PR Wars Podcast: Freelance public relations

PR Wars Podcast: Freelance public relations

The life of a freelancer. Is it right for you? On today’s PR Wars podcast, we talk with Sarah Shkargi, who runs TNS Media and Communications about how to win at freelance public relations in 2020.

A.I. generated show transcript: “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “I have news for everybody. Get over it.”

Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host… Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hello everyone. Thanks for listening to PR Wars. I’m Chris Shigas. Somewhere between working within a PR agency and owning your own agency… lives the freelancer. Now, the freelance skill set, besides being a killer writer, is tenacity and fearlessness. They bring their personal expertise to each and every client. Well today on PR Wars, co-host and fellow communications paladin Brad Grantham and I speak to a freelancer, Sarah Shkargi, who runs TNS Media and Communications. Many of her customers are b2b agencies, as she provides them with expertise as a startup technology specialist, Sarah Shkargi, thanks for joining us on PR Wars today.

Sarah Shkargi
Thank you for having me. Absolutely.

Chris Shigas
Before we get into your tech background, you’re a freelancer, and you freelance with other PR agencies and companies. So that’s interesting. there’s a lot of PR jobs out there, but you chose to do it on your own. Tell me about that decision?

Sarah Shkargi
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, it was an interesting change of pace for myself coming from a pure agency background. Um, after about, you know, seven years in agencies, I decided that I found it a much more opportunity of larger opportunity to work with startups, and giving them a lot more flexibility on what they needed in PR. And so through that agency, that I left in my last one, I found my first client, and I was able to work with them for three years. And what it led me to was an understanding that a lot of companies, whether they’re, you know, just coming out of startup stealth mode, or have been around for decades, are really looking to engage their PR communication strategy in a much more unique and nimble way. And that’s what I was able to offer them.

Chris Shigas
So I think the biggest fear someone’s you know, right now is sitting in an agency wondering if they could do this on their own and, and their biggest fear is, am I gonna be able to get the new business? Am I gonna, you know, can I get myself out there enough? What got you over that step?

Sarah Shkargi
Um, you know, I had a piece of advice once from from a dear friend from South Africa. So you’ll have to forgive this reference, but it was essentially you eat the elephant one bite at a time, right? And basically, you have to let the right people know you’re looking in you once you start opening your network. And as someone in PR, you’re sort of already tuned in to your clients world, whether you know, you’re focused in on b2b or b2c, you’re in there your understanding? Who’s the head of Communications at this company versus company, you know, have they sort of have big cut an agency already? Those types of little things that you know, just from working in on the inside, you take to the outside world, go to your LinkedIn, immediately go into your Twitter, try to find those clients, probably they’ve had a few years ago, see where they landed now? And do they have PR and start doing the outreach just like that?

Brad Grantham
So 2020 has been an interesting year, both for agencies and for freelancers like yourself. This is a two part question number one, how has 2020 impacted you as a freelance, the freelance model? The second part of that question is, you know, have you seen a shift also this year to more companies or agencies outsourcing items to freelance support to save costs?

Sarah Shkargi
Yeah, well, so let me let me do it sort of backwards. Let me let me answer that shift question for you. So yes, I’ve absolutely seen companies looking to figure out their costs, whether whether you use it through freelancers, I’ve seen companies, in fact, who have traditional agencies even go the freelancer route for special projects rather than engaging the agency to tack on extra, you know, piece of the budget for that month. So I definitely think that 2020 has created for everyone to look at our budgets and really see where can I trim that fat. And usually, we all know it, but PR is the first to go. And so I think that companies recognize if this year hasn’t shown them this year has also shown how important brand awareness is to the survival of their company. Yet they need to have the budget to do so. So they recognize, I think, the importance of PR, but they need to see it at a different model. And I think for me, what I’ve seen is that PR traditionally, has only been done in one way. And so I think the freelancer model I’ve seen growing, at least around here in the North America market, is that people are really engaging companies for all sorts of projects, and they’re really meshing all of their capabilities, whether it be marketing, social media writing, or traditional PR.

Brad Grantham
So has your client base wavered at all this year, as it grown? Have you lost? Where does that stand? And have you taken on things this year that you may not have in the past?

Sarah Shkargi
I would say that my client base, you know, I had a couple of clients, right? In the beginning when lockdowns happened, when COVID really hit that got nervous, right? And the CEOs were like, let’s just let’s bring everybody inside. Let’s hold that cash. And so yeah, I had, I had some clients either cut back significantly on the budgets, or just completely call it quits than in there. But after lockdown came out, and I did see an interesting surge in both projects, as well as really young startups, due to some of the, like the networking that I’ve done in the past, where I’ve engaged VC marketers, so heads of marketing for big VC firms, and they’re able to sort of sell my services to their portfolio. And in that sense, yeah, I’ve taken on a lot of projects this year that I probably wouldn’t have been doing a couple of years ago, by helping either take companies out of stealth launch their first, you know, seed financing round. So smaller projects, but definitely, you know, financially beneficial for myself,

Chris Shigas
when you look at the scope of abilities that people have in the agencies, is there something unique that would make you successful? as a freelancer?

Sarah Shkargi
Yeah, absolutely. One, you have got to be a killer writer, you’ve just got to be able to whip out your writing relatively quickly. And if you can’t do that, um, find some writers who have a good price market and can do that for you. That’s first and foremost. Secondly, as I think that if you are going into the freelance world, I would recommend, you know, getting a few years inside the agency under your belt, because I really think what can sell a freelancer and what makes them that really interesting opportunity for a company is that they bring with them that those years of expertise. I think that it’s important to sort of have that, you know, that dedication behind you and your skill and understanding

Brad Grantham
a tech standpoint, startup standpoint, this year, how have you had to adjust your tactics and securing coverage or your strategy to secure coverage as opposed to before? What have you had to do differently this year? That has worked for you?

Sarah Shkargi
Yeah, well, I mean, oh, god 2020 has just been like crazy for the media. And I and I’m sure that you guys have been following this, you know, whether it’s full on media outlets that are just closing their doors, or big time, reporters are now moving to substack and doing newsletters. For me, what I’ve seen that’s been the most helpful, has just been obsessively following my top reporters for every single one of my clients on Twitter, reading their subset, reading their newsletters, really trying to understand where they’re taking their own beats, because what’s really changing in the landscape is it is much less about, you know, writing the fact that you raise $30 million for series C and much more about how your company impacts the human race, the world in which we live in, right, what are these bigger topics and that’s really the big change that I’m seeing. And so it’s been critical for me to make sure that I just keep up to date with what these writers are doing and what’s really interesting them what’s making them excited.

Brad Grantham
My pitch standpoint. Have you had to adjust anything this year? So in other words, in the past, you may have done two paragraphs, three paragraphs, but to cut through the clutter your gift, you’re doing a sentence pitch or you’re going into DMS What have you had to adjust if anything?

Sarah Shkargi
Yeah, listen, I I cut things short. I get straight to the point. I think if you can Get to your point within the first three sentences of your pitch, then it’s done and dusted. I mean, they’re not going to have the time these guys are writing eight articles a day, 500 words a piece, they don’t have time to read a story in your email. So it’s kind of like if you can’t get their attention within the first few seconds of them opening that email, even your you know, subject line has got to be really exciting, then they’re done, they’re out, they’re not going to pay attention to you. And I will say this always send a follow up, people hate to do follow ups follow up, because people just get so many emails, and sometimes they will miss a really great story purely because you didn’t want to bother them and follow up. So

Chris Shigas
there’s a lot of noise out there. And a lot, a lot of people are giving up on media relations, even with all the news cycles, how they are. One thing I found is that the trade publications or specific beat writers are kinda starving for some news, because a lot of companies just aren’t engaging. Are you finding that in tech?

Sarah Shkargi
Yeah, you know, I think for me, I’ve always told all the clients I’ve ever worked with, I really view PR, kind of if you think about it in pyramid, and that bottom level, that foundation of anyone’s communication strategy has got to be their voice to the trades, because this is where I think that not only bring your legitimacy, but where those writers are also going to move from those trade magazines to, you know, a more general pub, and then all the way up to business. So I think it’s important, what I say, are they starving for coverage for news out there? Yeah, I absolutely do think that they’re starving for that. And I would say that they’re, you know, they’re kind of earning, right, they’re not getting the eyeballs that they once did. But with that, I do think that it is a big opening, they’re not going to be as sexy for your client, when you present them with a trade, if you will. But I do think that it is a foundation for any client’s PR strategy to make sure that they are, you know, really taking the time to invest in their true reporters, and give them that time to speak with them regularly given those interviews, make them feel just as important as the guys at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Chris Shigas
Sarah, as you look at your future, and we had a CEO of an agency on a few weeks ago, and he was talking about how to start your own agency. And he made a distinction between starting as a freelancer and being an actual agency. So So at some point in your career and your success, you’re kind of having to make that decision. Am I an agency? Or am I a freelancer, right? How many people Am I going to hire? I’m not going to take on more accounts than I can do myself and grow? Or I like it where I am? And what goes into that decision for you?

Sarah Shkargi
Oh, that’s a great question. It’s actually one that I have been ruminating on for quite some time, you know, do I take this to that next level? Because, you know, whether it’s pure convenience, it’s work life balance, the freelance model has been extremely beneficial for me. For the past few years that I’ve been at it, I will say that, yeah, you come to that point in your life where you’re like, Okay, I can continue down doing the same stuff all the time with my three, four or five clients, Max. But you know, there’s only so many hours in the day, I think, you know, it, I guess it just begs the question of what you want to do career wise, do you want to move away from the actual execution of PR, to the managing of PR, right, to really be the head honcho in the room that clients are excited to hear from but aren’t actually in that day to day world with? And there’s a lot of factors that play into that decision. First, though, I would say is, do you have a steady amount of clients for a regular basis, if you can do that, if you can sustain, you know, your, your limit of clients, then you know, then make that consideration about ramping it up and bringing someone on to help you out. But you do have to, I think the changeover from freelance to agency is going to be about quality control. So you really have to play that game. Well,

Chris Shigas
gotta be some stress to write because right now, you’re worried about your own payroll, let alone the payroll of other people and their families that depend on you and all that, right.

Sarah Shkargi
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I’ve always thought about that even even inside of an agency, sometimes I would say to myself, thank God, I’m not the boss.

Brad Grantham
And not just payroll, benefits and all the HR stuff and everything else and the laws change so much seems like every six months from a labor perspective, you know, just trying to keep track of that almost seems like a full time job, Sarah, why is you’ve kind of alluded to the best part of your job, which is the work life balance that you’ve created. What’s the worst part?

Sarah Shkargi
What’s the worst part? Um, I would say that the worst part sometimes of being a freelancer is the lack of camaraderie of not having that big group of other people who are in the business with you who can, you know, laments with you about your clients crazy things or the antics. I also think it’s kind of hard. When you’re a freelancer, you get really, in your own world. And so you don’t have that ability to bounce the balls off of the walls with friends, you know. So my biggest piece of advice for anyone who is going into the freelance world is make sure that you are connected with other people in PR, and put meetings on your calendar regularly to talk to those people just about PR, you know, you have to continue to develop your career, your profession, even though you’re doing work everyday for your clients. It’s that learning from others, that is probably the biggest thing you miss.

Brad Grantham
Do I hear a child in the background? Um, yeah,

Sarah Shkargi
it’s also my work life balance.

Brad Grantham
Hey, we’re all we’re all living it right now. I mean, whether you’ve got teenagers like, Chris, you’ve got little ones like me or yourself, Sarah, we’re all living the dream.

Chris Shigas
Sarah, last question for me. And as we look into 2021 now, and it’s hard to tell what kind of budgets your clients are going to have companies are going to have? Are you anticipating needing to change some of your scope of services?

Sarah Shkargi
I do, I do think that I’m going to have to embrace alternative areas within PR, digital marketing. You know, I think that social media is becoming even more important, as we continue to go forward, even to the b2b technology vendors out there. Social media is critical. And I think that if you’re able to bring aspects of digital marketing, right, whether it’s backlink strategy, whether it’s engaging in some of the content syndication aspects of what a larger marketing team would do, that’s going to be critical to be bringing that in house your PR repertoire.

Brad Grantham
My last question, you ready for this one, Sarah? This is a good one. My first good one this year, I’m a CEO. I’ve got a decision to make. And that is, I can hire an agency for this or I can hire you for a specific project. How do you convince me to hire you as opposed to the agency?

Sarah Shkargi
First of all, I bring with myself 15 years of experience, you’re going to get the most senior person working with you day in and day out. Second of all, I’m not going to waste my hours that you spend with me on logistics or on secretarial duties like sending you an email after our call about the notes from the call. I’m going to actually do the work and spend all of my time read the media and talking to them about your company and trying to get you that that big headline,

Brad Grantham
your higher.

Chris Shigas
All right, Sarah Shkargi. Thank you so much for joining us today on PR Wars.

Sarah Shkargi
Thank you guys. It’s been great.

Chris Shigas
You can listen to a new PR Wars podcast every Sunday night at 8pm. On behalf of Brad Grantham and the PR Wars team. I would like to thank Sarah Shkargi, owner of TNS Media and Communications and do me a favor… if you want to venture on your own as a freelancer. Define what success looks like for you. Build your network. Deliver your personal skill set to each and every client. Now go get ’em.

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2020 by Feedspot.

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