Nov 17, 2022 - Economy

The PR freelance frenzy

Self-employed workers
Data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Nicki Camberg/Axios

Highly skilled workers are being laid off in droves, but there’s still a major demand for marketing and communications talent — just maybe not as full-time employees.

Why it matters: Many startups, VCs and agencies are scouring for communication consultants, and the opportunities are ripe for those looking for flexible, lucrative work.

  • According to Digiday, 71% of in-house marketers and 68% of agencies are hiring freelancers to fill content needs.

What they're saying: "I have consultants on speed dial that I will refer to our portfolio companies and while they can cost a lot, they're often really good at the job," says Jenna Birch, vice president of communications at a VC firm in San Francisco.

  • “We want strategic doers,” says Hadley Wilkins, Atomic's vice president of communications. “Somebody who understands the bigger picture, can be a thought partner and ask the hard questions, but can also tell a story and get people to care, because at the early stage, your story is all you have.”

Zoom in: The PR industry is becoming less territorial, making freelance and consulting work more viable.

  • "Freelancers understand there's plenty of work to go around," says Michelle Garrett, who has been working independently for 20 years. "Referrals are worth their weight in gold and without the support of other freelancers, it would be really hard to do what I do."
  • Garrett hosts a weekly #FreelanceChat on Twitter to cultivate community and discuss freelance tactics. "We bring in experts and cover topics that impact our businesses. This week, we're having an accountant on to answer end of the year financial questions."
  • Mixing Board, founded by Sean Garrett in 2020, is another place comms pros are collaborating. The group of 200 professionals — from startups to the White House — gather to discuss trends, provide mentorship and source talent for senior level full-time and freelance work. (Disclaimer: I'm a Mixing Board member).

The big picture: The turbulent economy and COVID-19 pandemic pushed many workers — particularly female caregivers — out of traditional roles and into consulting gigs.

  • "The old school thinking is that a full-time job working for someone else is more secure, but I believe spreading your fortunes across multiple clients is more secure," Garrett told Axios. "The way we work is changing, and if talented professionals can't find the job or environment they want, they can go out and create it for themselves."
  • Freelancing contributes $1.3 trillion of the U.S. economy — up $100 million from 2020 — and a majority of hiring managers plan to increase the use of independent talent over the next six to 24 months, according to an Upwork survey.

What we're watching: “There’s been an influx of amazing comms talent entering the market, and the irony is that so many will end up consulting for the same companies that just fired their in-house shops,” says Wilkins.

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