As a sole consultant, Laura Sutherland tells PR in Lockdown about her experience of the coronavirus pandemic whilst working solo. From redesigning the PR festival, PRFest, setting up #PRsUnite support, to dealing with losing work that ‘impacted the rest of my year’.
“It all disappeared”
“Being a consultant means sometimes you can feel a bit lonely, particularly in lockdown where you’re facing a situation where I lost work immediately. This not only impacted the lockdown period of a few months, but it also impacted the rest of my year. One of the clients I work with… has a big event in the summer and a big event in the winter. As both couldn’t go ahead, it all disappeared.”
“I’m someone who works best when they’re busy. As long as I’ve got deadlines to work to, I can work right up to them and deliver some great work. But I’m not too much of a worrier...I figured that if I’m feeling like this, then other people must be as well.”
“I set up a thing in the first week called ‘PRs Unite,’ it was just a hashtag. I asked if anyone wanted to hang out online and chat about what we’re feeling or doing. I ran that for about 12 weeks, and every week about 12 and 50 people were turning up. I had a format that I started in the first week which was sharing links to resources on working from home and mental health. It helped and people were saying that they looked forward to the session every week. That was important for me. I like to help people… and by doing that I could help other people and have that connection myself.”
“The number one thing most people will be worried about is finance”
“From a business perspective, finance is one of the first things you start to think about. How am I going to cope with this? How long’s it going to last? Most people have a level of comfort in that their business has savings - to an extent. For a sole practitioner, it’s slightly different...you’re thinking about tax and the most efficient way to make money at the same time as saving and investing. For me, it was reviewing cash flow and having a look at money-saving. Figuring out where you are financially is important because the number one thing most people will be worried about is finance.”
When asked about how it is being a sole consultant, Laura doesn’t hide the difficulties. “I’m not going to lie, there have been several times where things haven’t gone right in the business and I’ve challenged myself as to why I’m doing things by myself. But the majority of why I love what I do is the fact that I can make my own decisions at the drop of a hat.”
“I’m a very ideas-driven practitioner and business owner… so I’m always rethinking my business and realigning my services to suit my clients. What lockdown has enabled me to do, due to having more time, was to review my business and most importantly look at where my passions lie.”
“We’re not thinking actively about how we can balance, equal and give opportunities”
“PRFest was essentially called out for having an all-white panel on its programme. That was a challenge at the time because I had completely overhauled PR Fest for this year as a face-to-face event. As a result of lockdown, I had to make the whole thing online and overhaul the event again to put it online. I had originally approached someone who runs a BME organisation to speak at the event and they had declined to come on. But the thing I didn’t think of was that I had to go away and think of somebody else instead and that was completely my mistake. It’s very evident now that this is part of the problem in PR. We’re not thinking actively about how we can balance, equal and give opportunities”.
“As an industry, I thought, well how can we use this as an opportunity to get all of these amazing senior practitioners together to come up with solutions? That’s when the DRIVEN framework was put into practice and launched at the event. It’s a free tool for the industry that will help leaders review, think and commit to action”.
“How will the industry be accountable for improving diversity, equality and inclusion?”
On how the next few months are looking for Laura: “For one or two of the clients, I won’t see them again until next year. In terms of business in general, there are pitches out there at the moment, I don’t tend to pitch so I’m not involved in them. Most of the work at the moment is shorter term. People are thinking in three-month slots at the moment, maybe as far as six months.”
Laura says accountability will be most important for the future of PR. “Anyone can write a report and stick it on their website. But you will be measured on your actions. Accountability is huge. How will the industry, individuals and leaders be accountable for improving diversity, equality and inclusion in our industry? That’s a subject that the PRCA, the CIPR and the Taylor Bennett Foundation discussed at the PRFest panel event when the ‘DRIVEN Pledge’ was launched. It comes back to ethics and leadership. It’s not only that you’ve done your research but that you actually commit to being better.
PR in Lockdown is a podcast series produced by Access Studios in collaboration with the PRCA. It is available on YouTube and all major podcast libraries.