About a decade ago, layoffs and lack of growth were rampant in the public relations industry.
Seemingly overnight, canceled contracts and reduced budgets became a thing of the past. The pandemic has caused many professionals to switch their focus from a traditional space to a primarily online model. However, the PR industry wasn’t prepared for such an influx in business.
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Why are PR agencies lagging behind?
While the industry was changing before the pandemic, the gig economy has led to a hiring crunch. Currently, PR agencies are finding it challenging to serve three core demographics:
- Women, who were pushed out of the workforce or into remote workspaces due to the pandemic, are starting their own businesses at a faster rate than men.
- Younger Millennials and older Generation Z who have entered the workforce and the gig economy, either wholly or partly, and/or want to freelance for a living.
- Baby Boomer retirees who need to train their workforce to take over. Since PR changes and develops quickly, they are unable to prepare or teach current PR standards.
PR agencies are able to help the gig economy by providing support to freelancers or employees who utilize these services to make ends meet. However, simply serving these customers isn’t enough. PR agencies have to actively use the gig economy model to stay competitive.
How PR agencies can leverage the gig economy model
As the industry evolves, the gig economy provides opportunities for PR to serve its clients. Here are three big lessons PR agencies can learn from the gig economy business model.
Establish effective management systems
Agencies should seize growth opportunities and develop freelancer-friendly structures. Developing a management system is essential, but agencies may avoid putting time and energy into process development because it takes a lot of time, money, and creativity.
Define your agency’s values and apply them
Contractors and freelancers typically know the details of your PR campaigns, including deadlines, deliverables, and quality. However, if freelancers don’t know what you value, they’ll have a difficult time delivering your message and attracting the type of clients you want.
Establish your agency’s values before hiring independent contractors and integrate them into job descriptions. During the interview stage, ask questions about their creative process and vision.
Define your virtual workplace and workflows
Would any agency survive if it weren’t for Zoom calls and Slack? Unfortunately, the answer was “yes” during the pandemic as PR agencies struggled with band-aid solutions initially used to get by. That lack of consistency is going to bite you in the butt. If not now, it’s only a matter of time.
PR agencies need to establish the tools they need to leverage the gig economy appropriately to communicate with freelancers. These include time-management and goal tracking software.
Establish realistic expectations
Freelancers aren’t full-time employees, but many agencies treat them this way. Contract workers juggle multiple clients at a time and need to know what you want from them ahead of time. Agencies should establish realistic expectations for their freelancers to see results.
Define your metrics and KPIs
One way to set expectations for your freelancers is by tracking metrics. PR agencies frequently use visitors, referrals, and conversions, but your contractors need to know that these are important to you. That way, they can design projects around these metrics as they go.
KPIs (key performance indicators) are your big picture objectives. They need to be realistic and understood by your team, so everyone knows how you’re evaluating performance.
Define the players on your team
Your freelancers want to know your clients, but they rarely get the opportunity to work directly with them. Most of the time, you’re playing broken telephone, but if freelancers have an idea of what your deadlines, timelines, and plans look like, they can adjust and perform better.
Before sending your freelancers off to do their projects, ask them if they understand what you need from them. Be open to clarifying questions, as it shows they want to learn and grow.
Establish a supportive team structure
You can hire as many people as you need. If you don’t have a rock-solid support structure, no one will know what to do, how to do it, and when. To clarify where your freelancers fit, try:
- Defining Your Core Departments: What are they, and how can they function better?
- Defining Your Essential Position: What is your agency’s top priority?
- Defining Responsibility and Accountability: Who completes what task?
Once every team member is placed appropriately, they can begin to complete tasks effectively.
Mistakes PR agencies must avoid
When hiring freelancers, never ask them to handle work that’s beyond their expertise or assume that they’ll handle administrative tasks. What’s more, don’t ask part-time freelancers to take over for employees who handle high-profile/needy clients. These mistakes will end in disaster.
Always create ethical partnerships
It’s sad but true. Too many PR professionals don’t pay their freelancers, either at all or on time. It’s never ethical or logical to take advantage of your workers because word travels fast. Before hiring contractors, consult gig economy laws, write up a contract, and show them respect.
The gig economy may change PR for the better
The gig economy may just be the PR industry’s saving grace. Not only are freelancers PR’s prime demographic at the moment, but the gig economy as a whole can serve as an indispensable teacher to public relations employees and the people they serve.