After a fulfilling six year career in public relations, I quit my job in December to become a solo PR pro and take my own communications consulting, blog and speaking full-time.
With two years experience in the healthcare PR world and four years in the tourism and hospitality industry, I’ve spent my fair share of hours crafting media materials, pitching journalists, and coordinating media opportunities.
I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it meant to be a PR professional.
I felt confident transferring my skills and lessons learned from within a company to my own PR solo business.
However, I quickly realized that being a solo PR pro is very different than doing it within a company.
I experienced a major learning curve as I transitioned from pitching as the “communications manager for [insert reputable and well-known tourism destination]” to “Jessica Lawlor on behalf of [insert maybe, sort of recognizable client X].”
Solo PR Pro Means No “Big Name” Behind You
From representing a major hospital to a beloved destination, I became accustomed to members of the media at least recognizing the name of my brand, if not having personal experience with it.
Having those company names on my business card, signature, and in my email address helped a journalist place me in context upon introduction.
Sending emails as myself from my new business email address with no brand recognition is a challenge, but has encouraged me to become even more creative and direct with my email subject lines and opening pitch.
It has also motivated me even more to maintain a positive reputation, especially because MY name is behind every message I send.
It’s More Challenging to Find Media Contacts
At both of my corporate jobs, I had access to fancy media databases, making it as easy as the click of a button to research relevant media and find their contact information.
As a solo PR pro, a media database is definitely not in the budget, so I’ve had to become a little more savvy in finding relevant media to pitch.
I’ve dusted off my sleuthing skills and spend even more time reading and researching the publications I plan to pitch and then take to Twitter to confirm and re-confirm contacts.
It takes more time and energy, but not having easy access to a media database has actually helped me to become a stronger communications professional because I’m being even more strategic about who I pitch, rather than relying on a database.
Pitch Planning and Timing Becomes Even More Key
In both of my corporate jobs, I represented one brand at a time, so I was easily able to plan my pitches to ensure I wasn’t reaching out to the same reporter several times in a given week or month.
As a solo PR pro representing multiple brands (much like those who work at agencies), I now need to carefully schedule when I’m pitching to ensure I am spreading then apart strategically, given that many of my clients are local to one geographic area.
One tactic I’ve begun employing, when it makes sense, is bundling together client pitches that fall under the same general umbrella, subject, or geographic region.
This makes it easy to share both messages to the same relevant reporter without bombarding them with multiple emails or messages.
Two birds, one stone.
Pay-to-Play Becomes Even More Apparent
My last job was technically a non-profit that represented a major region, so there were certain publications that covered us or republished our content roundups without hesitation.
We were very lucky.
Now, as a solo PR pro representing several small for-profit companies, those same publications I had wonderful relationships with ignore my emails or reply, “This would make a great piece of sponsored content. Is client X interested in exploring that option?”
Rarely, this is something a client is interested in.
This was one of the first things I noticed when I switched from in-house to becoming a solo PR pro and, while I don’t have a solution, it is a bit of a necessary reality I’ve learned to face.
You Have Less Control
As the in-house PR pro at both of my previous jobs, I had close relationships with my company’s leadership teams and spokespeople.
When I coordinated an interview, I could walk down the hall to my CEO’s office to remind him that a reporter was about to give him a call.
I accompanied my vice president of marketing to several TV appearances.
I had control.
As an outside PR consultant, I don’t see my clients on a day-to-day basis.
I don’t escort them to every single segment taping or media interview.
Depending on the client arrangement, I confirm their interviews, provide talking points, and trust they’ll do what they say they’re going to do.
I recently ran into a situation where a client didn’t show up for a radio interview, therefore, we sadly missed an opportunity for coverage.
A definite lesson learned around control and public relations.
While there are many differences, there are also several similarities between being a solo PR pro and being in-house.
PR pros still need to craft compelling messages, find unique stories and angles to pitch, and develop strong media relationships.
Whether you’re out on your own like me or do PR within a company, the major tenants of public relations still hold true.
Have you experienced any other differences between doing PR solo vs. within a company?
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