February 18, 2019
Comms Best Practices
/ by Cision Contributor
Which is better — a solo PR professional or a large agency? A journalist or a PR professional? Marketing or PR? In an age in which the daily news is more defined by conflicts, feuds and systemic silos, it’s important that public relations not play into those stereotypes, so we can work together to achieve collective objectives.
In a recent Cision study on communications, Tony Cervone, SVP of global communications at GM, noted that “PR can no longer afford an ‘us versus them’ mentality.” His comment was focused on the disciplines of marketing and PR, but it applies to the broader scope of all communications roles, including in-house, agencies and independent practitioners.
As companies and agencies continue to struggle to find and retain talent, it makes sense to broaden the talent pool by including solo PR pros as potential partners. It’s time for integrated communications to become more than a buzzword. The definition should evolve from solving problems using a multi-modal approach, to include using a multifaceted team that includes in-house counsel, agencies and solo PR pros. By working collaboratively and collegially, we can deliver higher value to our organizations and clients.
Agencies and solos both offer valuable skills and approaches to solving problems. Companies that do not limit their communications support to agencies have the opportunity to move from silos and segmented strategies to comprehensive integration, both internally and externally.
This internal and external integration begins with removing biases about external professionals. The size of an outside agency does not guarantee success or failure. It’s far more important to consider the specialization and expertise that will support creating a unified team that can achieve your goals. This support may come from a mixture of large agencies, or from various sizes of agencies, including solo PR pros, sometimes called “micro-agencies.”
These small business owners deliver many of the same services as traditional agencies and fit very well into an integrated communications model. Solo PR pros can be a one-person shop or a fluid agency comprised of strategic partners and/or subcontractors. Even one-person shops typically have support such as an assistant or other solo pros to help with the workload. Their client base can be narrow or broad. They count traditional PR agencies and companies big and small among their clients, and may work locally, national or international.
As small shops, solo PR pros often have close working relationships with clients and support larger operational needs that may be outside of traditional PR, such as design or web development. This exposes solos to a wide variety of skills and methodologies from multiple disciplines that are ideal for developing and executing integrated communication strategies.
Without the boundaries of structured roles and responsibilities, solo PR pros gain expertise across the communications spectrum from media relations to data analytics. The freedom to design their own job description affords them a comprehensive understanding of the communications landscape and organization as a whole. Solos have the agility to be early adopters of emerging trends by learning new skills and augmenting services when needed and the freedom to pursue non-traditional PR skills that meet the needs of specific clients or industries.
Independent PR consultant Jodi Echakowitz shares an example of work that is traditionally outside of PR. “Each year, one of our clients in the telecom sector would attend Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While we provide turnkey event management support, we also supported their sales teams by reaching out to target customers (mobile operators/carrier) and working to set up, confirm, and finalize one-on-one meetings with our clients onsite.”
Other solos like Ebony Grimsley-Vaz and Michael Ares have frequently performed leadership coaching to help executives enhance their skill sets and solve internal employee issues. Gayle Lynn Falkenthal has even been involved in ongoing job training. This diverse knowledge of industries, approaches and tactics is especially beneficial in helping clients to look beyond their own echo chambers to develop and execute communication initiatives.
The solo PR pro can also be highly specialized, focusing on a single area of concentration. For example, Doug Levy is a crisis communications expert and author of “The Communications Golden Hour: The Essential Guide To Public Information When Every Minute Counts.” Dan Farkas specializes in strategic communications, a topic he also teaches at Ohio University and speaks about to global audiences. Hiring this type of solo allows you to add a subject matter expert with deep insights and experiences that can save you time and elevate your communication programs.
The choice for organizations should not be in-house vs. solo PR pro, or agency vs. solo, but a combination of talent regardless of W2 status or business structure. Companies benefit from the value that all of these players have to offer, and there is no one size fits all solution for every communication effort and budget.
Broadening your perspective of whom to hire enables you to tap into a wide and diverse talent pool of specialized expertise. It can also enrich the abilities of your own internal teams and address blind spots you may not know to exist. When organizations embrace the mindset of this fully integrated model, it allows the focus to be on building a team that can complement and efficiently supports its communication objectives without regard to size, and that is a victory for everyone.
Karen Swim is the founder and CEO of Words For Hire, a strategic PR and marketing consultancy, and the president of Solo PR Pro, a national industry membership group that provides tools, education, advocacy and community resources for independent PR consultants.
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