This post was originally published on July 24, 2014 on PRSA’s PRSAY blog.
Welcome to the gig economy. Take a seat and meet your virtual team.
The gig economy, as we’re now calling the world of contractors, freelancers, self-employed solopreneurs and employees-on-demand, is poised to potentially become 30 – 50% of the American workforce in a few short years.
So there’s a better than 50-50 chance that you, sometime soon, will join the gig economy as either hired talent or as a client doing the hiring. For many of us, we’re already there. Raise your hand if you worked on a project in the last year that had at least one contractor or freelancer also on the project team. I thought so.
It wasn’t always this way. Cast your memory back to the old economy, the one that had cruised along for decades and offered predictable career paths, sensible job titles, escalating pay grades and daily office commutes. Today’s workplace is more fluid. You have to be ready to negotiate pay rates and terms, and fend off client attempts to impose ‘pay for performance’ clauses.
The gig economy means something to us in public relations because, suddenly, all of us need to know how to tap into the pool of short-term talent, or position ourselves to be talent. In my case, I do both. Solopreneurs like me are out there networking to find partners of our own that we can bring to the table for the next gig. We build networks and make no bones about being social media’s biggest boosters because we use it to find talent, too.
Why hire outside talent
Let’s start with a common workplace scenario. Your boss hands you a project you’ve done before — a product launch in three U.S. cities — only this time it’s bigger, with more moving parts, and it’s got the attention of senior management, so expectations are high. You have the authority to hire a contractor, and a budget that’s perfect for a single person.
Do you hire a contractor, a freelancer, or a consultant? Do titles matter? How did the PR industry come up with three names for the same thing?
Contractor. The heart of a contractor’s work is a set of specific deliverables, like a press release, or media tour, or a product launch. Large companies tend to hire contractors and rely on contracts to formalize the arrangement and to protect their interests. The federal government keeps a shortlist of contractors called the GSA schedule that most PR contractors would pay to join.
Tip: Take a page out of the contractor’s manual and enter into a contract with your hired talent. It will protect your interests and theirs.
Freelancer. The most common work for public relations freelancers is writing and media relations. A typical freelancer is a former journalist or an independent public relations professional who has gone out on their own and has made writing or publicity a cornerstone of their business. Freelancers are hired guns, as it were, willing to step in with their lance, or pen, to get the job done.
Tip: Hire a writer if you want top-notch content, and a publicist if you want media coverage, but hire a PR professional if you want to change stakeholder behavior.
Consultant. If you want strategy, go to a consultant. They occupy the higher end of the talent pool, often coming up with programs that support marketing, sales, branding, and special projects, like crisis communications and change management for companies going through an acquisition or C-suite leadership turnover.
Tip: Consultants have the advantage of a positioning that senior management tends to understand, but if you hire one be sure she’s willing to roll up her sleeves to do the work.
There’s an old saying about hiring outside talent that I occasionally quote but find ultimately misleading. Consultants get paid for their heads, whereas freelancers and contractors get paid for their hands. Titles aside, I’ve met plenty of good and bad outside hires in all three groups. The good ones bring their hands and their head to the job.
The secret to hiring the right talent comes down to project type, outcomes expected and personal chemistry. Once you get past the screening questions — do they know my business? do they work with organizations like mine? Can they reach and engage my stakeholders — be sure to sit down and cover the project specifics to make sure your talent truly knows how to work in a gig economy. Because at the end of the day, it may be a gig to them, but it’s a job for you.