Is going solo the new career track for parents in PR?

There are definitely pros and cons to being an independent PR practitioner, but it’s hard to deny the flexibility it offers.

Divorce, money, and worries about the death of a loved one are some of the big stresses everyone shares. Now add “arranging carpools for my kid” into the mix and you’ve got some idea of the life of a working parent. After 25 years of walking into an office every day to perform my role as a PR pro, I made the decision to get off the corporate treadmill and strike out on my own. At the time, I couldn’t get my priorities straight, and I had to choose: my high-flying corporate PR career or my family? I clearly couldn’t have both. Perhaps because of my own experience and network, it seems public relations has become a viable career that many former corporate practitioners have successfully carved out as independent workers. In other words, our career tracks haven’t been derailed and our families see us a lot more. According to MBO Partners’ State of Independence Report released late last year, the independent workforce is America’s hidden economic engine. Statistics show more than 17.7 Americans work as self-employed contributors, generating nearly $1.2 trillion in total income—and that number is growing steadily year over year. For me, the choice was easy, I wanted to pay more attention to my family and maintain my PR career. I canvassed four successful PR pros/parents from around North American who also made the successful switch: Arik Hanson, Warren Weeks, Julia Angelen Joy, and Jenny Schmitt. All were honest about the pros and cons of following the PR/parent track. Be your own boss Sound cliché? Not when it becomes a motivating factor for striking out on your own. “I wanted to build a better business that served clients in an honest and beneficial way,” says Jenny Schmitt of Cloudspark. “I was also tired of bad bosses who didn’t value their talented teams.” For Toronto-based Warren Weeks of Eleven PR, it was the overpowering need to start his own business: “It was about being my own boss. It was about proving that I could pitch, win, and retain business on my own.” Better business relationships One of my guiding philosophies is I now only work with people I like—not something you can easily do in an agency. Business interactions become more pleasant, even during the challenging times. “In making the decision to work for myself, I wanted the ability to work with people I enjoyed working with,” said Arik Hanson, principal at ACH Communications in Minneapolis. The hard truth “I can’t put my career on hold to raise kids, and I can’t have a career and be available to my kids,” says Jules Angelen Joy of Z Group PR in Boise, Idaho. “Corporate life taught me that I had to pick one over the other.” Valuable family face time “With two small kids at home and a wife who works full-time, there’s really no price tag you can put on the ability I have to walk my two kids down to school a block away from our home every day. There’s just no way I would be able to do that if I worked for someone else,” says Hanson. Joy adds: “There is no reason I can’t leave the office at 10:50 a.m. to play basketball with my son for 20 minutes during recess and then hop into my daughter’s class to help with art.” More balance, really? Despite having more flexibility to now participate in parent carpools, maintaining a balance is still something of a struggle, as your work is always with you. “This style of work allows me to have more control of my life, but I have to be purposeful in creating and keeping that balance. Over my solo career, I’ve had balance, lost it, and regained it again,” says Schmitt. Says Weeks: “It’s great to be able to take a few minutes out of the day to hang out with my kids, but there are also a lot of late nights, working on weekends, and during vacations.”

Would they go back? Only Joy is definite about returning to a traditional office—though in the meantime she wants to “maximize her mommy years.” As for the rest of us? “It would have to be an incredibly compelling opportunity that would redefine the trajectory of my career,” says Schmitt. “I love working for myself right now–and I’ve been fortunate to be incredibly busy the last four years since I made the jump,” says Hanson. “Outside of that, I know there are no guarantees. I try to take it one day at a time.” Friends’ and colleagues’ perception Reaction varies from jealousy to musings about earning potential. “The first reaction is from people who envy the fact that I’m my own boss, set my own hours and have the autonomy they seem to crave,” says Schmitt. However, there is the issue of losing industry status. “If you go to an event (SXSW, for example), you’re in rooms filled with agency/corporate folks,” says Hanson. “The solo guy in the room doesn’t carry near the weight that the VP of communications at Ford does. So, you need to be comfortable with that—you learn that quickly.”


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