The Consultant vs. FTE Debate: How Indies Score PR Work

Why go indie with your public relations – as in choosing an independent practitioner? We’ve come up with a pretty good list for you to consider indies – and for indies to share with potential clients seeking PR support. It’s a list you can also use in developing RFP/RFI replies for new business. In the big scheme of development, we all know that budget is a primary consideration in any hire. And just like consumers, even businesses shop for the best rates. But a project or hourly rate often isn’t a good measure of deliverables.

Check out this list of Indie PR benefits:

• Experienced in the skill set requested – usually with extensive prior agency or media experience
• Deadlines usually met early due to experience managing numerous clients and having a streamlined workload
• Better developed soft skills working with complex teams – often ranging from small teams of three people to 30 representing diverse departments with competing needs
• Pivots quickly if necessary for budget downturns and unexpected revenue ticks (while FTEs start looking for other jobs and begin to mentally disengage)
• Reasonable rates based on geography (often companies look outside larger metro areas to find better rates)

Want more on the subject? Check out these opinions from established indies.

Dan Henkel

My typical client is a non-profit with a small staff. Many wear several hats. That may mean, say, someone handling communications as well as HR and admin duties. S/he may or may not have training or deep experience in communication/PR/marketing. I can serve as that organization’s senior VP for strategic communications, providing deep insights and a big-picture view that the junior, on-the-ground staff typically doesn’t possess. Thus, an organization that can’t afford a full-time position for a 20-year communicator can tap that well of experience when it really counts. This works for startup companies as well as NFPs. I also enjoy a certain amount of hands-on, tactical work. I like to write the occasional news release, massage the media list, format, send and track. I like to take photos and work with graphic designers, videographers and other vendors. Since my first communications job—producing issue-related videos for an association on old Sony U-Matic ¾” tape—I’ve enjoyed moving electrons around to make the message. So, just as a small organization needs professional accounting services but may not have a full-time, senior CFO, its communication program can be guided by a part-time, senior practitioner who can also roll up his sleeves and pitch in to get the job done.


Amber Shulman, APR

Clients have shared with me that, often, when they have engaged a larger firm to quote a project and make recommendations, it was apparent that there wasn’t much listening on the part of the agency. In other words, a presentation is made by the agency with directives and recommendations that either don’t resonate, aren’t affordable or don’t make sense for the client. Independent practitioners are much more likely to listen and design plans and programs with buy in from client staff. Clients can get a customized service at an equitable price.


Gerry Justice, MFA

A client conversation from last week, verbatim:

“Nobody here listens to me. So listen to me…”

“I will,” I said.

Client chuckles. “Yes, I bet you will.”

Why use an IP? We’re better listeners. We’re more focused. We’re more efficient. We have much more at stake than a full-time employee – we have the current contract or the next project or string of projects. We give our best every time.

Many times when I am brought in I feel the chill from the full-time employees and I see the fear in their eyes. During my first visit, I inevitably say to them, “I am not here to take your job. I don’t want your job; I like mine. I am here to support you, to work alongside of you, to help make you more successful. The more success you have, the more you’ll want my help on future projects.”

We work evenings and weekends. We work when our clients would rather not.

Why work with an IP? Because we have fresh eyes. I was brought in by an agency recently to co-work a series of projects. Overnight I read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on. In the process, I discovered a typo on this cool die-cut promotional piece, and then discovered two sentences in their company overview were missing words.

Why bring an IP in? We’re good at what we do. I’ve estimated that my MFA required 400 hours. And we care more than most employees.

Will we listen? Yes, you bet we will.


Still not convinced you can make a case? Here’s an interesting rate calculator when it comes to FTE vs. consultants that you might want to share with clients. H/T @toptal

Also, if you’re an indie looking for a tribe – check out the Independent Practitioners Alliance Section of PRSA – at 200+ members strong and growing daily with informational webinars, annual rate surveys and community forums.

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