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Freelance to employed: What I learnt moving from independent journalist to permanent PR role

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I love freelance life. Being my own boss, flexible hours, doing random errands during the middle of the day. For many years I worked as much or as little as I liked. I was that parent pitying my employed friends who had to juggle after-school nannies and holiday camps. Meanwhile I clogged their Facebook stream with “Look at all this exploring-creating-whatever I’m doing with my kids thanks to my magical no-ties life!”. Smug, lucky me.

But the pandemic did funny things to people – steady income can climb up the list of priorities at speed when the rest of the world is sliding into chaos. Today I have been in a permanent job for a whole year. And it’s at a PR agency. Two things I never thought I’d admit as a dyed-in-the-wool freelance journo.

It was a surprise to find myself permanently employed – a result of fortuitous LinkedIn browsing and a job too enticing to pass up. Even more surprising, however, is what I learnt.  The job filled some social and work holes that I didn’t even know I had.

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The meaning of team

For example, as a freelancer you tell yourself that your team comprises the other freelancers out there – those online that you exchange advice, anecdotes and ailments with. Or the editors you regularly furnish with your carefully crafted articles. They are indeed a team of sorts. You know them, they know you. You exchange pleasantries and meet for coffees. But when it comes to the day-to-day, it’s you and your keyboard; you on your ownsome.

So being part of a permanent team again has been a revelation. It feels good pulling in the same direction as others. It feels good putting in the energy for the many. It feels good thrashing out ideas together, bouncing questions across remote desks for a quick-fire, honest and constructive response. It feels good turning to others with worries, leaning on others for support. Yes, it’s possible to build this support as a freelancer, but it comes so naturally to a well set-up permanent team. Not every company is adept at making teams work smoothly. But when it’s good, it feels very, very good.

Learning new tricks

Another welcome surprise was that this old hack can learn new tricks. The new job involved lots of getting up to speed with PR lingo – KPIs, SMART criteria, messaging, objectives. They still make me slightly nauseous, but I can now sprinkle them about with the best of them. But what has been most unexpected is the other ways I have grown my skills and knowledge. Being surrounded by a company of talent – young and seasoned, business-minded and creative – with clients that are inspiring and innovative, has turbo-charged my learning.

Enthusiasm and excitement are infectious. In a company that has a musketeer-style, one-for-all mentality, people are generous with their insight and inspire you to step up and out of your comfort zone. Yes, it has been uncomfortable at times – Zoom strategy sessions with lots riding on them can still bring me out in hives – but I am far more confident. Nurturing clients, bringing clarity to a campaign, thinking more strategically; these are useful, if not invaluable skills, even if you are a one-man band.

But it’s doubtful whether I would have dived into that pool of discomfort and self-improvement so successfully without the shove of permanent job expectations.

The best of both worlds

One of the most welcome realisations of the last year has been that I still feel like a journalist. The effectiveness of good ideas, powerful angles, nimble thinking and concise writing is still what counts most in this field – whichever side of the PR-journalism coin you are on. It is what we preach to clients, it’s what is appreciated by the media that publish their work.  

And as the world of work is in unprecedented flux, having the best of all worlds is possible. I admit, I am writing this as my kids go galivanting through this summer holiday-day with someone else, but enlightened employers are making a flexible life a reality.

If you could never imagine working in a permanent position again, why not take a peep over the parapet and see what you might take from it.

Anna Richardson-Taylor is Editorial Consultant at Red Setter. Header image: Matt Bain.

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