Founder Sam Howard reflects on how it’s easy to forget to talk the talk when you’re so busy walking that walk.
Simply put, our role at The Comms Crowd is to help companies best articulate what they do, how they help their customers, and why they do it better than their competitors. Once we have that position defined, that’s what we roll out in varying engaging formats across the most appropriate comms channels for their target audiences: website, content, PR, social media, etc. We have all built our careers focused on this and only this, so we have become really rather good at it, and as a result we have enjoyed eight years of strong and steady growth.
But then we made the CLASSIC MISTAKE:
We were so busy looking after our clients we fell behind on our own positioning and comms – fairly embarrassing for a comms agency!
Just like the firms we work with, our strengths have evolved over the years, which means our competitive advantage has shifted, and as a result, the type of clients we work with.
In the early days we sported the start-up vibe of, ‘we are small, agile and affordable’ and of course we were, and still are. However, over time we attracted and retained some of the best independent talent in the industry and developed a deep pool of sector knowledge, as well as a wider skill set. And, as a consequence, we have enjoyed working with a much wider range of companies, so alongside our first loves, the start ups, we find ourselves increasingly working with larger firms too.
Yet our website did not reflect this evolution at all… nor our blog content… nor our social feeds.
Having identified the problem, there have been a few long weeks at the keyboard as we overhauled everything from the ground up. Now, our website and all our social content clearly articulate our core value and how we are best able to help our clients. We have created the space to demonstrate our fintech and tech/cyber experience and our comms expertise, and made sure we have lots of lovely client stories to go with.
So now we are all set! Bring it on 2020, we’re ready for ya!
Lauren Bowden, who looks after FinTech Content Marketing here at The Crowd, draws on her in-house experience to outline the foundations of a solid content marketing plan.
I moved into a content marketing role around six years ago after a decade as a PR practitioner, and while certain aspects of the two disciplines were very similar – story crafting, messaging, creativity, etc. – my eyes were fully opened to the commercial side of the business and how the various parts of an organisation fit together. Earlier this year I was asked to be one of 11 content marketing experts to participate in an eBook on ‘using the content lifecycle to maximise content ROI’. Below is a summary of my contribution, with some additional insight I have gathered recently.
1. Pool your knowledge
The FinTech sales cycle can easily take around 18 months and usually involves a plethora of decision-makers that marketeers need to know all about in order to best target their content marketing campaigns. It requires serious teamwork and buy-in from all key stakeholders, not just the sales team who often are positioned as the only conduit to the client and therefore the main go-to for marketing. Professional services team members have invaluable on-the-ground insight into the daily dealings at client sites, while product management ideally has a macro view of the industry and can point to future trends, so tapping into their knowledge is crucial when devising a content marketing plan.
2. Do your research
It is rare that only one product or solution will need to be pushed to the market through the course of the year and so content marketing plans should be drawn up for each area of focus. Some plans will be more detailed than others to reflect the organisation’s priorities, but at the very least they should cover information on market drivers, solution description, key messages, target market, buyers’ journey mapping, key competitors, challenges, localisation plans and a content calendar. This will take time but always pays dividends when it comes to managing workloads and budget effectively, and ultimately measuring effectiveness over the year.
3. Plan well – but leave some room to wiggle
Budgeting requires you to have a clear idea of the goals you need to achieve in each campaign—goals that have been communicated to and accepted by stakeholders. This does not mean planning and budgeting for every detail of every content piece with no wiggle room over the year. Even the most robust plan and organised team will have unexpected opportunities that are too good to pass up over the year. That’s why it’s always important to have at least a 10 percent contingency built into the budget.
Another benefit of a strong content plan is that it helps you manage supplier costs. With a well-thought-out plan, many items can be budgeted for upfront, suppliers notified in advance about what work you have planned over the year, and packages negotiated accordingly, giving you a bigger bang for your buck.
It is also crucial to keep up to date with your existing suppliers’ new offerings, and to explore the marketplace for other suppliers who can help you execute new tactics. This kind of market scanning is particularly important for in-house marketing teams so they can keep abreast of the latest techniques and methods.
4. Embrace the data
Making sure you’re hitting the right audiences with your content can be a challenge, especially when you are targeting multiple stakeholders who make decisions as a group. When you look back on this kind of win, it’s difficult to pinpoint the influence specific content pieces had on that sale. You’re not going to turn around to a salesperson after an 18-month-long sales process and tell her the real reason she got that deal was because of a video or white paper – unless you want to be laughed out of the sales meeting.
Marketing Technology (aka MarTech) can be your best friend here. Whether it’s CRM, marketing automation or content management systems, they can be crucial in making sure content is getting into the hands of key audiences. With CRM data, for example, you can build up a picture of what is happened during a sales cycle. Retrospective analyses can reveal how many people in an organisation engaged with which content pieces. When it turns out that 12 different people from the same firm have all clicked on multiple pieces of content, or if the person clicked on multiple pieces of content, you have a much stronger case to prove your campaign’s effectiveness.
If the content is not hitting the mark – messages are either not reaching their targets or they are simply not resonating – it’s essential that tweaks are made on the fly. This shouldn’t happen too much with campaigns that are well thought out at the planning stage. However, sometimes you must adjust, try different things and then stay in constant communication with campaign stakeholders to ensure you remain on the right path.
5. Stay curious
Another useful tool to help you dive deeper into campaign effectiveness was shared by Raconteur Media recently. They applied the well-known BCG Matrix to the business of content creation:
Figure 1 Content Creation Matrix from Raconteur Media
The general guidance with this is that you milk the cows to feed the stars. That is, dedicate around 70 per cent of your resources to creating more of your best performing content types, positioning them prominently in the customer journey and optimising the process as much as possible.
The remaining 30 percent of resource budget should be set aside for experimentation. Depending on your appetite for risk, you might split this allocation further between moderate‐ and high‐risk activities.
At The Comms Crowd we can not only help you create winning content pieces but can also work with you to plot those pieces along your customer journeys and find out the best way to resonate with the right decision-makers at the right time. Email us to find out more.
Marc Duke explains the science of influencer marketing:
I am a sports fan, so any sporting metaphor works for me. When I thought about Influencer Marketing this classic baseball reference sums it up and here’s why:
Influencer marketing is about making sure the people who influence your target customer know about your offering. The idea of covering all your bases means you have ‘influenced’ all those stakeholders who influence the purchasing decision, and can endorse or advise in favour of your company over the competition. When you communicate directly with your customer or prospect, you are then pushing on an open door as they have already been positively influenced and are already open to dialogue.
Which bases do we cover?
1) Identifying your influencers
So that’s the theory, but who are the people influencing your customers? Much will depend on whether your business sells direct to the customer or through the channel. Either way, the first job is to map out a set of discrete groups that influence the purchasing decision. Let’s take the example of a company that produces environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient office lighting.
Influencers that make the cut will include:
- Journalists – who write about office environments.
- Industry analysts/consultants – who write about the market and provide ‘behind closed doors’ advice to decision makers
- Academics – who teach about ergonomics and design and need to be aware of the latest trends
- Industry associations – who represent the trade and bring together people who work in in the industry
- Industry gurus – who blog, write and speak about the latest trends
- Existing customers – who use the product/service and can endorse its use
- Competition – who’d rather your target customer used their solution!
- Partners – who you work with to your mutual benefit
- Investors – who have invested in your business
- Charities – supporting greener initiatives
I could go on but by now you should have noticed a couple of things. Firstly, this is a long list (one client I worked with identified SIXTEEN separate influencer groups) and secondly, other parts of your marketing activity already address some of these groups e.g. journalists will be handled by PR and industry analysts will be looked after by the Analyst Relations team.
2) Scoring your influencers
For this example let’s just focus our influencer efforts on the industry gurus. How do we identify them and how do we work out the weight of their influence? Not as simple as you might think, and there is a need for some smart metrics that can evaluate the following:
- Reach – how big a following does this guru have on twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram etc? Does this person have blogs or articles in local publications or globally?
- Relevance – how engaged is this influencer socially e.g. how popular is the content that this person has shared?
- Expertise – from their public activity how is this influencer perceived? For example, have you noticed that they are giving keynotes at major industry events?
Each influencer will need a numeric score from 1 – 10 for each category. Ultimately, we will come up with a final influence score. The idea here is that there must be some measure of influence, even if arbitrary, that enables us to track and decide who indeed is an influencer of our target customer base.
3) Engaging your influencers
Assuming we have done our homework, we will probably have anything between 20 to 50 gurus that we have scored and ranked. But how will we work with them? This is where you need to be totally clear that working with an influencer is about education – NOT selling. It’s about informing – NOT persuading and it’s also about recognising that this influencer is rightly lauded because they might have a better understanding of the market than you, they have more experience than you or they just might be really, really smart!
The sorts of questions you need to think about:
- Is there information you can share that they will value and find of interest such as a white paper on an issue they care about?
- Are there things they can actually help with e.g. taking part in a podcast, speaking at one of your events?
- Do you have people in your company credible enough to establish and maintain proper relationships with your halloed influencers rather than just sell at them?
If you have big ticks to all the above then you are ready to go out there and influence those influencers.
PR pro Alicia Broadest looks at how podcasts are rapidly becoming the favourite child in the B2B maketing class of 2019.
Podcasts are thriving in the UK, nearly 6 million people now tune in each week, according to a survey from Ofcom (September 2018) – with the number of weekly podcast listeners having almost doubled in five years – from 3.2 million in 2013 to 5.9 million in 2018.
While podcasts were traditionally created with consumers in mind, now thanks to the tech evolution, brands large and small are getting in on the action.
They may not quite be the new op-ed, but their soaring popularity has seen many B2B publications introduce podcasts to their websites. Be it paid for ops, interview placements or the opportunity to submit pre-recorded material, the rise of the podcast is certainly opening new avenues to B2B PR professionals like us looking to get clients seen, or in this case, heard.
So should your client be hopping on the podcasting bandwagon?
While podcasts are relatively easy to make, producing and managing a regular branded podcast is a big commitment, and not something I would recommend to any client taking their first steps into the realm of podcasting. Clients need to think realistically about how much time they can dedicate to recording, and the frequency with which they can publish content. The key to podcasts is consistency – if you want to be effective, you should offer something that listeners can tune into regularly.
My recommendation is to make podcasts part of your existing PR and marketing and strategy, complementing other activity. As PRs, we should familiarise ourselves with existing podcasts in our client’s sector, in our case, technology. We should then be engaging with these, and the editors producing them, to establish the opportunities available, such as guest speaker slots, or themes of the month with which clients may be able to get involved. You should then monitor these, and invest time in pitching for slots, or establishing if there are ongoing opps to submit client speakers, or even submit pre-recorded material on a regular basis.
The great thing about podcasts, other than ease of production, is that you don’t necessarily need to duplicate on content as you can utilise written articles as topics for discussion and kill two birds with one stone. In addition, is the advantage of longevity since content can be listened to time and time again.
As PR consultants, we should certainly be looking for opportunities for clients to contribute to podcast conversations (as we do with all other forms of media). It allows the speaker to convey information in a manner much more interactive and engaging than simply words on a page. We should be encouraging clients to augment their PR strategies with podcasts and start honing their broadcast skills in preparation.
Yes you can be in TechCrunch! PR pro Lianne Robinson gives her top tips for making sure your funding announcement gets the attention it deserves…
For any start-up, attracting investment is a significant milestone. It’s not just the credibility of knowing that you’re on to something special, but a signal to the rest of your industry that your business is a serious player in the market with a prosperous future ahead.
At this stage of early growth and investment, being able to PR the news is key and you want to get the best out of the opportunity to get the exciting news out and spread the word far and wide. It’s an opportunity to explain who you are, what your business does and why it’s different from everyone else.
Announcing your new funding not only increases your visibility, but it can also help with recruitment drives, attracting top talent, inviting new investors and driving new business. But with the start-up scene moving at pace right now, how do you cut through the noise and ensure your voice gets listened to? Here are my top tips to securing coverage in top tier publications:
1) Numbers talk – journalists want the news and facts: Its near enough impossible to get any coverage for a funding announcement that isn’t able to include the amount raised. If you can, use the numbers in the press release to illustrate the growth behind your start-up and how you plan to use the funds. Afterall, this is the ‘news’ you’re promoting.
2) Include as much information as possible: Who are the investors? Are they private, institutional, private equity? If funding was secured in earlier rounds, be sure to mention this too. It shows a continued confidence in your business and tells the story so far.
3) Company background: Clearly articulate what your company does and the problem you are providing a solution for. Who are the founders, what is their background and how big is the company? Explain what the money will be used for – it could be new hires, further technology developments or product development.
4) Validation: There is no greater endorsement than being able to quote one of your investors. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the lead investor but having an investor voice in your press release will add an enormous amount of credibility. They should talk about their reasons behind the investment. It might be the management team’s capabilities or a desire to be part of a growing market. You should also include a quote from your company founder or CEO alongside this.
5) Get all your ducks in a row: Once the press release has been written and signed off by all necessary parties, it is important to come up with a game plan for announcing the news to the market. It is far more effective to spend time getting all the materials and content in a good place rather than rush to get the news out there too quickly. Slow and steady really does win this race.
6) Where do you want to be: It’s likely to be vertical trade press that will be the most interested, but you might also find that technology press, investor magazines and start-up publications are where you need to be. Ask your PR agency to make a list of the titles they think you should be targeting to check you’re all on the same page. Between you, agree which titles should be targeted as a priority and which ones can follow. It’s important to use the announcement as an opportunity to build existing relationships with the press and establish new ones.
7) Consider your outreach strategy: Will it be far more effective to reach out to one key publication with an ‘exclusive’, or should it be sent far and wide to lots of different publications? Pitching the story exclusively to one key publication in the first instance does risk alienating others who might have otherwise covered the story, reducing the likelihood of widespread coverage. But it does normally mean that in return you will get a more thoughtful and comprehensive article.
A recent funding announcement from our client Urban Jungle resulted in us securing an exclusive article in TechCrunch who broke the news first. As a top tier title for the disruptive InsureTech, Urban Jungle were thrilled to be covered so extensively in such a key title and we still managed to generate 24 other pieces of coverage on the same day by sending the release far and wide once TechCrunch had published their story.
8) Timing is key: Simple things to consider – will your key spokespeople be around when the announcement is made? If not, consider holding off until they are back from holiday or more available as any interviews will need to be done that day. Does your company have any other news that it is likely to come out around the same time? A drip feed effect is far more effective than an avalanche of news in a short timeframe. Space the news out where possible and go with the most time sensitive first. Finally, keep your ear to the ground – if you catch word of a competitor announcing news around the same time, consider jumping in before them or waiting until their time has passed.
9) Shout from the rooftops: Well, social media will suffice. Use your social media platforms and networks to spread the news and share links to any articles through Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Encourage your teams to do the same. They should be proud of the company they work for and want to share the exciting news.
10) Keep the momentum going: Securing funding is a huge accomplishment and once it’s been announced everyone will be keen to get on with the job at hand. But don’t forget to keep the market updated on your progress. Announce any new senior and significant hires that have come on board. If you have enhanced your technology platform or are now offering new products, tell people! Use the captured interest in your company as a platform to keep going. Once you have established a voice, don’t be afraid to use it. Ultimately you want to position the senior leaders of your company as leading authorities in the market so you need to optimise every opportunity to do this.
PR pro Debbie Smith looks at the evidence as she considers whether the four day working week is a realistic goal. Could it give regional agencies an edge when it comes to recruitment?
We’re currently seeing conflicting reports about optimum working hours hit the headlines. On one side of the divide are companies who’ve successfully introduced a four day working week, and those who are trying (and in some cases failing) to implement unlimited holiday. On the other is the head of Chinese internet giant Alibaba advocating 12 hour days, six days a week for those who want to be successful. It’s apparently a well-known trend in China, where it’s known as 996 (i.e. working 9am-9pm, six days a week) and is common in the country’s rapidly growing tech industry.
Why is this relevant to PRs? Because our sector is at the forefront of the struggle to find the right balance between work and personal time – and that’s not the just the always-on culture where we check our work messages all the time, but actual working hours at our desk/laptop.
In November 2018 PR Week reported research showing that 27% of PRs are working overtime on a daily basis, more than double the proportion (12%) of the average British worker. Apparently the average UK PR practitioner will work two full days (15 hours) every month on top of their scheduled hours – 24 days’ unpaid work a year. And that includes freelancers – we’re joint second in the overtime stakes, alongside agency group account directors but not quite as bad as agency CEOs and owners. This is having a serious impact on staff well-being.
Fortunately, alternatives are now emerging in the agency world. I recently went to a talk by the head of a Gloucester PR agency who has introduced a four day working week without reducing pay. He says that as a result margins haven’t changed, while sick days have reduced (down 75% in the first six months) and staff are happier. He pointed out that Fridays were largely spent collating results and reports, and technology means this takes less time, so the day wasn’t very productive. As I remember the days when preparing a coverage book really did mean ‘cut and paste’ with scissors and glue instead of using apps like Coverage Book, and we had to look journalists up on paper lists such as PR Planner, I agree he makes a good point!
Dig a little deeper though and it’s not as clear cut. PR means deadlines, last minute journalist requests and the occasional client crisis. What if these happen on a Friday? The Gloucester agency uses WhatsApp groups for each client, which have enabled them to handle anything urgent, and the MD admits that he ‘feels the benefits less’ than his team. This of course means that, although you are free to do other things on a Friday, you can’t be far from your phone. And the MD is putting in extra hours – which no doubt the head of Alibaba would say was perfectly natural! The agency has also reduced actual holiday time by 20%, lunch hours to 45 minutes, and staff will work on the Friday in a week where there’s a bank holiday Monday. To use a cliché, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
However, while this initiative has its pros and cons, I think it’s a welcome change and shows an agency prepared to move away from the culture of presenteeism which has been a big part of PR for many years. I’ve seen it in both London and regional agencies. There were the husband and wife owners who phoned the office from their holiday late on a Friday afternoon to make sure we were all still there – and we were, but the lack of trust didn’t exactly create strong loyalty. So when they got the time difference wrong and phoned at 4.15 rather than 5.15, we took the call and then promptly all went home! And the big London agency where you were expected to be at your desk well into the evening, when the head of department would then open a bottle of wine as a kind of reward, and where an application from an Orthodox Jewish candidate was rejected in part because they would need to be at home for Shabbat dinner by sundown on Friday, which in winter would be mid-afternoon (this would now be illegal).
As a freelancer, I’ve chose to step away from traditional working hours and inflexible holidays to achieve a work-life balance that suits me. This doesn’t mean I automatically work shorter hours, but I can aim for a balance that meets my financial, professional and personal needs. As Lianne pointed out in a previous post, good relationships with like-minded clients helps. For them, the benefits of working with an experienced freelancer outweigh the occasional absences and the emails sent late at night (although my tip is to draft them and save them, then press ‘go’ first thing in the morning!) And working as part of the Comms Crowd freelance collective means I can take holidays to remote places knowing that our clients will be well looked after. For example, a recent fracture meant I couldn’t make an overseas trip for a client, but a colleague stepped in and delivered great results.
We can’t all be freelancers, but I hope that discussions of four days weeks and the importance of a good work-life balance to mental health will make traditional agencies think hard about their inflexible approach. Perhaps it’s most applicable to regional agencies – as the Gloucester agency head points out, his margins are higher than those of a London agency, which no doubt was a factor in making his initiative work. This could be a smart move for other regional agencies, who often struggle to recruit staff, and the catalyst that finally moves PR from its stubbornly London-centric base. After all, the days when you needed to be in London to meet journalists face to face are long gone.
Most of all, I hope this empowers PRs to challenge traditional working practices. We’re a creative industry, so we need time to step back and recharge our batteries if we’re to deliver the best results.
Sandra Vogel editor-in-residence issues her survival guide for live tweeting.
- 500 million tweets are sent every day
- 5,787 tweets are sent every second
- 326 million people use Twitter every month
There are some more mind-blowing stats here.
Now, of course we’re not all exposed to every tweet. But sometimes it is necessary to tweet on behalf of a client, and these are useful stats to bear in mind. Here are two more:
- The half-life of a tweet is apparently 24 minutes. If people haven’t read your tweet within half an hour, then the averages suggest they are not likely to get to it, because a tweet gets half of all its interactions within half an hour of being posted.
- Tweets with an image get 55% more engagement. So the image can matter even more than the words.
Nowhere is tweeting for a client quite so important and quite as stressful as when you are live tweeting an event. There will be a lot riding on what you do because live tweeted events can deliver great profile and original and interesting content. Events can be fast and furious, and it’s not easy to stay on top of everything. You only have one opportunity to get things right – or wrong.
Ten things you can do before you go live so you don’t die trying:
- Get the detailed insider version of the event programme, including whether there are to be any special announcements or launches that the public won’t be privy to till they happen because they won’t be on the public programme. You can pre-prepare a tweet or two with appropriate images so you are not caught on the hop.
- Know exactly who is speaking or otherwise on stage at every moment. Prepare a file that includes their name – spelt correctly – their job title in full, their Twitter handle and any other Twitter handles associated with them – the obvious one is their employer, but there may be others as well. Include any nuggets of info that might be useful for a tweet. Make this file something you can easily access at the event so you can flick in and out of it when you need to.
- Get the lowdown on any special announcements taking place both within and outside of scheduled sessions. If awards are being given get the list of winners, nominees and runners up – whatever is going to be announced live. Get photos of the people in case it’s not possible to take or otherwise obtain live shots at the time. Pre write your tweets and they will be ready to check through and fire off as announcements are made.
- Get as many graphics as you can. Are there slides from presentations that will be useful in a tweet? Get them. You don’t need to have tweet prepared and ready to go for every image, but the images may prove useful to have when you are live tweeting especially if it is tricky getting live photos.
- Prepare at least one tweet for every session you are covering. You might not use it on the day, but then again it might just be what you need to get you out of a problem moment.
- Sort out your hashtags. There will likely be several hashtags that will be in use over the course of the event. Agree the list with your client and anyone who you expect to be tweeting the event live from the client side. If some hashtags must be used in particular sessions, make a note of that beforehand in the same document you’re using to store the speaker details. Keep it structured so it’s easy to find what you need when you need it at speed.
- Set some standards for language and tone. The client may already have some agreed forms of words or phrases – make sure you are fully aware of them and if you think you might lose touch with them in the heat of the moment during the event, put them in your handy reference document. Agree too on the use of punctuation (exclamation marks are the domain of 13 year olds, not professionals), any acceptable or non-acceptable abbreviations, and any words that are never to be used and so on.
- Have an open discussion with the client about logistics – Have an open discussion with the client about logistics – who is tweeting, what are they tweeting, how are you going to divide and conquer? When are you going to get your breaks? Sometimes a client is looking for back-to-back live session coverage. Is that practical? Plan your schedule carefully. You can’t be in two places at once – so where will you be? If two or more sessions running at the same time need to be live tweeted how is that going to happen? Get full sign off on the schedule.
- Do you need access to a backup person or even two – maybe back at the office – who you know will be on hand to do whatever you need from double checking facts to doing on the spot research or taking over from you if there is an emergency?
- Finally, think about what might go wrong and set things in place to head problems off before they happen. Preparation will help you deal with on the day problems either because you’ve already thought of them so they’re not problems at all, or because the process of all that preparation has given you added confidence that you can handle anything.
Stellar junior PR, Katya Hamilton-Smith writes on how she has managed her third year at uni and working with us at the same time.
When I was given the opportunity to be a junior at The Comms Crowd last year my answer was of course, “Yes please!” At the same time I started a 10-week internship in the Corporate Communications department at Visa and soon returned back to university for my third and final year. I have always enjoyed having a packed schedule but balancing a freelance PR role with the pressures of the final year of university was certainly a challenge. It has been a great challenge though and I have learnt so much.
The final year of university is a busy one, full of assignments, graduate-scheme applications and the dreaded dissertation. In addition, I have been monitoring client social media channels, drafting pitches and briefings and getting to know a rapidly evolving industry and honestly just trying to keep up! While my time as a junior has been amazing, it hasn’t been without its challenges. People might assume that freelancing would work really well alongside a university schedule, and for the most part that’s true, but one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is prioritising tasks when there is no set working timetable. How long do you spend working on a pitch when you also have a dissertation literature review due? How long do you spend writing an essay when a client’s twitter needs content? Prioritising these tasks has been one of the biggest difficulties and when you’re not prepared to let either one be less than your best it is definitely a struggle.
Another thing that I have had to learn is the ability to change focus quickly between work and university assignments. Writing a 10,000 word dissertation and writing a less-than-240-character tweet are very different things, and being able to switch between these different written styles was something that I had to pick up quickly. I guess the more you practise something, the easier it gets and this was certainly the case for me in learning how to manage the different writing styles needed for both a career and a degree in PR.
The best way that I have found to manage my busy schedule is a great deal of planning. As an avid list-maker anyway this was fairly natural but I still found it difficult. Self-organisation is key and the ability to prioritise the right tasks at the right time is essential. I won’t pretend that I have always got this right – far from it! I have sometimes found myself panicking over university deadlines late at night or planning pitches in my pyjamas but as the year has progressed I have certainly learnt how to master this prioritisation much better. I don’t think that there’s any set way to do this and something different will work for everyone, but the easiest way that I’ve found to manage my different activities is to divide my days up into different sections, tackling Comms Crowd work and university assignments in different blocks. With this distinction it is much easier to manage my time and I work as if I were going into a physical office. Obviously this doesn’t always work but generally planning and scheduling time for each commitment was the only way that I was able to keep on top of everything and not let either activity down.
Since June I have certainly learnt the importance of effective time management, an incredibly useful skill as I prepare to leave university and fully enter a professional environment. I have also had the chance to learn about some of the most interesting fintech companies while learning the ropes of the PR industry from a super supportive team.
Balancing the most important year of education and keeping my grades up while freelancing alongside certainly presented many challenges, but the amount that I have learnt and accomplished over the past nine months has far outweighed any difficulties that I have faced. As Sam would say, Onwards!
It’s eight years since Sam Howard set up the freelance collective that is The Comms Crowd. This year she learned the real value of belonging to a team, and it doesn’t have a price tag…
Running a firm, however funky, is always a blur of highs and lows, and this year was even blurrier.
Highs: new team babies, client weddings, discovering a brilliant junior (yes Marcel – who knew there was more than one of you!), finding a prime pitcher, winning another ‘tech for good’ client and so doing some good ourselves, getting to work with some of my favourite PR people now holed up in-house and chucking some great projects our way, and even the odd trip to Belgium.
Lows: personal life was rubbish! When fate dealt her hand this year I almost folded.
But when I had to take a step back from work, the team stepped up and said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got this.’ And they had.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that freelancing encourages propagation of the self-centred gene. After all, every day you wake up and in theory you don’t know where the next pound is coming from, and even when you do you don’t know when you are going to actually get it.
But somehow, even though we are freelance and virtual so don’t even hang out in the same office every day, we are a true team. And we are there for each other – not just to cover high days and the holidays but when the kitchen floods, or the car breaks down, or we have one child freaking out, or two children screaming, or three of them fighting, or when we get sick, or our parents get sick, or our dogs get sick -and all in all we are just too distracted to work.
2019 is already shaping up to be a brighter year in so many ways, not least with the addition of our latest recruit, Dill a Mastador pup, a girl this time.
I have always been so proud of the Comms Crowd and what we have achieved but this year I am also thankful.
It’s widely acknowledged that going freelance enables you to spend more time with your family, but what about maternity leave how does that work? No safety net of paid maternity leave for us, so how do you manage? Fellow PR and proud mum of two, Lianne Robinson explains how she does it.
Before you swipe left, please be assured that this is not another blog about your right to claim statutory maternity pay when you have a baby like all the other ‘how to take maternity leave when you’re self-employed’ blogs! This, I hope, is helping to address the real fears of taking some time out when you’re a freelancer – will my clients find someone else? Will I have to start again?
When you start to tell people your baby news, their immediate reaction is to talk about how lucky you are to be getting maternity leave – people ask will you take a year off, or just nine months? But when you work for yourself the reality is that neither of those options are probably going to be possible.
When you decide to become a freelancer it takes a lot of hard work and determination to build up a client portfolio and secure a regular stream of work. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight. So when you find out your family is growing it’s impossible to comprehend the thought that you might just walk away from all of that.
Beyond that there are the financial difficulties. Going a year or even just a few months with no income is a very scary concept, especially when you are self-employed. For me, the thought of not having any money coming in would actually cause me more anxiety than working.
I’m realistic enough to know that when the baby comes along I will want to have some quality family time without the distraction of work. So I do plan to take it much easier, but not for long. One of my more time-consuming projects comes to an end just before my due date and I made the decision early on not to look for more work to fill that void until a few months down the line once I have established more of a routine.
As for my more regular retained gigs, I’m very lucky to work with some lovely clients who totally understand the situation and could not be more accommodating. One of the many reasons why I wanted to go freelance in the first place was to work for nice people and times like this are testament to that. If all goes well I will be back on line after two weeks – and no, I probably won’t be back up to full speed immediately and it’s likely I may be sending emails in the middle of the night but my clients respect that. They encourage me to take as much time as I need and they’ll be there waiting when I get back.
My worries about them finding someone else to look after their PR were soon dissolved when I realise that the relationship and rapport we have built up over the years means that they respect me as a person, as well as a professional and that’s why we work well together.
I’m also very lucky to be part of the Comms Crowd, a collective of like-minded freelance individuals. We work on clients as part of a team so when I disappear on my ‘mat-leave’, I know that our clients will still continue to get great results and opportunities as I leave them in the very safe and capable hands of my colleagues. That support is invaluable and it’s incredibly reassuring to know that I can take time off and focus on my family safe in the knowledge that the team are there to pick things up. As such we’ve also been able to do a gradual handover over the last few months which has also really taken the pressure off.
When I tell other friends and other expectant mothers that I plan to be back online after just a couple weeks they look at me with that discerning look and I know they are judging me. But that’s okay. You see one of the main reasons that I wanted to work for myself was to make sure that I can take my kids to school, be there for nativity plays and sports days and be able to look after them when they’re sick. So the very small sacrifices I might have to make now, will pay dividends in the long run.
When those disapproving friends are heading back into the City with an hour long commute each way after just 12 months, hands tied by a corporate environment that frowns on people leaving on time or taking time off for dependents, I will be at home still managing to build up my business and spend time with the family. I’m in the driving seat and there is nothing better!