85% of the jobs lost in the recession were replaced by self-employed jobs, and the number of those working for themselves is expected to exceed those in the public sector by 2016. Small wonder the CIPR is looking seriously at the independent PR practitioner sector.
At last week’s meeting of the Council of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, I led a discussion on the support the CIPR might give to its members who work as independent PR practitioners, having chaired an independents roundtable in August (see post).
Independent, freelance, solo?
The term is something of a compromise as people will often describe themselves differently perhaps depending on how they work – as freelances, independent consultants, PR contractors, etc. It doesn’t just cover those who work on their own; it might include individuals in small agencies or in-house teams where they may be the only PR practitioner alongside colleagues from other disciplines or with other skills. And, we should remember that working as an independent isn’t always a choice. Redundancy or changes in family circumstances may make freelancing a short-term solution, and it may also fit with some individuals’ desire for flexible working (see the CIPR’s recently issued guide).
However – and bearing in mind that the CIPR already has Chartered Practitioners and Accredited Practitioners – the term “independent practitioner” (IP) was agreed as a working title, though the term “Solo PR” was also mentioned approvingly (since last year, I have participated in several US-based SoloPR tweetchats – which have helped inspire my interest in this area).
Flying solo in the CIPR
Following the August meeting, I had numerous further conversations – face-to-face, telephone, email, Twitter, Linkedin – with fellow IPs. I heard how some were so frustrated at what they saw as a lack of support from the CIPR that they were either contemplating terminating their membership or already had. The PRCA was seen, often somewhat grudgingly, as a more cost-effective alternative (though “we are just a convenient source of revenue – it mostly focuses on the large firms,” one person told me). Independent CIPR members said they valued membership of a chartered professional body governed by an industry code of conduct, but some felt it was expensive and did little for them as sole practitioners – particularly in regard to helping them find potential clients (or vice versa), or fitting in with their working hours and budgets.
As well as these consultations, since August, I have led a group updating the CIPR’s guidance on setting up as an independent practitioner (this will be published shortly), a dedicated Linkedin group (CIPR members only) has been set up, and I have had various discussions with the CIPR head office team regarding further support for IPs. Specifically targeting the interests and concerns of IPs, these might include tweetchats, webinars, breakfast briefings and networking events. The CIPR’s decision to terminate its relationship with PR Week opens up the way to the development of an online jobs or opportunities board through which IPs might source new roles or clients, and a 2015 revamp of the CIPR website and back-office systems may enable resurrection of the discontinued ‘MatchMaker’ service, helping clients to find suitable PR consultants (both of these will, of course, potentially benefit agency or in-house teams too, not just IPs).
The opportunity is huge. The CIPR head office team conservatively estimated the IP membership of the CIPR at over 800 (Council members suggested the true figure was probably double this), spread across every CIPR region and sectoral group (and from January the pared-down CIPR Council will include at least four IPs). A year ago, the PRCA’s industry census suggested the UK freelance PR sector included 3,700 professionals. They are a valuable resource not just to their clients, but also to consultancies and in-house teams who, for various reasons, may need additional skills, expertise or manpower.
I would welcome ideas from any independent PR practitioner about what the CIPR could do better – you could add a comment to this post, or contribute via the Linkedin Group, or, if you prefer, email me.
It’s not just PRs
Coincidentally, the CIPR Council discussion took place the day before the sixth annual National Freelancers Day, organised by IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and Self-Employed (one of four sectors on its website is focused on Creative, Media & Digital; CIPR Council member Simon McVicker is IPSE’s director of policy and external affairs, by the way). It has published a manifesto (my opening facts were sourced from this manifesto – PDF downloadable here) calling for better support for the UK’s independent workers, including
- Recognition – appoint a Minister for Self-Employment who will champion the self-employed at the heart of Government to ensure the specific needs of this sector are recognised. (David Morris MP was appointed as ‘Freelancer Tsar’ on 19 November.)
- Starting out – Ensure self-employment and entrepreneurship are on the curriculum at secondary and sixth form level so young people are equipped with the knowledge and skills to be their own boss.
- Improve infrastructure – Improve infrastructure to make it easier for independent professionals to work. Commit to improving broadband access and 4G coverage, and extend support for workhubs (CIPR members were recently given free membership of the NearDesk network).
- Break down barriers to business – Late payment is crippling self-employed professionals. Strengthen the Prompt Payment Code and set up a small business conciliation service to resolve disputes (the CIPR is updating its guidance on this area too, and has a business and legal advice helpline).
- Review taxation – Review our outdated tax system which was designed around the traditional model of employees and employers.