Occasionally public relations agencies tap freelance contractors to manage peak workloads during busy seasons or to bring specialist expertise to a project. Post-COVID, there are probably a greater variety of freelancers available given that remote work is so commonplace in our industry. But how can we make the most from our investment in freelance consultants? Here are some best practices for managing outside practitioners.
Consider them team members
Freelancers are partners in your success. Rather than treating them like temporary members of the team, consider them as extensions of it. Depending on the length of the engagement, it’s often advantageous to include a contract employee in relevant team and company meetings. Internal team members and clients will appreciate the investment in proper communication and management.
Be transparent with client companies involved
As for clients, it’s best that they know of any freelancer’s status, and in most cases full client contact is a plus. Because a freelance employee will sign an NDA and in most cases a non-compete agreement, the agency team shouldn’t worry that they’ll disclose confidential client information or try to lure the client away. Most agencies rely on a small number of trusted freelancers in whom they place their confidence, so they should feel comfortable with full transparency.
Look for specialists
In some cases when we seek to bring on PR freelancers, we’re looking for additional arms and legs for a special project. In others, it pays to seek out specialist expertise that complements the existing full-time team. For example, we occasionally bring in technical writers to interview engineers or other staff at client companies to create background material for long-form content. And we have an ongoing relationship with a morning show specialist who has a line to the key segment producers and will never give up on cracking the big interview! Specialists can help educate the team as well as contributing to it.
Agencies expect discretion, loyalty and professionalism from any freelance staffer. The freelancers also have the right to expect timely payment for their work. Anyone who has served as an outside contractor on a PR project knows how uncomfortable and annoying it is to have to nag an accounts payable manager for payment. It’s a simple matter of courtesy and respect.
The pandemic has widened the talent pool in some ways, which opens hiring possibilities not only to professionals of all ethnicities, but to over six million people in the US labor force who have some form of disability. Many consultants with mobility limitations can work remotely and will no longer need to deal with the challenges of long daily commutes.
Choose wisely and check references
It goes without saying that no freelancer should need special training beyond project orientation and processes. With training costs being one of the biggest expenses of hiring a traditional entry-level employee, eliminating that time is a benefit. If you’re vetting a new freelance consultant, it pays to query them thoroughly about recent work and relevant expertise, and to speak with the references they supply, as well as those they don’t. PR is really a very small industry.
Manage their time
Bringing on a freelancer means you can choose someone with the exact skill set required for the project. This means they can get the job with little time wasted. It’s important to manage their hours while respecting their independence. In PR, publicists generally know how long certain tasks take, like writing press releases or drafting pitches, so it’s smart to ask for check-ins on hours spent or feedback needed.