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
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
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
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
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
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
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