The main challenge for independent PR practitioners

Last month I used a Facebook community to get some insight into the main challenge for independent and freelance PR practitioners

11 people participated in the discussion and several more confirmed thoughts by liking people’s comments.

This is what I found out:

#1 Seeing media relations as the main part of a public relations strategy

This is not uncommon, even through my own work I often receive a PR brief from a prospect which says ‘achieve media coverage in X Y and Z. It’s utter nonsense that people still hinge so much on media relations. Print has been in decline for years and is getting worse every quarter. And if you’re trying to reach a younger audience, they don’t even read print! The key is in the issue – people are briefing on tactics rather than business goals. Media relations is only one of many tactics which can be applied. It all comes down to understanding the audience and having set SMART objectives, to be able to develop a relevant and engaging strategy.

Thanks to Lindsey Collumbell for adding this as her no.1 challenge and to 13 others for showing this is an issue we often face.

#2 Trusting the comms team

Nicki Strong cited this issue as her biggest challenge. Again it’s not uncommon.

There are several things to consider:

  • Does the client really understand the value of PR?
  • Has the practitioner done enough to explain how PR works and what it hopes to achieve within the scope of the project?
  • Has the client had a bad experience previously?
  • Why does the client not trust the comms team? Is there a specific reason?

Trust is one of the biggest and essential aspects of any relationship. To build trust, you need to build relationships and demonstrate professionalism, business acumen and be able to deliver.

Having said that, if the issue is a general one, is it down to the perception of public relations and communications as an industry?

One way of quickly getting over that hurdle is to demonstrate how, through your activity, you will add value to the client’s business. Evaluation starts at the beginning of the project, not the end. Perhaps the approach of the practitioner hasn’t been to a high standard and they haven’t used any robust measurement and evaluation?

I’d welcome thoughts on this.

independent pr practitioner

#3 News content is no longer free in trade/specialist press

For some time now, industry/trade mags have been selling advertising and promising editorial as a package. They prioritise a lot of their content for paid advertisers.

I used to deal with a lot of trade press for interiors of transport and it was always the same. However, as print dies, so does advertising.

News should win editorial space on merit. If it’s newsworthy and relevant to the audience, there is no reason for having to pay for it.

For reference on ethical practice in paid and earned media, check out this skills guide I co-wrote for the CIPR. It talks about how the reader perceives the piece of content as editorial or as advertising. It also outlines the legal issues that face us should we mislead the reader.

Thanks to Katy Taylor for adding this to the list.

#4 SEO links are expected and thought to be easy

Emma Harber has experienced this as have others who have supported this as an issue in the community.

More clients are becoming aware of the benefits of links back to their websites in online stories, but they don’t always understand that some online sites don’t give back-links and some just aren’t clued into the value this could add to the business submitting the piece of content.

Here’s a great piece on Moz by Rand Fishkin in 2011 which says you shouldn’t ask for links. People will find you if you’ve created good content.

@ wrote a post last year for Hubspot which talks about generating inbound links to your site. I’d definitely recommend a read. It gives 33 useful ways of getting links to generate web traffic.

In joint 5th place -we have four issues – #5 – #8

#5 Helen Campbell said that a challenge is to integrate PR through the whole organisation

Helen, I feel your pain! This often comes down to point #6 – a lack of understanding of what PR actually is.

Practitioners really need to demonstrate strategic thinking and have to ensure PR strategy directly relates to business goals.

In order to do this and be fully integrated, it needs a relationship with all aspects of the organisation. It needs to understand the people, the culture, the finances, the supply chain – the whole lot! Only then can a practitioner or team develop a really strong strategy which underpins everything the business/organisation is looking to achieve.

Once again though; are the relationships in place? Is there trust there and have you demonstrated the value?

#6 Stuart Bruce said the lack of vision and understanding of what PR actually is

Stuart, it’s so common it makes me cry sometimes. PR practitioners are knowledgable, skilled, passionate (on the whole) and can really make a difference. Our industry does have a job to do to educate ‘business’ the modern PR it maybe doesn’t know. All the bells and whistles this post talks about – invaluable tools, data, analytics, measurement, integration, value, purpose and understanding.

Suzie Bartle added that she wants clients to understand the process of PR and that there is no ‘silver bullet’.

PR practitioners have a job to do, too. All the points in this post are closely related. There is education to be done and there is value to be demonstrated.

understanding pr

#7 Stuart also said that there is a challenge to get UK businesses and organisations to be braver and experiment more

I agree with this. But if you look at the issues we talk about earlier, we need to build trust and demonstrate value before businesses will be braver and experiment. You’ll find that start-ups and tech businesses are the ones being braver and experimenting as that’s how they go to where they are.

More traditional businesses, who often take the approach ‘because we’ve always done it that way’, will be left behind and actually, coming on to point #8, is it really worth your time? That’s for you to figure out though!

Stuart, happy to host a guest post from you about this if you’ve got some meaty ideas around this.

#8 Rachel Picken reckons we need to understand if a client/project is going to be worthwhile

Rachel, this is something I’ve experienced a lot of in the last 12 months. It makes me think ‘is it worth it’? Will I enjoy an uphill struggle to do anything? Will I feel my skills, experience and all the other things I’ve worked hard for, like my Chartership, are being valued, or will I get the same response each time?

When we’re scoping out new projects and clients, it’s definitely something to have at the forefront. You don’t want to end up resenting a client or over-servicing it.

Relationships are two-way and if there is a good relationship and there is mutual respect and trust, a client should trust your advice. Similarly, if things go wrong, you need to be able to draw a line and move on, leaving the relationship in good standing, but making it clear why things haven’t gone well. Don’t burn your bridges. Remember your happiness at work is so important, especially as an independent or freelance practitioner.

Always trust your gut. That’s what I say! Do you value your own personal brand enough to say no?

These are the main points to come out of the community discussion. None of them are uncommon. I hope some of the challenges raised I’ve been able to discuss or address in this post. As always, happy to have comments or further discussion.

If you’ve found this post useful please share it, as no doubt others will too.

Here’s a poll if you’ve got an opinion

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