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Time to Leave Your Agency? PR Vets Discuss the Challenges and Rewards of Going Solo

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We hope you didn’t miss our piece on breaking into fashion PR last week, but we have to confess that we left some of the most interesting parts out.

Beyond the great stories about graduating from crazy internships to working for designers and brands, we saw a trend emerging: two of the three industry veterans we spoke to went from jobs at major firms to running the show as independent consultants—and the third started her own agency.

Laura Hall’s resume reads like a PR “who’s who”: she’s worked for Burson-Marsteller, MSL Group, FleishmannHillard, Hill+Knowlton Strategies and Weber Shandwick.

Impressed yet? So are we.

So why break off and go independent?

First of all, Hall loves to put her talent to the test:

“I need to be challenged every day and I consider myself a generalist because I like to work in different categories.

What compelled me to do it was that I have the experience, I knew I could handle any challenge because I’d done it before, and I have a very deep network that I nurtured, like a personal relationship.”

She’s not the only one. Melissa Duren, who describes her current role as “independent publicist and consultant”, also worked for an array of firms including The HL Group and The Bromley Group (in addition to working in-house with fashion brands like Theory and Joe Fresh) before deciding to go solo.

It wasn’t that she disliked the agency experience—she told us that “I…loved people I worked for, and I’m still in touch with all of them though that was six or seven years ago.”

But she still felt the urge to break away. In describing the appeal of independence, she said:

“…it’s more a personal journey than a professional one because it really ends with me. It’s the final test of ‘what do you really know?’”

What about the risks involved?

We all have some idea of the risks of breaking out on our own. Hall said:

“It’s so risky…but I realized ‘If I can work this hard for an agency, then I know I can do it for myself.’

I know I have a lot to offer agencies that may not have those capabilities from a strategic perspective, so I built my little website [Hall Communications] and just went for it. It takes a lot of self-confidence and believability.”

How does an independent professional handle the workload? 

Both Duren and Hall have managed many interns and employees in the past—and that experience also left them better prepared to run their own shops. Duren said:

“I am starting to get to a point where the conversations about hiring have begun. I have clients who want me to handle every brand in their portfolio, and those are big asks. But for now I work independently. I really love the freedom.”

Once she decides to bring in outside help, she may well follow Hall’s model by calling on her most trusted contacts. Hall said:

“I don’t have any employees of my own, but I do source work out to my own team of freelancers, and I pay them directly…I’ve known these girls for 20 years and, even though its my name, I trust them to do the work. So that’s [the importance of] building that network from the bottom up and nurturing it throughout your career.”

Does this mark a trend in the public relations world at large?

Hall definitely thinks so:

“More brands are wising up and realizing that the big agencies are very expensive. What I’m seeing is a definite trend with more and more senior people becoming advisors to agencies and brands, and it’s a big cost savings for the brand.

Where the industry benefits independents like me: I bring the big agency experience, I have no overhead, and I charge about half the rate per hour that the agency charged for me.

Every agency says they can do everything, but they don’t put their money where their mouth is.”

Do we see the same trend?

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