Following the success of the CIPR event ‘Being Independent’ in 2017, it was clear that there is a need and desire for a network that supports independent PR practitioners.
The CIPR currently has over 900 independent PR practitioner members, and whilst there are a number of groups/networks that support geographical regions and sectoral interests there is no one group that supports independents.
Aims of the new network
The new network has four core aims:
- To provide support, advice and guidance for Independent PR practitioners, as well as those who would like to make the move to freelance/independent PR.
- Encourage more independent PR practitioners to join the CIPR and consider applying for Charter-ship.
- Promote the benefits of CPD to network members, to gain the skills and knowledge to advance their career and business as well as gaining CPD points by attending network events for independent PRs.
- To collaborate with other CIPR groups, identifying mutually beneficial areas of work.
Following the survey conducted with independents over the spring the new network has three key priorities to focus on:
1: Support and advice for freelancers
Support and advice is by far the most popular response, 89% of respondents cite this as their top priority for the new network. Within this, a mixed picture emerges of what type of support and advice PR professionals would like to see:
1) Winning new business (68%)
2) Innovation, better processes and operations (62%)
3) Contacts Database (61%)
4) Contract and other templates (57%)
5) Promoting yourself (56%)
Looking through the open-ended responses gives a much fuller context to these answers.
The world of today is very different from ten years ago; people aren’t working 9 to 5 as much, and an office isn’t always people’s natural place of work; more than 70% of respondents primarily work from home, often juggling other priorities, like childcare for example. What’s interesting is that only 9% primarily work from their own/rented office, 11% from a client’s office and 4% from a co-working office.
And as people change the way they work; this network will only become increasingly important. In a recent report by IPSE of those asked about the risks versus rewards of freelancing, 83% feel the rewards they get from self-employment outweigh the risks, a trend that is only likely to increase.
But because freelancers often work alone, they don’t tend to have the training, support or advice that you get working for an employer, or as part of a big agency.
So, what would independents like to see? In the comments section, this translates into a range of tools and support to help win new business; help accessing procurement frameworks and growing their business are common responses for example. Most of all though is a desire to see some sort of contacts database, matching freelancers to work, so this is something that we will look at taking forward.
2: Networking/collaborative working
As you would expect a large number of respondents commented that networking (78%) and collaborative working (74%) are critical to being a successful freelancer.
Where the new network can help is to provide the right opportunities, but the balance between face-to-face support, events and activities versus online needs to be right.
Many face-to-face events tend to be in London, which is not always easy to attend for the 77% of independents based outside of London. It can be expensive, especially when you factor in travel and accommodation. However, understandably there is a strong appetite to meet up with other professionals facing similar challenges, given that a significant number of freelancers work from home, and this is something we want to help facilitate.
In conclusion, a mix of events and activities around the country, working with existing groups – CIPR Wessex already has a well-established CIPR network for example – combined with social media looks to be the right way forward.
3: Discounted training/services.
It’s fair to say many independents have a lot of experience of working in communications. 47% of respondents to the State of the Profession survey have 21 years (or more experience) in the industry. What this equates to is the need for a slightly different training offer:
- Training needs to be more about strategy and focused on keeping their skills relevant.
- Many need to stay up to date with digital/online tools; working in a big agency you have access to lots of training, but as an independent, this is lacking.
- The State of the Profession survey adds weight to this view, citing an expanding skill set required of professionals and the changing social and digital landscape as two of the top three challenges facing the industry.
Webinars are a good way to reach a lot of people, especially as many would like to see more events and activities that reach all parts of the country, rather than just London. But again, there will always need to be face-to-face events, as long as there is a good geographical spread.
The other big issue that came up repeatedly is the high cost of training and access to software. I know as a sole trader that it’s often difficult to justify £400-£500 on a day course. And access to media handling and cutting services, as well as subscriptions can be prohibitively high.
So, this is something we definitely need to address and we will be campaigning for discounted rates for freelancers.
A voice for independents
Finally, the other point worth noting is the need to have a voice for the freelance world. While not as pressing a concern, a significant number of respondents commented on the need to lobby government/represent independents on a range of issues like taxation, IR35 and maternity/paternity cover.
If you’d like to get involved drop us an email CIPRindependent@gmail.com