Freelancers offer economic value during downturn

In an effort to save money and minimize financial risk-taking during the recession, PR firms are realizing the benefits of turning to freelancers for help.

In an effort to save money and minimize financial risk-taking during the recession, PR firms are realizing the benefits of turning to freelancers for help.

Spark PR created a network of freelancers called Sparknet that it plans to rely on much more in the coming year.

Alan Soucy, CEO of the agency, says that until the economy improves, Spark will likely grow through leveraging Sparknet, rather than by bringing on full-time employees.

“We find it less risky, but certainly as beneficial,” Soucy says, adding that having this network of possible freelancers on hand makes it easy to find reliable people when the firm needs additional resources and help with any type of PR work.

When clients are located in different geographic regions than the agency, having go-to freelancers in those areas who can meet with clients is also important.

“Being at a client location on a regular basis allows us to gain insights that are sometimes difficult to get,” Soucy notes.

Freelancers can be called upon to do work in virtually any practice area. Michael Volpatt, partner at Larkin Volpatt Communications, says some of his firm's freelancers specialize in certain areas like writing or pitching, while others work in a number of capacities including strategy, creative outreach, and project management.

“The hiring of a freelancer, if you manage them correctly, can be done in any area of [PR],” Volpatt says.

Hiring freelancers makes sense fiscally because the firm doesn't have to pay a salary, health benefits, and taxes for freelancers, explains Kelly Reeves, president and CEO of KLR communications.

“You have access to senior-level people with a lot of experience,” Reeves says. “But you're not paying their senior-level salary.”

She explains that the process of finding a freelancer should be similar to the hiring process for a full-time employee. It's crucial that the worker is skilled and trustworthy with client information.

“You want to make sure that someone is competent,” says Reeves. “They now have access to your client's information, so you have to know that [he or she] is also a reliable person.”

In addition to cutting costs through hiring freelancers, some PR firms are taking another route and outsourcing staff members to do in-house work for clients. Trippe & Company, a Denver agency, has been doing this for a number of years, mainly in response to the marketing and PR needs of the startups it does most of its work with.

Karla Trippe, president of Trippe & Company, says outsourcing staff allows her firm to benefit financially because the firm can negotiate a set fee for the work and stock options if available. Additionally, it tends to help staffers grow, learn, and expand their thought process.

“It gives them a chance to see things from the client side,” Trippe says. “That is very important, particularly when you are trying to train that person up to the VP level.”

Key Points:

  • Firms are using freelancers now to secure top talent without paying a full-time salary for that work
  • Building relationships with freelancers gives agencies go-to options when they need help
  • Freelancers allow agencies to get help without taking on the financial risk of a full-time staffer

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