4 Myths About Being an Independent Practitioner

March 2, 2015

[roy mcmahon/corbis]
[roy mcmahon/corbis]

Even with the steady growth of the number of independent practitioners operating in the PR profession, a few misconceptions persist about how independents work and the roles they play. With this in mind, here are four myths that some may assume about the life of a solo practitioner:

• Myth No. 1: Independent practitioners are freelancers.
The biggest distinction between an independent and a freelancer is that usually when we think of a freelancer, we think of an individual contractor who builds services primarily around his or her own skill sets, such as writing or event planning.

Independent communications practitioners, however, often function as mini-agencies, serving as general contractors or subcontractors, providing the full range of services and not limiting their offerings to just their own skill sets.

• Myth No. 2: Independent practitioners work alone. 
A logical follow-up to the freelancer myth is the notion that independents work alone. In fact, independents often work in teams. They can form these teams or work as part of teams established by clients, PR firms, design firms or managerial consulting firms.

Deborah Trivitt, APR, president of Omaha, Neb.-based Trivitt Public Relations, Inc., said that many independent practitioners are PR generalists. They may need help from certain specialists or in markets where they don’t have a presence, so they hire people to round out their strengths.

“I hire artists, photographers and event planners,” she said. “Sometimes, I need help with projects in other markets and for backup when I have time conflicts. So I’ve forged relationships with other independents. And sometimes, I work for them.”

• Myth No. 3: Independent practitioners always charge the least.
While independent PR practitioners, on average, are likely to cost less than larger PR firms and provide a strong value, this has more to do with low overheads and cost-efficiencies rather than hourly rates. 

“While low overhead can sometimes lead to savings for the client, the truth is that many independent practitioners command fee structures similar to those of a mid-size PR shop,” said Tom Jackson, APR, an independent practitioner from Naperville, Ill. “In my experience, clients value and are willing to pay for an independent practitioner who provides a more informal, one-on-one relationship, with little risk, if any, of conflict of interest.”

Expect independents to set rates commensurate with their experience, capabilities and the value they bring.

• Myth No. 4: Independent practitioners work in their pajamas.
This relates to the perceptions about work-life balance and the motivations for choosing the independent life. To be sure, the independent practitioner community is broad and diverse, with some choosing the lifestyle to have more flexibility in hours and work arrangements.

Still, many others operate their practices as they would any business, working in excess of 40 hours per week, servicing the largest client organizations and doing high-level, high-value work.

In terms of the dress code issue, what people wear in their home offices can vary, but Trivitt’s approach is common.

“I cannot predict when a client will need a quick meeting, when the delivery will arrive or when I’d need to meet with a subcontractor. So my motto is get up, get dressed and get ready for the day,” she said. “Do I wear high heels, and business suits? No, I save that for days when I know I have formal meetings, but I am in ‘business casual’ and ready to grab my phone and head out the door at a moment’s notice.”

Those are some of the myths. The reality is that with evolving technology and more experienced PR pros deciding to go independent, professional standards and capabilities are as strong and as accessible as they should be. How people tap them is driven by client need.

Tim O'Brien, APR

Tim O’Brien, APR, owns O’Brien Communications, an independent corporate communications practice in Pittsburgh, and hosts the “Shaping Opinion” podcast. Email: timobrien@timobrienpr.com. Twitter: @OBrienPR.


Ami Neiberger-Miller says:

Great article - thanks for sharing about life as an independent. I have been independent for more than a decade.

March 9, 2015

John C. Senall says:

Thanks, Tim. Here's what I often tell people who ask if I am now a freelancer.... "No--that's not something I am interested in, because it starts with a four-letter word."

March 28, 2015

Pam Fischer says:

I've been an independent for six years and often don't work alone. Many of my projects require multiple sets of hands so I've established a network of experts I can tap into as needed. As for working in my PJs, not so much. But workout clothes, definitely!

March 20, 2017

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