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Adaptable. Scalable. Innovative. Flexible… AS IF

Case studyAdaptable. Scalable. Innovative. Flexible. AS IF. The four most over-used words in tech PR. Perhaps here, we might be a little bit more authentic.

This blog was started by Sam Howard in February 2011, just one week after going freelance.

Horribly honest, marginally insightful, and invariably rather jolly, our monthly posts look at how to keep your B2B comms credible; narrate the pros and perils of freelance life and give some tips for starting your career in PR.


How to say, “I’m working, GO AWAY!”

06/03/2017

Digital marketing Pro, Simona Cotta Ramusino advises on how to manage interruptions when you work from home.

Alan James

Nothing to see here folks! Just somone trying to work for a living…

Before working as a freelancer, I spent over 10 years in various PR agencies where time keeping was an essential skill. You often had to juggle more than one client at once and more than one task a day and only had a certain amount of hours each day so a good time management was important in order to be productive and efficient on clients’ accounts. I have always prided myself on being a good timekeeper, being able to multi-task and on delivering work on time. But things changed a little bit when I took the plunge into freelancing and not through any fault of mine!

I want to share this with you – freelancers and freelancers-to-be – because you will experience this in some shape or form and particularly at the beginning of your new career.

Time management as a freelancer becomes more difficult because…people (and I mainly mean friends and family) don’t think you are working. They don’t really know what you do but they think you are at the computer for a couple of hours and then you do housework or food shopping or go to the gym (which I do but early morning or during my lunch break). Sounds familiar? This leads them to ask if you can go over for a coffee in the afternoon, or babysit or call you for a mid-morning chat.

So although I may have a strict work routine to be at my desk for 9.00, have a lunch break and be finished for 18.00 following normal office hours, other people don’t and that’s how my time management goes out of the window and ‘external sources’ disrupt my day. And because they are family or friends it is hard to say “I’m working, go away” without sounding rude. But you have to. The sooner you do that, the better. And stick to it. You will be hated for a bit but it will be your saving grace in the long run.

I have the added challenge that my husband also often works from home and Ihave to admit, we did have quite a few ‘discussions’ when I first started freelancing. Now, if either of us doesn’t want to be disturbed (even if it is “Just for a coffee”, “Just for a second…”, “Just…”), we close our office door. I know we both mean well when we interrupt each other but from my side I don’t want to spend an hour on the same sentence when I am writing something and get interrupted many times (“What do you want for lunch?” “When do you want lunch?” “What should we do for dinner?”…etc). One could say that if you were in an office you would get interrupted anyway but a colleague wouldn’t come near you if they saw you madly typing on your laptop and if they did, you can ask them to come back later and they wouldn’t think that was rude. And so should your family and friends.

So my advice is: treat your freelance working time as if you were in an office. Be diligent and respectful about it so that your family and friends will be too. Whether you work from 7.00 to 15.00, 10.00 to 18.00, or 12.00 to 19.00, that is business time. Like in any agency, at the end of the day your timesheets should show how hard you have worked that day.


The sixth year – it’s kinda stress free

09/02/2017

Sam Howard celebrates six years of not having a proper job.

The evolution continues: from lone freelancer, to collaborator, to creating the collective to now (albeit cloud-based) looking like a proper little PR agency with around eight retained clients and working with a regular crew of four senior and two junior PRs.

We all had a team meet a few weeks back and a common thread was the lack of stress around the job. (And yet when you go freelance it feels positively perilous, I still remember the early weeks lying in the dark staring at the ceiling mentally muttering g ‘oh god I think I’ve ruined my career’).

But what the crew were referring to is the complete lack of that type of stress that distracts you from getting the job done: someone checking on your timekeeping, the commute, the juggling of personal appointments, the annual leave quotas, the pre-occupation with promotions, job titles and perks, the jockeying for position, the vying for the boss’s favour – there is none of that.

The only stress is that of doing a good job for the client.

But here’s the thing – when you work for yourself the sense of ownership and personal responsibility is absolute, so every project, without exception, has to go well, in fact better than well, it has to be the very best you can get it.

So that client stress goes deep.

And even though we share everything, it’s still all too easy for perfect storms to occur… Like when in the space of one week we had not one but two of our beloved start-ups announcing funding, which in our world is a huge deal and requires an immense amount of logistics and planning, working with all the financial PR agencies, the fund providers and pitching to media in multiple sectors. And as luck would have it, in the same week it was end of module live assessment time for the class I teach at Uni… Nothing to be done but to disappear under the strain for six weeks and know you aren’t coming up for air until every stone is turned. And possibly I was a bit over  emotional at the end of it.

So yes, freelancing can be stressful, but the sense of ownership, and of personal pride in work well done without any of the friction that comes with a ‘proper’ job, continues to make the freelance life entirely net positive.


What makes a standout PR candidate?

04/01/2017

Sam Howard survives another year of crash-course interviews.

In addition to tending the Comms Crowd, I have an enjoyable side hustle working as associate lecturer leading the Professional Employability module for Westminster Uni. Recently we conducted externally-invigilated panel interviews with every student for a hypothetical intern or junior role depending on their experience in PR, advertising, marketing events etc. There were two panels each panel interviewed 30 students in a day – intense. So you get a very succinct view of qualities that work in interview: Here were the ones that worked best for me:

IMMERSED – Those that could clearly demonstrate a calling for the industry, enjoyed discussing campaigns and liked watching how stories played out in the media. These candidates were able to demonstrate a very proactive choice of careers, almost a vocation and we loved talking to these guys, they were one of us already.

ENGAGED – Those that liked engaging with us were open and seemed to enjoy the process, This really stands you in good stead when so many candidates seem reluctant to even be in the room and the interviewer feels more like a dentist trying desperately to extract information, than a would be employer, .

TUNED IN – Finally those that demonstrated a (quiet) resolve, an innate understanding they had this one moment to convince us that they had the attitude, the attributes, the experience and skills to easily fit in a team and capably do a good job. Those that were successful substantiated passion with knowledge, balanced confidence with credibility, openness with professionalism and demonstrated a positive rationale.They did not get distracted by their nerves, let the occasion overwhelm them, nor lose their way in an effort to become our NBFs, but just resolved to take that opportunity to show us the best of themselves with every answer. In short they had FOCUS.

But if these are not key qualities for you the great comfort of course is most all PR firms don’t rely on interview alone and applicants are given the opportunity to match the talk with the walk, demonstrating their skills and abilities in a variety of tests from proof-reading, pitching, aptitude tests, copy writing etc – and then it of course becomes a very level playing field. Hurrah!


Why the PR Industry is increasingly turning to freelancers

07/12/2016

Sharing this recent article from PR Moment to which I also contributed, Ref Brexit, can’t speak for the rest of the industry but my crew of freelancers have never been busier. In an uncertain market, you need to make sure your PR budget is is invested in PR talent, not a nice reception area.

The PR industry is more dependent on freelancers than ever


Plunge into freelancing it refreshes your soul…

30/07/2016

From newest member of the team, digital marketing diva –  Simona Cotta Ramusino 

Reality has finally hit. I have updated my LinkedIn profile with my new job title so it must be true: I am a PR And Digital Marketing Freelancer.

After 20 years of working for top class agencies and in-house marketing departments of international brands I have decided to take the plunge into freelancing. Making the decision to go freelance was a scary moment and I am just beginning to get to grips with my new status. It is something that, in just a short period of time, I have already come to appreciate and enjoy and won’t change my mind any time soon. Why? Well you need to know how I got into freelancing.

It’s really thanks to Sam.

Sam and I worked together a few years ago, and one of her talents back then was the ability to read people’s strengths and personalities and make it work well within a team. When I asked Sam for advice on whether I should join her band of freelancers she knew my type well: I am not a risk taker, I am someone who always has to think things through, always needs to have a Plan B (or C or D). So Sam not only laid out the naked truth about the freelance world but she also made sure I didn’t have too much time to think over the cons the new path would entail and got me straight to work as part of the Comms Crowd gang.

The “plunge” came with an important life lesson. As I started reconnecting and talking to previous colleagues, they all agreed it was a great career move for me, some even wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner. It surprised me. They knew more about me, about my skills and talent than I did. At the end it was their support and comments that gave me that final push and made me realise it was indeed a career change, it wasn’t something temporary, something I could do in my spare time or just as I was looking for something else. It was my new job title.

To answer my initial question on why I wouldn’t change being a freelancer this is because it lets me use all the communications skills I have learned through the years and apply them for a variety of clients that an agency wouldn’t even have on their books. I also feel it has elevated me professionally and it is giving me so much satisfaction, both professionally and personally. Because the relationships I establish with my clients seem to be more on a par, the recognition I receive for my work feels more personal and genuine.

So while some people may decide to go down the freelance route because they want a better work/life balance or be their own boss, for me these are just by-products. Freelancing means doing what you do best and enjoying it!

 


Brexit – speak now, or forever hold your peace

12/07/2016

Newest Comms Crowd recruit and PR Pro, Lianne Robinson, looks at how the brave and the bold can get the better of Brexit.

Any economic event brings with it a period of uncertainty. We saw it back in 2008 when the market crashed and we are seeing it again now courtesy of Brexit.

When situations like this happen, it’s tempting for a company to crawl under a rock and keep quiet. But, at a time when staff, clients and other stakeholders are looking for answers, it’s imperative to have a voice and adopt an honest and open communications strategy. Doing this not only helps to protect its reputation but it also reduces the risk of a negative fallout later down the line.

In 2006, I landed a job in property PR. Back then it was one of the most exciting and fastest moving sectors in which to work. The industry was booming and companies were reporting significant growth and opportunity across the board. Then at the turn of 2008 the recession hit and disaster struck.

In those dark early days of fear, the companies who realised that the situation could yield opportunity had to react fast and work closely with their PR teams to reassure their stakeholders. In such volatile markets, it became vital for businesses to be much more visible, open and out there promoting the positives. There was a real need for company spokespeople to provide shareholders with a degree of confidence that action was being taken and businesses needed advice on how best to proceed.

It is widely noted that the Brexit result came as quite a shock to many. But companies across the country would have spent months, even years, planning for the possible outcomes of the EU Referendum and discussing their business strategy. Most businesses will have a game plan to put into action and now is the time to engage with key stakeholders on the significance of the decision and what it means for the business.

When markets become nervous, it is important to be a voice of reassurance, emulating a sense of calm and trust in order to bring people with you and protect the reputation of the business. Companies who think carefully about the issues and position themselves with care, have a real opportunity to use recent events to help build their profile and garner support. There is a lot to be said for those who are among the first out there providing guidance and confidence.

With something like Brexit when the outcome as a surprise to many, it is difficult to know what the right thing to say is and easy to let other put their head above the parapet to offer their opinion. When no one knows the most appropriate thing to say, only the brave and the bold are prepared to go on the record.

Right now there is much speculation around the future of the United Kingdom might and there are no ‘right’ answers. And while it’s true that yesterday’s news is no longer today’s chip wrappers as the growth of online and digital means that what you say is here to stay: offering a level of insight can pay dividends for the sake of supporting your stakeholders and the continuity of your business as much as anything else.


Multi-tasking for juniors: what I’ve learned so far

22/06/2016

From our latest recruit, Marcel Klebba, social media activist and occasional junior.On gaining an essential PR skill – you’re never to young to start with the multi-tasking…

It’s 5PM. I am drinking my Earl Grey with (skimmed) milk, while writing this post. Playing in the background I have Radio 4’s Today Programme podcast from this morning that I didn’t manage to listen to till the end. As the Polish team is playing some decent football in Euro 2016, I am also following the score on my phone, while at the same time I am on my second screen monitoring multiple tweets and twitter feeds on TweetDeck.

This is taking multitasking to a whole new level, even for me!I multitask all the time. I have to. My life is quite busy so learning how to multi-task is a must for me. I am a PR student, part of the virtual Comms Crowd, while also making beautiful coffees on weekends at my local coffee shop. Whenever I have a bit of spare time from uni I try to get as much work experience as I can which is often hard. Once back home, after a full day of work or lessons or meetings, I still find myself having to to write an essay for the course or do prepare some posts for our clients’ twitter feeds. As I am a good son, who is living away from home, I can’t forget about face-timing my Mum, as well.

Multi-tasking is the skill that nowadays really pays off and that can give you a massive advantage, especially in PR where you need to be able to manage your schedule, meet clients’ deadlines, attend meetings while at the same time carrying on with your routine comms work .

Apart from its numerous advantages, multitasking has some drawbacks. Obviously, when doing too many things at once you run the risk of not doing any of them right Therefore, something tells me that I now need to pause the radio in the background in order to focus on my writing. Knowing when and what to prioritise is essential as well: keeping track of the football score, even though it’s super important for me,is not as time-sensitive and paramount as the work that I need to deliver for the clients. Juggling everything isn’t impossible and is extremely rewarding. Being praised for good work by Sam, is a superb feeling and keeps me motivated.

Talking of Sam and the Comms Crowd, I would not be able to do social media without the agency being, as we like to call it, cloud-based. It gives me the opportunity to work anywhere and anytime… within deadlines, not to upset Sam!

Comms Crowd’s approach is really innovative. Communication between all the members is being done via email and we share all our work on drop box we are all in our own offices, in some cases – living rooms. Comms Crowd gives us all flexibility and the chance to nurture not only startups, but also our kids, our hobbies, or, in my case, get the top mark for my Online PR module at uni. That’s The beauty of freelancing, as Sam has said, the beauty of multi-tasking I say!


The Comms Crowd goes global!

24/04/2016

Sam Howard On how we are growing (albeit vicariously).

areas where we can provide on the ground support

When you go freelance, you quickly realise the limitations of what you can competently do and therefore the nature of the projects you can take on. So then, if you’re smart, you collaborate playing to your strengths working with others similarly smart but with complementary skills. Here at the Comms Crowd we have been sublimely happy in that phase for the last few years – steadily adding interesting clients that appreciate the hands on approach and building up the merits of the crew in a wholly organic stylee, even getting nominated for an award along the way. But what does our next iteration look like?

When I founded Comms Crowd it was not to become the next Edelman or even to get into the PR Top 100. In my experience bigger does not correlate to better – not for the clients, where more can buy you less; not for the staff, unless your job satisfaction depends on the length of your job title; nor even the bottom line, impressive offices and charismatic receptionist do not come cheap.

For me, small is truly beautiful and that’s the way we are going to stay. But that said who can deny the global nature of comms and the tech start-ups we work with, have global appeal and we need to secure them global attention without busting the budget…

So we have joined a network, courtesy of Manzer Communications in the US – a great fit for us and our clients.

  • All the partner agencies are small independents like ourselves so we know all the work will be done by senior, accountable and personable teams and the buck stops with the founder.
  • All the agencies focus on tech and start-ups so little will get lost in translation – geek is geek wherever you go.
  • Between us we can provide PR support from Singapore to Sweden United Kingdom to the United States and stopping off in Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, The Netherlands and Poland along the way.

In tech comms at least, you don’t need to be big to be clever… just clever.


The fifth year – growing pains

09/02/2016

Sam Howard reflects on five years of being  freelance…

elli aged 11

A lot can happen in five years. Five years ago my 11 year old little cutey baked cakes and gave freely of his cuddles and enthusiasm. Five years on and my ‘little’ cutey looks down on me in disdain while raiding the fridge and giving freely of his criticism. He loves me really – it’s just a phase right?

And so too has the freelance life grown up. On the client side we have really found our niche now – tech startups, the way we work combined with our business model make us a great fit for the nimble and ambitious startup. None of us have the appetite for long meetings or long emails – we all just want to get stuff done!

Most recently our client work was short-listed for an award, for a PR campaign we ran in the public sector. And I confess it feels good to be ranked up there alongside the more established agencies.

It’s gone from being just me to a tight little collective of PR Pros, our AR guy, a designer or two and a trio of copywriters, working together and playing to our strengths. And it’s grown bigger in all the right ways, while holding onto the core freelance premise, which is no premises at all!

Proud to say CommsCrowd HQ is still my former dining room and therefore we still have no need for a receptionist, an IT team, an office manager, an HR team or an accounts department. Just outlook, dropbox, google docs, and some wicked spreadsheets (a personal forte).

In addition to the bulking up of expertise, the other fantastic side of forming the freelance collective is that it offers the opportunity for each of us to develop outside of the world of comms. Whether it’s renovating a 300 year old cottage, bagging munros or learning to surf.

I’ve really got into the talent development element of PR and I’m now an associate lecturer for Westminster University and The London College of Communication. College days are the best days, I get an enormous amount of satisfaction nurturing the next generation of young ones and helping them prepare for the world of work.

elli coming up for 16

And when you feel supported by a brilliant team; when you genuinely warm to your clients and get a kick out of every campaign that delivers; when your pockets are over flowing with psychic income and you’re still learning and still evolving – well then there’s no reason to stop. Here’s to the next five years!


Tips for PR Internship Interviews

17/01/2016

Sam Howard interviewed 40 PR undergrads in a day, heres her top tips for standing out form the crowd.

pick me! oh please pick me!

This is what got me, it’s not until you interview 40 potential interns back to back do you realise how important it is to make a mark and stand out, for the right reasons.

Below my top ten tips for delivering a compelling interview:

1) Dress up not down. You’re a student, I know what students look like, show me what you look like as a young professional, help  me imagine you in my world. Lads put on a suit, girls tie back the hair, easy on the make-up, everybody make sure the shoes compliment the look and are clean, Oh and take your coat off!

2) Bring in a portfolio and refer to it.Clips, references, college work, certificates etc.

3) Don’t be worried about nerves. We expect you to be nervous and can see through them, just focus on coherent answers that stack up.

4) Be able to answer the question ‘what do we get if we hire you?’ In three words that are true to the core of you. Even if you’re not asked it, have a handle on your personal brand, what it is, what you stand for.

5) If you are studying PR be able to talk about the industry, our issues, our successes, where we are heading, your PR super hero etc.

6) Don’t offer up a single adjective unless you have a story that backs it up. Don’t feel obliged to provide us with skills or qualities that you are unlikely to have at this early stage of your career. If we’re looking for a new CEO we would have advertised for one.

7) Be comfortable with your more humble achievements. The most convincing candidates where those that talked about everyday PR duties, how tricky it was to get coverage when there was no news, to create 10 tweets a day for a fish and chip shop, to get journalists to talk to you – at least that way we know you know what you are letting yourself in for.

8) Don’t be too eager to please, ‘I don’t care where I work who I work for what I do’ isn’t actually that compelling. Moderate your desire to learn with a view of where you’d like to end up.

9) The ability to demonstrate you can own and learn from mistakes is a key character strength not weakness.Be able to be reflective, think about things that have not gone well that were actually down to you not someone else. Why was that, and what did you learn from it?

10) Have a story lined up that lets us see the passion in you the one that lights you up! It doesn’t have to be work related, just something where we can see your natural energy and pride. Good luck, and enjoy the experience!