Outstanding Freelance Practitioner – case study

Category: Outstanding Freelance Practitioner.

Hilary Berg, Hilary Berg Consulting – Using PR excellence to empower communities

Career highlights

  • CIPR member 1986
  • 1989-98: created award-winning consultancy; £900K turnover; 13 staff
  • 1998–2001: helped establish a social enterprise in Nepal. Sparked a passion involving communities in Africa; Bangladesh; Central America; US and Europe
  • 1999: Head of PR, Iceland Group:
    • PR Week 'In House Team of the Year'
    • CIPR NW Professional of the Year
  • 2001: Co-founded ethical consultancy Leapfrog PR
    • Capetown project for Woolworths South Africa
    • Strategy for national community justice pilot, including work in Brooklyn NY
    • CIPR President's Grand Prix: Best Community Campaign
  • 2009: Chartered Practitioner
  • 2009/10: CIPR Diploma (distinction); Teaching qualification; Action Learning training
  • 2010: Launched HBC
  • 2011: Advised social enterprise sector in Cyprus
  • 2012: Appointed Charity Trustee at: PSS; Merseyside Youth Association; Mountain Rescue
  • 2012: PR Excellence Awards Finalist: Best Freelance Practitioner
  • 2012: CIPR Pride Awards (NW): Best Freelance Practitioner
  • 2012: Social Enterprise Awards: Mentoring Champion of the Year
  • 2013: CIPR Digital Communication Certificate

Why this award?

HBC works locally and nationally to help communities to help themselves. Following a career working for household-name clients, I helped set up a social enterprise in Kathmandu and decided to focus my future on working with communities, and inspiring social change.

I am not a typical freelance PR. My skills lie in creative, often low budget communication strategies; motivating, up-skilling and connecting people. Rather than focus just on media coverage, I measure client satisfaction, business and social outcomes.

Since 2010 I have worked with 2,000 people through consultancy; training; workshops and consultation. As well as larger organisations, I have supported 118 community businesses; many created to tackle inequality.

Many clients are driven by personal experience: physical and mental health problems; domestic violence; disability and discrimination. Some struggle with English or literacy, others have health challenges that demand empathy and flexibility. I work in community centres and on housing estates. The most important measurement of my work is its social impact.

I mentor younger PR colleagues and work in schools. I believe that as professional communicators we can take complex situations and make sense of them; communicate clear messages; inspire people to listen and act; encourage them to think differently. This is the true value of PR – its potential to change the world.

What clients say: The school for social entrepreneurs

Sylvia Pearson, SSE Development Manager:

Hil's contribution to the development of NW social enterprises is unsurpassed. The impact of her work has spread across the international SSE network, where her expert coaching, particularly in communication strategy, has been studied among Fellows.

Her commercial expertise and knowledge have been of significant help to many social entrepreneurs. As a direct result of working with Hil, our Fellows have shown increased profile, sales, improvement in staff performance, diversification of products and an all-round more efficient service to their communities. She is a strong, vibrant, trusted voice.

Rachel Owen, SSE Fellow - ROOD Vintage:

"My business would not have launched without Hil. She held my hand through a pea-souper fog of business ideas. She believed in me and with her mentoring support, ROOD Vintage is now up and running.

Hil helped with my brand, communications plan, website and launch – gaining support from Designer Wayne Hemingway MBE. We gained wide media coverage including a Liverpool Echo feature and BBC radio. I secured funding in a difficult financial environment, won my first clients and long after the end of the project, Hil remains at the end of the phone to help me with my PR dilemmas. She has put me in touch with overseas social entrepreneurs who I may be able to trade with. Her judgment and ethics are spot-on and I trust her advice implicitly.

Campaign Example: The big benefit shake-up

The Plus Dane Group

September 2012 to March 2013 (Phase One)

The Plus Dane Group owns and manages 18,000 homes across Merseyside and Cheshire. It works to provide jobs and direct wealth into communities; with the aim of creating and sustaining vibrant places to live.

Current welfare reform policy represents the biggest shake up of the welfare system for 60 years. Changes, including the 'bedroom tax', planned for April 2013, will result in hardship for many social housing tenants.

I act as Strategist and Communications Lead for the campaign, directing Plus Dane's communications team and supporting colleagues.


  • Raise awareness and understanding of welfare reform and its potential impact on society
  • Ensure tenants understand how they will be affected; and the support available
  • Encourage policy makers to consider alternative solutions


  • Integrate welfare reform messages into core activity
  • Create a strong campaign: rally colleagues, partners and tenants to get involved
  • Use research/case studies to show the impact on real people
  • Lobby for a rethink on policy
  • Use innovation/best practice to increase campaign reach


  • Finalise strategy/ develop campaign name/identity with tenants.
  • Establish telephone helpline/email address.
  • Internal launch led by CEO: message to colleagues; colleague bulletins
  • Staff invited to attend training and CEO briefing sessions.
  • Briefing packs/presentations.
  • Call for campaign ideas.
  • Leaflets, merchandise, roll-ups, website and Intranet.
  • Facebook/Twitter.
  • 'Bedroom Tax' postcard to 3,000 tenants; preceding a visit/providing contact information.
  • 3,000 tenants contacted by phone/ letter and visited by colleagues.
  • 26 tenant champions trained.
  • Media relations.
  • Board/Tenants Forum involved.
  • Briefing of local councillors/MPs + national policy makers in collaboration with National Housing Federation (House of Commons).
  • 'Unity' magazine to 18,000 tenants including 'Money Matters' newsletter.
  • Weekly staff updates –bulletin/Intranet.
  • Neighbourhood activity.
  • Animated film for reception areas; website, community events. YouTube.
  • Social marketing pilot based on international best practice, using hairdressers, bar staff and faith leaders as community welfare reform advocates


  • Campaign developed with tenants
  • 84% of staff attended training and CEO briefings
  • 80% of staff took to the streets, and visited the 3,000 tenants affected by the bedroom tax. 49% visited were previously unaware of the change
  • 300+ helpline calls in week one (10% of audience)
  • 71% of residents say they read 'Unity' and 49% read 'Money Matters'
  • 'Hair, Prayer and Beer' pilot in planning - already covered by Inside Housing magazine and BBC Radio 4 'You and Yours'. A university and several housing associations are following progress
  • Audience for media coverage (including BBC News at 10) over 25 million
  • Local/national politicians are lobbying for change
  • Over 50 staff ideas for Phase Two