A day in the life of... a freelance PR & comms consultant
Published: 22 August 2016 By Ben Davis
Our latest 'Day in the Life' features a topic we haven't covered yet - PR.
Fiona Chow is a freelance PR and comms consultant, setting up Goadi Consulting at the end of 2015.
She is also Head of PR for the Hoxby Collective, a global platform of consultants across a range of disciplines all committed to creating a world of work without bias.
Please describe your job: What does a freelance comms consultant do?
I work primarily with startups who are gearing up for investment or set to launch into market.
I work with each client to identify key commercial objectives whether than be sign-ups to a platform, retaining or attracting talent, lowering cost per acquisition or driving revenue and building comms plans to meet those objectives.
Contrary to the stereotype, very little of what I do is generating coverage or schmoozing journalists!
The brand awareness or “fame” aspect should be a result of the commercial imperatives rather than the focus of them.
That being said I do have one client who is a very successful entrepreneur with various global business interests.
He is in the lucky position of not really needing PR to drive his business goals but is keen to establish himself as a business leader and to nurture and develop other young entrepreneurs - so the brief for him focuses on raising his personal profile.
I am lucky to be able to call upon a talented global platform of consultants via the Hoxby Collective for help on marketing, advertising and copywriting briefs.
I also work closely with an old colleague and friend, Coard Henry, on many day-to-day accounts.
As Hoxby’s head of PR, I vet all the prospective PR Associates to assess their suitability for the platform and field out work to the appropriate people as briefs come in from clients.
The Hoxby Collective
Who do you report to?
I report directly to C-suite with clients, which helps with fast decision making but always carries with it a sense of imminent peril.
Coard and I also “report” daily to each other on what we’re working on, updates on leads or opportunities from the previous week and ideas for current clients.
I’m lucky that he absolutely thrives on the organisational aspect of running a business as he previously ran his own PR agency.
Since he came on board he’s taken on a lot of that and I encourage him to “kick my a**” on admin but our complementary skills means we can both work on the areas where our natural abilities and interests lie.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Organisation and the ability to multi-task, commercial nous and creative flair. And resilience.
Being your own boss can be thrilling but you need to be able to take setbacks in your stride and keep momentum going.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I’m woken up about 6.30am with a toddler standing by my bed with his bunny, a book and an expectant look on his face.
I will try and buy myself a few minutes sleep by sticking CBeebies on and having a snuggle but I’ll be downstairs making breakfast by 7am at the latest.
While the kettle’s boiling I will check overnight emails from clients - I have one who travels 200 days a year so messages can fly in at any time of the day or night.
I also check the news headlines, Google alerts and social media - Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - in that order.
My partner will usually take our son Max into the shower around 7.30am so I fire off any urgent emails and review my to-do list before getting Max dressed and ready for nursery.
Once he’s out of the door around 8am my day starts in earnest.
Unless there is anything urgent needed for a client I like to spend the first hour or so setting up for the day.
As I work from home most of the time I rely on social networks and platforms to act as a working community - the freelance PR groups on Facebook are particularly active and a rich source of support, contacts and general advice.
I also use Slack for Hoxby work and comms and will “drop in” on the watercooler channel to say hi to new associates, check the live projects for new and interesting leads and the PR founders and “heads of” chats for any updates.
I also filter any new journalist requests in priority order to respond on behalf of clients with comments, op eds or interview pitches.
At 10.30am I have a daily call with Coard to check in on activity and discuss any urgent priorities or emerging trends/stories that we need to jump onto.
The majority of my working day is split between planning and strategy for clients, proactive pitching of story ideas to trade, national and broadcast press or offering comment/colour to wider industry pieces and reactive press in response to media requests.
I may also be liaising with a marketer, editing or approving video or planning a social media strategy.
My partner also works from home and is a media production consultant.
If we are both home at lunchtime we’ll sit down together to eat and discuss common projects or new leads.
As we only moved back to Manchester in January and I still work in London with clients a lot I’ve been making a conscious effort to build up my Northern network.
I aim to get out and meet a new contact - PR, journalist or marketer at least twice a month to get away from my desk and into the fresh air.
The other week I went and played pool around 4pm then came home at 6pm, firing out emails on the way.
The Metrolink has free, fast WIFI and I can get almost as much done on a “commute” as I do at home.
Nursery pick up is 5.30pm and then I will spend time with Max before dinner then do bedtime stories and milk.
I’m back at my computer around 7.30pm for another half hour or so to close off the day then my partner and I will start making dinner.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
When you work for yourself you are in control of your own destiny which can be very empowering.
Freelance life is liberating but it can be lonely which is why virtual networks and ensuring I speak to another human at least once during the working day helps keep me sane.
I’m also free to work to my own “workstyle” which is a fundamental principle at Hoxby.
One of my quirks is that if I’m struggling to find the solution to a tricky work problem I like to whip out the ironing board and do the laundry - I often find the solution coming to me as I’m attacking stubborn creases.
That’s quite hard to recreate when you’re in a 9-5 office job but it works for me!
I love to work with the entrepreneurial community and build from their inherent energy and passion for their product or service.
It also means that decision making is fast which is a real boon after working for a large corporate.
I also find the flexibility great with a young child. To be honest, I often find it easier to work than to be “mummy”, so make an effort to carve out family time treating it almost like another client.
If you asked me to put together a global comms plan in 48 hours I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, ask me what the second verse of Twinkle Twinkle is I’d be lost...
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
I like it when a prospect comes to me and asks for “help with PR” but I LOVE it when they come with a business problem they need to solve.
Most clients are great at their business but don’t really understand PR and comms.
They just know, or are told by potential investors/advisers that they need it. By focusing on the commercial outputs we speak the same language.
Of course, there is always room for the qualitative brand piece but at its heart a communications programme needs to be rooted in business performance.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Despite working with a lot of startups in the tech and associated arenas I can be a bit of a Luddite. Nothing beats pen, paper and ink.
I do make use of technology that makes communication and collaboration easier.
Slack is a great channel for communicating with remote teams, such as Hoxby, I like SkimIt for sharing content from news sites between teams and creating shared libraries.
I use Harvest for time tracking and auto-generating invoices. Skype, Facetime or Google Hangouts are great for catching up “face to face” with people.
How did you get started in the comms industry, and where might you go from here?
I trod the traditional agency career path for a decade then the in-house road for three years before branching out on my own.
So far, I’ve enjoyed 100% organic growth with work coming either from existing clients, former colleagues or friends who refer me for business.
I’m also starting to build a wider network through the Hoxby Collective, social media groups and LinkedIn which drives an increasing volume of enquiries and prospects.
Which brands do you think are doing comms well?
Brands that have an authentic and clear tone of voice and personality tend to be the ones that do best.
Virgin is one that I’ve always admired as well as heritage brands like John Lewis and Mercedes.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the comms industry?
Get business experience or at least read up on it. Learn to speak C-suite language and don’t get caught up in PR jargon.
Always remember the story and tailor everything to telling it in an authentic and credible way that is platform-agnostic.
Accept you can’t be the expert on everything and build a good and trusted network you can call on.