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
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
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
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
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.