• Dilip Gopinathan

Public Relations in times of 'Gig-Economy'

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Are freelancers the new-age competition to midsize PR agencies? And what can agencies do about it. Read on to understand the need for agencies to re-evaluate their PR metrics

It was a lazy Saturday morning and I was sitting with the founder of a leading startup in the app-development space.

We just fired our PR agency, I was told.


Nothing beyond the vanilla PR, that’s why.

We got chatting…..most of our conversation hinged around the potential of the product, the external environment, the kind of outreach initiatives that could be worked on to increase merchant partnerships and the likes. While I always knew the term public (in public relations) meant a wider audience, the heat of it came in a flash: when we did a quick Google search for news on the company.

Surprisingly, the company was in news atleast once a week. However, key aspects comprising influencer outreach, community building, researching and ideating on revenue-generating partnerships, deeper aspects of media intelligence, identifying key trends like competition pricing and messaging was missing in the overall PR strategy.

The Perspective needed to service start-ups

While some agencies have built their base around start-up clients, the run-of-the-mill agency model ensures profits are not easily scalable. Larger agencies too have created in-house departments that specifically cater to startups. However, since agencies have to maintain that minimum profit margin (thanks again to the traditional agency structure) the cost of such servicing ambitious start-ups seem high for the founders while the agency barely makes any money out of the partnership.

Yet, we see start-ups & agencies both scurrying around constantly on the lookout for that perfect partnership.

Here is where the new set of workforce enters – Independent consultants backed by a couple of years of experience coupled with a flair for technology. Out of curiosity, I just Googled to find something about the freelance market in India and was astonished to see articles on “The Rise of Freelance Economy” often termed as the gig economy.

I happened to speak to a couple of independent consultants and found that while they were being offered lucrative offers from companies and agencies, most preferred to ride the wave of Gig Economy. Not only did it offer a lucrative income stream, it also bought along with it the perks of working within your space and time, choosing your clients and to a certain degree curing that nagging itch of starting off on your own. The client too benefits in terms of keeping the cost low, paying for specific outcomes and freely communicating the desired outcome of the project & working on customised strategies that wasn’t actually a part of the initial plan. Ironically, the more established agencies usually wash their hands off from such initiatives citing the well practiced phrase: Not Our Mandate.

The need for agencies to evolve

Having said enough about the gig economy, let’s shift our focus to the agency. While most have built a solid reputation over the years servicing clients of a fairly decent repute, the strategy to make accommodations for start-ups calls for a different approach.

If the relationship between agencies and start-ups need to flourish, so does the servicing capabilities of the agencies. A couple of suggestions include:

Pay for performance: Hire independent consultants to pitch for start-ups using the agencies’ brands name and pay them a fixed commission for each client they bring on board. This will help keep the over head costs low and the terms of employment very flexible.

Change the agency fee structure: The agencies need to understand the start-ups funding goals and help them achieve that target. In return the agency can charge a comparatively lesser retainer fees for about 3-5% equity.

Transition from mere servicing to being a consultant: One of the key strengths of an agency is its established network of well established clients and influencers. The agency needs to leverage that an explore speaker opportunities, joint campaigns and the likes. I’ve written about this in my previous post too.

Be the Source of Leads: Be it in terms of generating them by customised campaigns not necessarily pertaing to the typical servicing capabilities. For instance, I helped a UK based startup generate leads and increase website traffic by reviving a conversation in Quora (refer the response from Daniel Burkhardt Cerigo). All this, while generating the regular PR coverage for the company.

#DigitalPR #Brandcocoon

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