With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses across the globe have suddenly been forced to look closely at their brand communications strategies – both from a messaging point of view and because of budget constraints due to the now struggling economy.
As a result of these things combined, the PR industry has been experiencing a set of universally shared and unprecedented challenges.
At the start of the crisis PR and marketing campaigns were, for the most part, paused until there was less uncertainty and communications budgets squeezed. This has left countless staff within PR agencies worldwide facing redundancy and many brands rapidly working to downsize their internal teams and comms departments.
Freelancers have perhaps been hit the hardest, with little-to-no government support in the UK. Some organisations are still wary of how to proceed while they manage massively reduced incomes and adapt to more sensitive messaging, and so many independent professionals have lost clients and found themselves with no secure work pipeline.
While those in the industry quite understandably want to get back to a sense of normality as quickly as possible, we all need to be prepared for some of the changes that we have recently gone through to inevitably stick – particularly due to the recession we now find ourselves in.
So, what can we as freelancers do to help mitigate these issues?
Use your skills to push your own brand
Work on creating your own personal brand. It might seem like a slog, but it will be a such a powerful tool in the long term. After all, creating the right message for your audience during this tricky time could strike a note when it would have potentially struggled to be heard under normal circumstances.
Do bear in mind that brands aren’t necessarily looking to be sold-to at the moment, they need direction, support and help with the challenges they themselves are facing. Think about sharing your industry expertise and wisdom – perhaps in the form of social media content, videos, blogs, and guides, to increase your own visibility as well as giving potential clients a helping hand. The whole world has undergone a huge amount of change, so write and share your views on how companies should act and react.
Those being open and creative, freelancers and agencies alike, will reap the benefits as brands and businesses are able to start ramping up their PR and marketing spend. After all, PR and comms is a tool that can add a huge amount of value to businesses, especially when moving out of a global crisis.
Now more than ever, we all need to be flexible in our approach while we help existing, new, and potential clients to adapt and navigate through these difficult times – whether that is working on one-off strategy pieces and short term projects, or changing the way we report on things to show tangible results.
To keep clients who are perhaps facing challenges in terms of proving ROI, PR practitioners will also need to have a good knowledge and understanding of the functions more commonly associated with digital experts (SEO for example), so it’s worth brushing up on your knowledge in those areas too.
Have you ever spotted a problem you think needs solving? Then maybe it’s time to draw on your existing skills and create something you’ve always thought about doing.
In terms of starting a business, getting the word out is the hardest part. There’s lots of ways of building the technology, and work out the planning side of things, but getting people to know about you and your business can be hard. Don’t forget that you are equipped with these skills already, so don’t be afraid to use them.
I have recently founded CommsPeople, a platform to help freelancers to find work and increase their visibility during this difficult time (and beyond), while also allowing businesses to easily find the expertise they need to support them in the right ways.
It’s always struck me that the existing freelancer marketplaces out there need to drive more work to their freelancers in a strategic way, and that businesses need help in deciphering what they need in the first place.
I have thought about creating something like this for a long time but never taken the leap. But then I happened to post the frame of an idea on social media and was suddenly inundated with 100s of requests from independent PR professionals across the globe to join the platform and hear more.
The interest spurred me on, and I managed to build an app from scratch during lockdown – it’s early days but I have a clear vision in my mind of where I want to take things. I’ve met (via Zoom!) some amazing people along the way, expanded my network and reshaped the direction of my career.
One thing that being a freelancer (and building a business) has taught me how important having a network is. During this period I have taken the time to speak with (or at least email) old clients, new clients and the new joiners on CommsPeople to learn, understand, and offer my own expertise if that could potentially be helpful for people.
Having a strong network can help you find jobs, learn new things, provide you with references or recommendations and introduce you to like-minded people.
Don’t be afraid of dropping people a note and asking if they’d like to chat about what they are working on – it doesn’t have to be a sales approach, just a simple ‘Hey,I really like the look of X – I’m interested to learn more’ – I’ve found most people will oblige if they have the time.
Whatever your objective is, the stronger your network, the greater your reach and opportunity.
Keep on Swimming
It’s not all doom and gloom. Yes, the impact of Covid-19 has been huge and there have been the obvious structural and practical implications that have affected us all. But most of the issues we have been experiencing are gradually lifting and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Even though we have all been through a struggle for these last few months, freelancing seems to have an exciting and attractive future ahead. Businesses are likely to be cautious when it comes to being tied into long-term contracts, so access to an agile and flexible workforce is undoubtedly a much more attractive offering than hiring full-time staff or spending on large-scale campaigns. Without a doubt, freelancing (in whatever sector) offers a more cost-effective approach.
Not only that, freelancing makes it possible for organisations to attract world-class talent that would be unavailable to most businesses on a full-time basis – so now is the time to ensure you are showcasing your skills in the best way possible.
If you are a PR/Comms freelancer, or you’d like to take the leap and embark on your freelance career, we’d love to hear from you.