Given the combination of economic uncertainty and a general lack of understanding of the value of public relations among the C-suite, many of our colleagues are facing an employment environment that may require a move from full-time employment to the “consulting class.”
The consulting class is a community of public relations professionals who—due to their own choices or those of their former employers—seek short- and longer-term assignments by working in advisory roles. For some, this may be the time to start the next big thing. For others, consulting may fill the gap between full-time career and retirement.
Whether by choice or by necessity, those of us who now reside in the consulting class would be wise to consider these questions and advice:
- Lay the groundwork while you’re still employed. If the writing is on the wall—cutbacks, layoffs or a suddenly unworkable relationship with your employer—start thinking about your next step. Now. As some organizations cut staff, others seek part timers and consultants. Like anything, being first in provides advantages over those who wait.
- Determine from where revenue will come. Some of us can pick up where we left off by switching from full-time employment to contract work for our former employers and clients. Others may have exit agreements that may prohibit such work. Just like a communications assignment, start by assessing the landscape, set objectives and identify target audiences. What type of communications work do you prefer? Which sectors and organizations offer the best opportunities based on your objectives, experience and expertise?
- Work your connections. Former clients and colleagues know you best, and they know what you can do for them. Remind them of the costs of employing someone (or hiring an agency) versus the relatively lower cost of engaging a freelancer or consultant. In addition, the hiring organization already knows you. And you’ll save them money by helping them avoid agency mark-ups and the cost of benefits.
- Maintain your professional network. To the degree possible, retain memberships with professional organizations. During your transition period, many communications groups offer reduced rates for solo practitioners and retirees (many of whom continue to consult). At the very least, take advantage of your social network through LinkedIn.
- Stay relevant and visible. As you maintain your participation in professional organizations and leverage your network, continue to deliver thought leadership by writing and speaking at conferences. Even simply attending conferences, seminars and workshops provides an occasion to participate, connect with others and discover like-minded people who may have opportunities to share with you.
- Remain open to learning. If you’re of “a certain age,” your state university system may offer free classes. In Florida, for example, one can attend at no cost. Additionally, consider applying for adjunct professor positions to share your experiences with our profession’s next generation of leaders. The teaching schedule provides structure, human interaction and requires us to learn (and relearn) if we’re to become good instructors. You won’t get rich as an adjunct, but there are many rewards.
- Create value for yourself and for others. In the great favor-bank of life, sometimes we make deposits, and sometimes we make withdrawals. Continue to keep an active account by doing for others and asking of them. It will work out in the end.
- Gain the benefit of others’ experiences. If you’re like me, you’ve met and admired others who have taken the same path. Reach out to them to learn how they transitioned. Their experiences offer direction and yield insights that will help you. They may have learned their lessons the hard way, but their learnings can become yours.
Depending on one’s perspective and life stage, consulting offers many advantages. Ideally, advisors do what they want to do when they want to do it for the clients with whom they prefer to do it. While there may be uncertainty at first, consulting provides opportunity and flexibility. And you’ll love your boss.
After a four-decade career in the field of communications research and evaluation, Mark Weiner joined the consulting class in 2023. You can reach Mark at [email protected].