Freelance PR Consultant or PR Agency?

What is the difference between a freelance PR consultant and an agency? Ultimately, I believe, it concerns loyalty and results.

The size of the organisation is an obvious difference. A freelance PR consultant is usually a specialist who works on their own. A PR agency tends to be a partnership or a small company. Usually they have smart offices and a bigger set-up with support staff. This puts the agency in a different league of costs.

Besides this, the difference between a PR agency and a freelance consultant is smaller and more subtle than it was in the past. It is now relatively easy to set up a virtual PR agency and operate from a remote office. As they say in the technology world, work is now ‘something you do’, not ‘a place where you go’. Also, most freelancers have networks of contacts who can join a project  as associates if required.

An agency will have consultants and staff at all levels of their careers, and generally the more experienced consultants talk to their clients and the juniors carry out the work in the office. If you are an agency client, your work will probably be done by the junior members of the team. In particular, the routine work of contacting journalists will be given to them. Your project will be part of their early career development, and experienced editors do sometimes have a little moan about the calls they receive from agency juniors.

If you work with a freelancer, they will do the editor liaison in person. There is less chance that your message will be misunderstood, as the PR consultant did not need to brief a colleague about your business. You can be more certain that you will be represented the way you hoped. This can be really important if you are selling complex technology products and services.

Fee structure could by another important difference. A freelance PR consultant is more likely to agree to a flexible fee arrangement that will fit with your budgets.

How a freelance PR consultant works

I believe the real difference concerns loyalty and commitment to goals. With the PR agency model, account managers are rewarded for billing their clients a good amount at the end of the month. The agency doesn’t want to expend too much resource and effort to deliver the services agreed. That means that the account manager’s first loyalty is to the agency, and they will always act in the agency’s interests.

A freelancer looks at it differently. A freelance PR consultant doesn’t have to report to management in the same way, so their loyalty is directly to their client. They are likely to have a greater personal commitment to their client’s business, and they will be 100% focused on achieving success for their client.

Your freelance PR consultant will probably not have a long term contract. This means that he or she will work as hard as they can to achieve great results, as this is the way to build a lasting relationship.

Finally, to succeed as a freelance PR consultant, it’s paramount to have a great portfolio of published work. That’s another reason to give your very best to every client project.

No retainer for PR services?

Why is the traditional retainer for PR services being replaced by a project fee?

A retainer is a fee paid in advance to secure the first option on a service. it is the traditional fee structure used to employ a public relations consultancy. The PR agency is effectively on stand-by to assist the client company with work as it arises. If the work relates to news events or possibly crisis management, the agency could be needed at any time. This is because their work is driven by external events. It means that the PR service can’t be planned into a calendar in the normal way. In these cases the most appropriate way to manage the business relationship is probably to charge a retainer for PR.

Retainer for PR plus?

A retainer was the traditional way to hire a PR consultancy. Today many companies are looking for a different kind of PR service which is more like a promotional communications service. It comes under the umbrella of Marketing and is closely allied with Content Marketing and Digital Marketing.

For this kind of work, the client company will have a marketing communications plan that has probably been constructed around planned announcements, product launches and trade shows. They may have a content plan as well. This can all be pre-arranged in detail. This means that the PR consultancy’s work is mostly planned, and the work can be costed fairly accurately.

This is the reason why my own consultancy works on project fees, with no retainers. I am able to estimate the cost of clients’ projects and I have always worked this way.

A freelance PR consultant is valued for the flexible service they offer, but it is usually better if there is some continuity to the work. Issuing a single press release, for example, is not always efficient. There are several reasons for this. A consultant can work more effectively when he or she has a warm relationship with the editors who matter. With regular clients, the consultant will gain a deep understanding of their company and market, so the work will go much better. He or she will also be well acquainted with the senior executives in the company.

Besides this, issuing one press release is a like running one advertisement. If a company wants to build brand awareness and recall, it is better to run an ad campaign that continues, to make more impact.

Also, the best PR consultancies usually have ongoing commitments to their regular clients, and may not be willing to take on occasional tasks.

There is another, more subtle reason for preferring an ongoing client/consultancy relationship to a retainer for a PR service. It becomes obvious when you begin working with journalists. The relationship with editors and publications is not just a one-way street. We can send them our news material, but they may also contact us with requests when they need information. They may have questions that your executives can answer, or they may be looking for photographs.

These requests will be outside your marketing plan, but if you have a regular  arrangement with your PR consultancy, you are likely to benefit from extra opportunities to provide interviews, case studies and images.