My Work in PRogress guest this month is the lovely Fran Griffin, who is a freelance PR specialist.
Working with a number of clients ranging from small business and other freelancers, to agencies, in-house teams and big international brands, Fran is passionate about helping getting brands seen via a mix of traditional and digital PR tactics.
I loved my conversation with Fran in which she shares all her best tips and tricks for anyone considering going freelance, as well as why she always knew she was destined for PR…
What is your ultimate shower song? (The song you can give a 10/10 Grammy-worthy performance on in your shower on a Saturday morning).
I’ll be honest here, a Saturday morning usually involves a tender, wine-induced headache, and less of a Grammy-worthy performance! Much more likely to be listening to something soft and acoustic on a weekend morning.
On a Monday however…. That’s a whole different story, and a belting Grammy performance starts the week right. I’d be torn between Alanis Morissette – Ironic or B*Witched – C’est la vie – I’m a 90s baby through and through!
What are your favourite things about freelancing?
Freelancing was something I always knew I’d end up doing at some point. Circumstances and opportunities and a bit of luck made it a reality much sooner in my career than I ever expected. It’s been a whirlwind first year – all through a pandemic – but I wouldn’t change a single thing!
There’s two main standout reasons I love freelancing:
#1 – I’m a night owl and an early bird. Sounds conflicting I know, but I’m not a huge sleeper and have always been both the last up and first up. I guess it’s not too conventional, so a conventional 9-5 has always felt a bit unnatural to me too. Sitting there at 4pm with a bunch of press releases to write when I might be in a “mental lull” feels forced and unproductive.
Since going freelance, I can now work around my own pattern of productivity to get the best results. Working in a digital job also means I can literally work from anywhere and shake up my work environment, so I’ll often be taking meetings from Ireland, a cafe, or my grandparents’. As long as I’ve wi-fi and my macbook, I can do my job anywhere, and I can’t wait to make the most of that when the world and travel opens up a bit more post-covid!
Being freelance affords me the luxury of my own timetable and that adaptability to manage workloads and tasks around writing blocks or creative peaks! Plus with press and the media being 24/7 it helps to add a level of flexibility for being available to adapt and react quickly for clients.
#2 – I love having that pick of industries and people to work with; something you’ll never quite get in an agency. With a core background in traditional PR too, it means I can do some more brand fame, traditional campaigns alongside the link-focused SEO strategies too, and just generally get to pick and choose what I work on and what I don’t think is best suited to me.
I’ve worked with agencies, small brands, big international brands, other freelancers, business owners, and even supported in-house teams over the past year. I’ve absolutely enjoyed every one I’ve worked with. It gives me much more variety than an agency could on its own, and I get to keep learning from working with people/clients from a variety of industries, roles and backgrounds.
What in your opinion are the easiest topics to ideate around? Which (if any) niches do you think are harder or more competitive to build links in?
I think there’s three main topics that would be favourites; food & drink, business & HR, and dating & relationships.
Food and drink is obvious; when it’s something you’ve a personal interest in, ideation comes more naturally and it just feels a bit more fun to plan campaigns you would take an interest in reading in publications yourself!
Business & HR is a favourite too as I think it’s a topic that’s ever-changing. I guess it falls into lifestyle in a sense, but everything about remote working, employee rights, office niggles, or commuting I find so relatable and fun to ideate around. Plus it’s a press sector with a lot of publications and coverage opportunities so the thought of a successful campaign getting that many links is always appealing.
Dating & relationships is always fun because sex sells, so a good campaign on this topic will get juicy links! I’ve worked with lots of dating app brands over the years and it just produces amazing coverage time and time again.
Areas I find harder to ideate or build links around are on controversial topics like gambling, loans or tobacco. I’m increasingly over the past year seeing journalists respond to pitches for these types of niches saying they would never feature companies from those industries or the campaign was too “off brand”. It’s much harder to earn links for a client in this sector in my experience.
What are your top three tips for anyone considering a career as a freelancing digital PR?
#1 – Know your strengths and weaknesses
I know what I’m good at, and frankly, what I’m not so good at! Freelancers often claim to be generalists and able to do it all, which I think defeats the point of being freelance as you end up with work you won’t want to do or industries you aren’t strong at. Be realistic on what you can do / what you do well, journalists and media you’ve good connections with, and types of campaigns you enjoy the most.
#2 – Find the right set up for you (it doesn’t have to be exclusively freelance)
Initially going freelance I envisaged a lot of it being project work, but most of what I do is retained, meaning it’s much easier for financial forecasts, taking on extra work, booking time off etc. I also work part time with SEO agency Evergreen; a work set-up I didn’t think was ever possible! After starting freelance there in the summer, the opportunity came up to work more hours/days and join part time.
I enjoy the team, the culture, and the clients, so it was a no-brainer to help grow their digital PR service and get more involved. I feel I get the best of both worlds by splitting my time agency:freelance now. With 2021 showing a big industry demand for digital PRs, I think more agencies will be open to flexible ways of working and alternatives like this, as the pandemic has (positively) shone a spotlight on work mental health and balance like never before.
#3 – Make connections in the industry
I have worked in PR for nearly nine years now and very fortunately a lot of my success – both in terms of media results and winning new clients/contracts – has come from relationships I have built over time. Investing this time in building genuine and meaningful relationships has made my freelance venture much easier. Platforms like the Women In Tech SEO group, or numerous Twitter inspiration pages have brought me work, freelance peers, and genuine friends too. It’s such a supportive industry full of truly great minds – make the most of that!
How did you get into digital PR? Did you always want to be a PR?
I think like every PR I know, I had wanted to be a journalist initially! 18-year-old me popped along to a uni open day looking at journalism courses, because I loved writing. When I was there I was sold a journalism and PR joint degree as: “it’s like journalism, but with more creative things like social media and campaigns”. And that was enough to convince me then. It was eleven years ago and I had just been sucked into this new world and trend of Twitter, so had assumed it would be using that every day!
Nothing I learnt on my degree is hugely relevant to what I do now as it was much more corporate comms, crisis management and in-house campaigns, but I did have a cracking three years at Lincoln uni that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I went on to PR agency life in London for 6ish years and cut my teeth in the industry with launch events and press parties, product placements and coverage, broadcast media days, B2B press releases and whitepapers, and building solid media relationships.
I later discovered the world of SEO and fell down a rabbit hole into everything that is ahrefs, follow links, EAT and DA scores. I love how much my PR efforts now feed into bigger marketing goals than just PR for PR’s sake. And measurement! Oh my god measurement!
When I spoke about measuring digital PR at Brighton SEO last year, I talked about how my early PR days were just getting coverage (a lot of it print) with no real metrics or justification for what this meant!
Mad now, when I look at how much everything I do now centres around Google, links and rankings!
As a creative, outgoing and inquisitive person, I think I always had the personality and skills to work in PR.
“My mum told me once that my first words were “what’s that?” and I don’t think I’ve stopped asking questions since!”
PR is certainly a career where you need to question why we’re doing things, what’s the point, where’s the relevance, who would care about this campaign and so on.
Finally, what does being a work in progress mean to you? (Both professionally and personally)
For me, it means ever-evolving. In both a career and personal sense, life is continually changing and I don’t think we ever individually reach that moment that it all comes together and is complete and perfect at once – it’s a permanent state of work in progress. Well, at least until you’re retired I imagine, whenever that happens haha!
“Whilst it’s good to have a five-year-plan and a roadmap of where you’d like to be in life, it can literally change in a single minute. 2020 has taught us all that!”
Essentially, you never know what’s around the corner and opportunities about to come your way. I was very happy in my job agency-side in traditional PR, until I was introduced to the world of digital/SEO, which positively altered my path. It altered again when I left my digital PR agency role to go freelance.
Life is one big work in progress because it’s fluid and changeable – I love that. I think the key in both a professional and personal sense is to always seek fun, happiness and keep on learning. As long as what I do challenges me, excites me, and gets me up in the morning, then I’ll be a contented work in progress!
“She believed she could, so she did” is one of my favourite quotes, and determination and positivity is the foundation of what you need in life, I reckon.