountancy firm Kidsons Impey, IT consultancy Logica

and the engineering group Vickers have all recently used the secondment

option to cover for senior marketing and PR people on maternity leave,

while both Eurotunnel and the National Council for Vocational

Qualifications (now the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) have

seen projects of varying size handled on a secondment basis.



Indeed, pregnancy has bought a new meaning to the words ’growth

market’.



We have learned to extol the joys of motherhood to any female head of

corporate communications or PR manager we meet, while gently brushing

off the encrusted Weetabix spilt down a silk tie by one’s own dear

offspring that morning.



Robin Swinbank is a partner in The Counsel House.



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