According to the 2008 PRSA Membership Value Perception and Satisfaction Study, 6 percent of PRSA’s members are “independent practitioners”. This month’s “Intro to” series features two such professionals who once worked in agency, corporate and association PR and have since joined the ranks of independents. Susan Rink, Principal at Rink Strategic Communications, LLC, spoke with Mike Greenberg of the New Professionals Section about life as an “indie”.
Mike: What was your PR experience like before you decided to practice as an independent?
Susan: I decided to go into business for myself in January 2007, after more than 20 years in corporate communications, specifically in employee communications. I left Sprint Nextel after the merger and spent a couple of months looking for the “right” internal communications leadership role. But after interviewing with a number of very good local companies, I realized that I simply could not work up any enthusiasm for another job that consisted of staff meetings and progress reports. So after a six-month sabbatical, I decided to open my own communications consulting practice – and I’ve never looked back.
Mike: What do you offer clients that an agency doesn’t?
Susan: Most of my clients are marketing, communications and PR professionals who are looking for someone with my specific expertise to provide guidance, as well as an extra set of hands. I think that is what differentiates me from a large agency – I manage the client relationship, develop the product and counsel my clients on the best way to sell the solution to their boss. They know that I’ve sat in their chair and struggled with the same challenges they deal with on a daily basis.
Mike: What is your work environment like?
Susan: For the most part, I work from a small desk in my dining room. I contact my clients primarily via email and phone, since a good number of them are located outside the D.C. Metro area.
Mike: What types of non-PR abilities and interests are needed in order to succeed as an independent practitioner?
Susan: I never wanted to be a sales person – both my parents were Realtors – but I quickly realized that in order to run successful business, I have to constantly sell my product: me. The other important elements – being customer-focused, understanding business essentials, being able to multi-task, being organized – are all skills developed in a prior career, skills that I use on a daily basis.
Mike: What are the greatest challenges an independent faces?
Susan: Isolation. Although I’m an introvert, and enjoy working on my own, I find that I need a way to connect with other indies to brainstorm, trouble-shoot or sometimes just commiserate with me. That’s why I’m so glad to be part of IPRA (the Independent PR Alliance, a section of PRSA’s National Capital Chapter). IPRA members are very generous with their time and knowledge and are always willing to act as a sounding board to a fellow member.
Mike: What has surprised you the most about being an “indie”?
Susan: I never doubted that I’d love being an indie and having the opportunity to actually “do the work.” I think the thing that has surprised me most is how much my skills and knowledge are valued in the real world. There are few senior-level professionals who specialize in employee communications these days; most VP and SVP-level communications executives come from the media side. These clients understand the value of effective employee communications and are willing to admit that they need outside help to overcome their challenges.
Mike: What advice would you give a new professional who wants to work as an independent?
Susan: The best piece of advice I can give anyone starting their own independent agency is to decide what they can offer that is unique, then figure out who needs that service. Define what you are and what you offer, then look for people who need that service.
Susan C. Rink is an award-winning employee communications professional with extensive experience in developing strategic communications programs and processes. Her firm specializes in effective internal communication strategies to drive employee engagement in small to medium-sized companies. Rink’s blog (http://rinkcomms.wordpress.com), as well as the “Take Note” podcast available on YouTube and iTunes, provide senior executives with tips and best practices for employee communications.
Rink is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), as well as the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter, and is the 2011 Chair of the Independent Public Relations Alliance.