Our research into the effect of the pandemic on PR freelancers shows that it has been brutal for many.
Early on, 31% of respondents have already seen over 80% of income vanish and a further 18% have seen income fall by between 60 and 80%.
But clients pausing their communications plan doesn’t have to mean that freelance PR work stops completely.
The execution work may haves topped but the thinking work doesn’t. And when markets are changing so rapidly, there’s a lot of thinking to be done.
There is opportunity in uncertainty and there is a tonne of high value strategy work to do understand and adapt to the emerging shape of your client’s category. If you are waiting to hear what the new plan looks like, you might not be part of it.
The critical first step to help your client shape their future is to organise your own thoughts.
The comms agenda needs to focus on four buckets of thinking. They will ebb & flow in importance and sometimes overlap but without a structure, you and your client will waste time and opportunities.
- The Here & Now: Triaging what is being disrupted in the business & category and adapting messaging, and changing when and how the business communicates with stakeholders – particularly internal ones
- The Start of Recovery: Pulling in market intelligence, finding the insight for scenario planning and the creation of comms and stakeholder risk registers to map probability versus impact.
- Imagining Leadership: Crisis is a leveller and category leadership can emerge from anywhere, allowing smaller operators to punch above their weight in comms
- New Everything: Routes to market, supply chains, product & services, industry alliances, regulations. It might be easier to list what hasn’t changed. Each one of these will in time require its own comms strategy and tactics. Your goal is to write them.
It’s easy to think that clients have some higher level of understanding that is handed down via the brief, but in a crisis expertise and clear thinking often become separated.
The value of asking better questions has never been higher. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/316989
Get across the 360 degree impacts on the business right now. If you don’t fully grasp how changes to the client’s supply chain (which is likely to include talent or access to finance as well as goods and services) or their distribution channels will affect your client’s ability to operate, your input to plans will be correspondingly limited.
What About Your Freelance PR Skills Scorecard?
Be honest, no-one has faced this kind of crisis before and even a substantial agency is unlikely to have all the skills required to guide clients through every challenge they face. You need to score yourself and have a way to strengthen where you are weak.
Broader skills – crisis may produce business model change, M&A or rapid restructuring which require niche comms skills. Do you have a trusted partner (perhaps a talented freelancer) to bring in to support you?
Corporate stance – as the fog clears, does your client stand for something they can defend under scrutiny and the leadership team turn to you for help?
Innovation and challenge – crisis makes people defensive. Do you have the skills to create a thinking space where the client and you can shut out the noise to be creative and see opportunity? Can you credibly lead the development of a 360 degree strategy AND be known for flawless execution of tactics?
Active listening and scoping – have you got your listening stack up and running? This might be formal research, paid for tools or free insight like Google trends; plus daily news & social searches for comment from industry players
This is an unbelievably testing time for all businesses, PR advisers included, be they agency staff or PR freelancers with the pain of rapid, forced change.
There is no single route to survive and thrive but the winners in a crisis are rarely the biggest but the most adaptable.