Flex Time: 3 Lessons We Relearned After Gaining Our Independence

July 1, 2019

By Danielle Bayard Jackson and Josh Talkington

Every PR professional — whether working for a small nonprofit or a large corporation — has dreamed of opening their own agency. What would it be like to work for myself? How would it feel to have my own clients? How great would it be to create campaigns without approval from higher-ups?

We were no different. While working for a national nonprofit, we fantasized about one day becoming independent PR practitioners. And when things changed at that company, we had the opportunity to do just that.
Together, we left the security of our roles as PR managers to start STRIDE Media Group, an agency dedicated to representing women and minority-owned businesses and increasing media visibility for underrepresented groups. But as we celebrated our independence, we were also forced to relearn a few fundamental lessons.

1. Independence is an illusion.

Eager to finally operate independently, we began our agency confident that our experience, contacts and mission statement were all we needed. But we quickly realized that those things alone weren’t enough for us to succeed. Though many of our initial clients arrived via personal connections, we understood that our long-term success would depend on us forming new relationships and partnerships.

As PR professionals, we had always known that networking is essential, but as independents we saw this truth from a fresh perspective. To sustain our business, we had to get into the business of meeting new people.

Danielle: I began to network like I had when I first entered the PR profession a few years prior to starting our business. I joined women’s groups and attended niche networking events, went to lunch with old friends and took new ones to coffee. Josh and I visited professional associations and soon found our wallets packed with business cards.

Josh: Through decades of experience as a news reporter and radio host, I had built a strong network of contacts. But to thrive in the PR profession, you’ve got to network and meet new people. Collaborating with new contacts has allowed us to expand our services, territory and overall knowledge.

Ironically, being successful on your own requires you to become more comfortable collaborating with others. Danielle and I relish our freedom to create memorable communications campaigns, but we can perform the bulk of our business only through partnerships with others — and when we do, we’re all better for it.

2. Research is vital.

When we launched our agency, we underestimated how difficult it would be to persuade potential clients to sign with us instead of with big-name agencies. But as PR professionals, we know how important it is to conduct research before pitching a story to a journalist, targeting a new market or executing new strategies. For potential clients who are skeptical of our size, we’ve shown that our research skills set us apart.

When proposing our services to clients who had their minds set on working with a larger PR team, it was important that we demonstrate our knowledge of their industries and markets, and how well we could anticipate their success and pain points. Walking into meetings armed with strong research and knowledge helps us land new accounts.

Recently, a potential client passed on us in favor of a larger, well-known agency. We were disappointed but understood their preference. Less than two months later, however, the client called us back and said they were firing the larger firm.

When we asked why, the client said that the larger agency, despite its size, wasn’t interested in researching the client’s company and tailoring communication campaigns, social media and other projects to its specific needs. The client returned to us because they needed a PR team that continually researches new trends, markets and best practices. Years in the business have taught us the importance of being prepared, but operating as independent practitioners has reminded us that it is quite the difference-maker.

3. Long-term survival demands flexibility.

When we formed our agency, we had a specific plan for how we would operate and who we would serve. But after a few months we found ourselves fielding “Can I pick your brain?” calls and emails. We were spending lots of time coaching and training people without charging them. We rarely said “no” because we strongly believe in our mission of providing publicity for groups without PR staffing or budgets for such services. Soon we had an idea that required us to pivot from our original plan.

Josh: In an era when information is available at our fingertips, people want to do things for themselves — and to save money at the same time. Even the largest companies are budget-conscious and ask whether they can handle tasks in-house before outsourcing them. Rather than let it become a barrier for us, we decided to cater to people in this new culture. So we started creating opportunities for training, a service that we did not originally intend to provide. Knowing that many businesses go under because they don’t adapt to the public’s changing needs, we decided to remain open-minded and find new ways to evolve.

Danielle: Before entering public relations I spent seven years as a high school English teacher. I tapped my classroom experience and began designing workshops, training and curricula for on-camera media coaching. We had gone into business planning to serve traditional PR needs, but soon realized that some clients weren’t yet ready to commit to hiring an agency.

We had to pivot from our original business plan to meet emerging needs — something that’s necessary not just for individual business owners, but for the PR profession as a whole.

Ask anyone who’s been in the PR profession for a while, and they’ll credit their longevity to being able to evolve and respond to the ever-changing world around us. We were reminded of this lesson when presented with the opportunity to demonstrate our own flexibility and innovations.

Danielle Bayard Jackson and Josh Talkington are co-founders of STRIDE Media Group in Tampa, Fla.


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