Past me is jealous of one of my present clients.
When I worked in-house for a large health care organization, our small but mighty communications department faced huge expectations with minimal resources.
Communications departments are particularly vulnerable to budget scrutiny, thanks to the stigma of the “spin doctor” plus the overall move to cut support services in times of austerity. Those forces often serve to keep communications departments undersized relative to the size of the organizations they support. There’s always more work than there are people and hours to complete it, and the number of projects only goes up as staff counts go down.
One of my current anchor clients is a large Canadian company with a small communications department. As a private company, though, they had the luxury of a public relations agency on retainer, until they found they weren’t getting the value or consistency they wanted. So they came up with a surprisingly rare solution: they formed their own ad hoc stable of freelancers with a variety of skills and strengths they could draw on as needed.
While there’s some overlap in our skillset, they went for a handful of people who collectively had a broad range of skills: writing, PR, graphic design, event coordination, and internal communications. Because of my affinity for corporate communications and plain language, my assignments have been primarily writing in the voice of the CEO, internal comms, and simplifying and friendlifying some of their jargon or legalese-filled direct communications to clients.
After selecting their freelance team, they gathered all of us together for an orientation (with me joining remotely, since between responding to their Request for Proposals and them being able to move forward, I’d moved to Scotland). They treat us like valued members of the team and provide ongoing feedback, both constructive so we can learn their preferences and idiosyncracies and wildly appreciative so we can feel warm and fuzzy.
I think it’s a genius way to expand the capacity of an in-house communications team without paying agency prices, and to develop deeper relationships. Over the last 18 months we’ve gotten to know their business and their voice intimately, and they’ve gotten to know us and our strengths. Some day maybe I’ll even meet them in person and deliver some shortbread and whisky.
As a freelancer, obviously I would think this arrangement is ideal. I can’t deny the self-interest. But past in-house me would have loved to have regular access to a pool of freelancers I knew well, who knew my business well. So both past me and present me would love to see more of this kind of flexibility.