I know what you’re thinking; didn’t I start freelancing to get away from the agency life?
Fair point, but what if I could convince you that as a contractor, you’re actually in an incredible position to take advantage of many of the great benefits of agency life; the stability, diverse client load, access to resources and clear processes, but in a new way that lets you retain all your newfound freedom?
I’ve worked with all sorts of different PR firms, large and small, as a freelance contractor. I’ve provided event assistance and worked on product placement projects. There’s one particular firm that I have worked with regularly when they are short-staffed and faced with a big project, as well as during fashion week.
Thankfully none of this involved the complications of W-4s, employment contracts, or, in some cases, even setting foot in an office.
Sound like a strategy worth attempting? Here’s what to do:
1. Get on the contractor shortlist
Both firms and freelancers have slow times and busy times. Part of preparing for this inevitable ‘downtime’ as an independent contractor involves making sure your monthly income remains stable. When I’m slim in managing my own client accounts, I work with certain PR agencies who outsource assignments and projects to me. I work under their name and agency to assist on projects. I use my own contacts for placement opportunities.
If you have existing relationships (perhaps you left your last agency on a positive note, or a former coworker just moved up and over to a top notch agency), start there. Reach out and let them know you are open to short-term contract work.
It also helps to roam PR job boards, because if a firm is hiring, then they need help, right now. The hiring process can take awhile, and in the interim, you can offer your skills on a freelance basis.
When reaching out cold to an agency on your target list, keep it short and to the point. Below is a sample script of how I reach out.
Hi [first name of contact]
I’m writing today to see if [agency] is in need of support on a current or upcoming project. As an experienced freelance PR professional, I’d love to be considered for any work you may have on the table.
A bit more about me [this is your chance to talk about your big wins/experience/specialization)
- I have 5 years experience in PR – mainly focused in fashion/beauty/lifestyle
- I specialize in digital PR, content marketing, and media placement
- I’m based in in New York and happy to work in the office if needed
I’ve always appreciated how [company] does [XYZ] and it would be an honor to help you secure great wins for your clients.
Please let me know if I can send over any more information, or if you’d like to set up a quick call
Thanks in advance.
2. Establish a preferred vendor/referral relationship
Plenty of amazing companies and businesses have PR agency dreams without the budget for it. Working one on one with a freelancer can be an affordable solution–and agencies often have a list of people to refer business to when they simply aren’t a fit at the moment.
Similarly, you can bring business to an agency that you aren’t able or interested in fulfilling at the required scale. You might be introduced to a brand who wants to work with you, but really needs to invest in a full-scale agency with capabilities that stretch beyond your own as a solo practitioner. By establishing a referral partnership you can ensure a nice reciprocal relationship for both parties.
3. Be flexible with agency requirements
You may be in love with your new nomadic existence, flitting from coffee shop to coffee shop, but to become an agency’s preferred contractor, you’re going to need to put on your agency brain, and follow their lead. As a contractor you might be asked to use an in-house email address, for example, due confidential information. This might mean reaching out your own media contacts and allowing the agency to have access to that communication.
When working with another firm, or agency the key is open dialogue that fosters a respectful, professional working relationship that yields great results; when you appreciate the agency’s point of view you help ensure they come back to you, rather than chasing new freelancers.
At the same time, you get to choose what types of projects you want to work on (no more having to work on a client you’re not personally all that passionate about), so be transparent about what type of work you want to be doing, how much time you have to dedicate to agency contract work, and any other parameters (the ability to call in for meetings, for example).
From a business perspective, agencies aren’t the enemy to securing an incredible client list, nor are freelancers a threat to agencies. Freelancers and firms can work together in various ways as long as there’s honesty, talent and awesome projects involved. Usually, there always is. Remember, you’ll never have the opportunities that you don’t ask for.