More than 220 PR professionals completed a survey to help set priorities for the CIPR’s new network for independent practitioners and to gather information on the environment faced by freelancers working in communications. This data has been added to the 170 responses from independent practitioners responding to the CIPR’s State of the Professional survey.

Headshot of Dominic Dominic Ridley-Moy (pictured), CIPR LPS committee members and a lead for the new independent practitioners network, writes about the three priorities for the network in its first year.

1. Support and advice for freelancers

Support and advice is by far the most popular response, 89% of respondents cite this as their top priority for the new network. Within this, a mixed picture emerges of what type of support and advice PR professionals would like to see:

1) Winning new business (68%)

2) Innovation, better processes and operations (62%)

3) Contacts Database (61%)

4) Contract and other templates (57%)

5) Promoting yourself (56%)

Looking through the open-ended responses gives a much fuller context to these answers.

The world of today is very different from ten years ago, people are not working 9 to 5 as much, and an office isn’t always people’s natural place of work; more than 70% of respondents primarily work from home, often juggling other priorities, like childcare for example. What’s interesting is that only 9% primarily work from their own/rented office, 11% from a client’s office and 4% from a co-working office.

As people change the way they work, this network will only become increasingly important. In a recent report by the IPSE of those asked about the risks versus rewards of freelancing, 83% felt the rewards they get from self-employment outweigh the risks. This is a trend that is only likely to increase.

But because freelancers often work alone, they don’t tend to have the training, support or advice that you get working for an employer, or as part of a big agency.

So, what would independents like to see? In the comments section of the survey, this translates into a range of tools and support, for example, to:

  • help win new business
  • help accessing procurement frameworks
  • grow their business are common responses
  • most of all though is a desire to see some sort of contacts database, matching freelancers to work. This is something that we will look at taking forward.

2. Networking/collaborative working

As you would expect a large number of respondents commented that networking (78%) and collaborative working (74%) are critical to being a successful freelancer.

Where the new network can help is to provide the right opportunities, but the balance between face-to-face support, events and activities versus online needs to be right.

Many face-to-face events tend to be in London, which is not always easy to attend for the 77% of independents based outside of London. It can be expensive, especially when you factor in travel and accommodation. However, understandably there is a strong appetite to meet up with other professionals facing similar challenges, given that a significant number of freelancers work from home, and this is something we want to help facilitate.

In conclusion, a mix of events and activities around the country, working with existing groups – CIPR Wessex already has a well established CIPR network for example – combined with social media, this looks to be the right way forward.

3. Discounted training/services

It’s fair to say many independents have a lot of experience of working in communications. 47% of respondents to the State of the Profession survey have 21 years (or more experience) in the industry. What this equates to is the need for a slightly different training offer:

  • training needs to be more about strategy and focused on keeping their skills relevant
  • many need to stay up to date with digital/online tools; working in a big agency you have access to lots of training, but as an independent, this is lacking
  • CIPR’s State of the Profession survey adds weight to this view, citing an expanding skill set required of professionals and the changing social and digital landscape as two of the top three challenges facing the industry.

Webinars are a good way to reach a lot of people, especially as many would like to see more events and activities that reach all parts of the country, rather than just London. But again, there will always need to be face-to-face events, as long as there is a good geographical spread.

“Cost of training can be a major issue – survey highlights”

The other big issue that came up repeatedly is the high cost of training and access to software. I know as a sole trader that it’s often difficult to justify £400-£500 on a day course. And access to media handling and cutting services, as well as subscriptions can be prohibitively high.

So this is something we definitely need to address and we will be campaigning for discounted rates for freelancers.

A voice for independents

Finally, the other point worth noting is the need to have a voice for the freelance world. While not as pressing a concern, a significant number of respondents commented on the need to lobby government/represent independents on a range of issues like taxation, IR35 and maternity/paternity cover.

State of the independent sector

In addition to the three key priorities for the new network, the two surveys provide a decent snapshot of what it is like working as a freelancer in communications today, as well as the challenges we all face.

CIPR Independents’ Survey 2018 highlights

Here are some of the key takeaways from the survey:

  • more than 70% of independents primarily work from home
  • 58% work full-time, meaning that 42% work part-time (fewer than five days a week)
  • sector breakdown: 72% (private sector), 34% (charity/not-for-profit sector) and 23% (public sector) (respondents were able to choose more than one option)
  • 70% are currently working. 15% are not working, 3% of those by choice
  • independents are most concerned about Government fiscal policy (e.g. claimable tax expenses, IR35 etc) (47% are extremely/moderately concerned), followed by Government regulation (32%), Brexit (28%) and competition from other freelancers (23%)
  • combined with results from the [CIPR’s] State of the Profession this gives us a more rounded picture of the sector.

The top five most common activities undertaken by independent PR & communications practitioners:

  • copywriting and editing (78%)
  • media relations (73%)
  • PR programmes/campaigns (73%)
  • strategic planning (62%)
  • social Media Relations (61%)

Independent Practitioners consider their strongest attributes to be:

  • strategic Thinking 69%
  • writing ability 45%
  • emotional Intelligence 34.9%
  • independent practitioners consider their strongest areas of specialist knowledge are:
  • research, planning, implementation and evaluation 57%
  • business acumen 44%
  • media and social channels 43%
  • the mean average salary overall for an Independent Practitioner is £47,672, against £51,570 for those in full-time employment.

Next steps

We would like to hear from CIPR freelancers who are interested in helping us run the network, so please get in touch with myself or Ebony Gayle.

> Contact the CIPR Independent Network on email

If you would like to get involved (and let us know where you are based), and we will be in touch with more info on meetings and launch events and activity. If you would like to get involved in the network but are not currently a CIPR member, here’s how you can join.

Additional information

> The risks and rewards of independence (IPSE website)

> Blog on The CIPR’s Independent PR Practitioners Network Survey

> How to apply to join the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR website)


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