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ten things i’ve learned in a year of freelancing

By on Mar 18, 2016 in public relations, social business, stradigal |

In January 2015, I walked out the door of the global “integrated communications and marketing” agency where I’d held a well paid senior position and into the unknown. I’d long wanted to establish my own collective – a loosely knit collaborative network of experienced professionals from all walks of life – as a sort of antidote to the mediocrity offered by big agencies. That, at least, was the initial plan. In anticipation of taking over the World, or at least earning a living, I bought a domain name, secured the relevant social media handles, registered with Companies House as a Limited Company, and set up a business bank account. Like any proper challenge in life, the past year has had its ups-and-downs. The collective never really got off the ground, but I have survived the year I’ve been an independent consultant. Here’s what I’ve learned from the experience: 1. I have worked for, and still have great relationships with, many leading global brands. I’d expected at least some of them to flock to me when I started my new venture since, afterall, if they were happy to pay my previous agencies as much as £2200 a day for my time, they’d be delighted to hire me directly for a fraction of that rate. Wrong. Big name clients work with Big global agencies for a reason – not because those agencies are better at what they do, but because selecting an agency from a list of “reputable firms” is far less risky than hiring some bloke who works from a co-working space. 2. You might think that the other freelancers and small agencies you have good relationships will bring you in on their accounts. They might if they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, but most of the time they won’t want you in the mix because they’ve spent hard graft, and possibly cash, to secure those clients for themselves. Find your own client, mate. 3. Prospective clients will pigeon-hole you, which is fine (afterall, they want someone who can deliver a specific thing) except that, should you have a greater level of experience than is required, they’ll assume you are “over-qualified” and drop you from the shortlist. 4. The tax regime for freelancers is advantageous, but complying with the regulations isn’t something most people would want to try to do on their own. Like most employees, I’ve always been taxed at source by my employer. Everything I earned was taxable. Now I can pay myself a salary and a dividend. So what? Well, the dividend only attracts a 20% corporation tax rather than the higher rate my income might attract. Result! But get an accountant. 5. You’ll need a hobby. I’ve had weeks where I couldn’t possibly get everything I needed to get done, even if I didn’t bother to eat or sleep. I‘ve had other weeks where I’ve basically had f*ck all to do. Even inbetween those two extremes, you’ll probably find that not having to commute to an office, work specific hours, and sit through unnecessary meetings will provide you with oodles of freetime you don’t know what to do with. If you have a hobby, you can fill your down time, otherwise you’ll probably go a bit stir crazy over-analysing the work lull. 6. Getting to go to your children’s art-week  / school open day / first football match is priceless. Just do it. Even if it costs you £70 in lost fees. 7. If you do start to apply for roles, don’t expect to hear back if you’ve been unsuccessful. I’ve recruited hundreds of people for roles over the years and, I’m quite proud to say, replied to each and every one of them, even if it was to explain why their application hadn’t moved forward. I thought that everyone took that approach but was wrong – most of the time, I’ve not heard a thing. It used to piss me off, but now I recognise it as normal, albeit a bit crap. 8. At some stage your significant other, parent or kid (or all of them) will accuse you of spending all your time galavanting around town, being an idealist, or becoming overly complacent with the whole not having a real job thing. When it started for me, the signs were subtle – my wife started coming home with a beer called Proper Job, which she would open and offer me, label facing towards me, with an irksome smile on her face. All these people are probably right, of course – when you work for yourself you do get to faff about quite a bit. Regardless, I’ve found nerf guns to be quite useful in dealing with the naysayers effectively. 9. Sometimes, opportunities will come your way that you just aren’t suited for. Rather than embracing the cash, try to find someone in your own network that you can pawn the project off on. Save yourselve the pain and your reputation the damage – and get paid for sending an email or two – great. 10. Remain positive. Rejection, uncertainty and economic realities can all take a toll on your self confidence. Thing is, the totality of who you are isn’t just the work you do. Indeed, over the last year, I’ve finally realised that what I do for a living is not the entirety of my identity and, indeed, is far...

Twitter Conversation Archetypes and What They Mean for Your Brand

By on Mar 12, 2015 in academic studies, online community, public relations, social business, social software |

Back in the mid-to-late 1990’s, I was one of what seemed like a small handful of social scientists investigating the structures of conversation and community in online spaces. Fast-forward nearly twenty years and I’m fairly certain social media is now one of the most popular areas of study amongst sociologists. Last year, Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the Social Media Research Foundation, used Network Analysis to develop six archetypes of conversations on twitter. It strikes me that insight from the research would be particularly useful to brand managers and their social media teams as they develop a channel strategy for their brand, so I’ve posted what I hope to be a helpful guide to understanding the connection between your brand and the archetypes of twitter...

does your brand have fickle friends?

By on Mar 8, 2015 in conferences/events, online community, social business, social software, stradigal |

Would your brand be sad if suddenly, without warning, a meteor came crashing down out of the sky, wiping out all of it’s fans and followers? It’s an interesting way, I think, to begin challenging the assumption that having fans and followers for your brand is a good measure of strategic social media programmes. (All My Friends Are Dead is a book by Avery Monsen and Jory John)

introducing my new thing

By on Feb 9, 2015 in stradigal |

A few weeks ago, I left big agency life to do my own thing. It’s taken a smidgen over 40 years, but I think I’ve finally figured out what I want to do when I grow up: I want to convene a collective. A collective is a group of entities that share or are motivated by at least one common issue or interest, or work together to achieve a common objective. Collectives differ from cooperatives in that they are not necessarily focused upon an economic benefit or saving, but can be that as well. Like many of the people I know who started off in the internet and social media industry ten or more years ago, my initial interest wasn’t making money – indeed, back when I started, there were very few “proper jobs” in digital. Instead, I was motivated by the belief that, used in the right way, digital tools offered new opportunities to forge a new sort of society based on shared interests and collaboration. Call me an idealist, but I still believe that digital and social media can make the World a better place. There are plenty of non-believers out there – indeed, most businesses are leveraging digital not because they want to do good, but because of the economic benefits. That’s fine by me – the economic argument is the perfect Trojan horse when it comes to changing business and, anyway, profit can and should still be an objective. A couple of years ago now, I interviewed the Sustainability Expert at a leading multi-national chemical producer as part of a stakeholder insights gathering process I was conducting for a client. One thing he said struck me, not for it’s brilliance, but for it’s no bullshit common sense: he argued that sustainability had to be part of the brand’s evolution because, by reducing wastage within it’s many processes, costs were reduced and greater profits achieved. He also argued that, if the World continues on it’s present course, there eventually won’t be any clients or customers around for the brand to sell for.  His argument, that change is an economic necessity, not just the right thing to do (although it’s that too), is a hard one to counter. In setting up my new thing, I wanted to come up with a model that focuses on delivering positive outcomes through change. Those outcomes include making work more meaningful for employees, helping functional and regional silos work together more closely, reducing repetitive processes and investments, focusing on activities that are closely aligned with business strategy, and engaging more meaningfully with stakeholders. I believe that better, more authentic conversation is central to achieving all of these things. The business models of big agencies aren’t always well suited for achieving such outcomes for clients. Whilst the team flown in the for pitch might include some impressive people with equally impressive air miles balances, the reality is that after the pitch it’s quite often people with “spare capacity” who end up doing much of the work. That is, those available instead of the right people. Big agencies tend to have fixed teams and costs, and profit margins to generate from them. All too often, this causes them to “do stuff” rather than to focus on the activities most likely to bring the most value to their clients. That’s a shame – clients don’t necessarily get what they want or need and the agency people who serve them find themselves delivering work that fails to generate the professional pride and job satisfaction they yearn for. My new thing is a Collective. A group of talented people and small agencies, each a leader within their particular niche, working together within a loosely affiliated network structure. My collaborators are drawn from my 15 years of industry experience and include friends, former colleagues and suppliers, ex-clients and a handful of people I’ve sort of bumped into along the way. They include technologists, start-up advisors, academic researchers, PR people, designers and coders, social media managers and video producers. But more importantly, they’re all people I’d like to work with again, and who I trust to deliver maximum value to clients. They’re also all people who I know to believe in doing what’s right for their clients because doing so leads to greater personal, creative and professional achievement. The collective has no financial value, as such – the network cannot be purchased or traded. If it ever does have shareholders, those shareholders will be it’s members and their return on investment will be greater opportunities to deliver great work. I am not the CEO, Managing Director or General Manager – I am merely the Convenor. My new thing is called Stradigal. As in “has your businesses’ digital and social media strategy got a bit muddled up”. If so, that’s the sort of challenge we’d like to help you solve – get in touch. It’s early days, still, but in the near future I’ll be announcing some of Stradigal’s first collaborators. Having had a flurry of conversations with many of the industry’s best and brightest people over the past few weeks, I’m certain that we can offer the same breadth of experience as a big agency, but with far greater flexibility, depth of expertise, and a genuine focus on helping clients push the needle towards their most important strategic objectives. More coming soon…  ...

news feed algorithm changes not a problem for brands with an engagement focused strategy

By on Nov 20, 2014 in fleishmanhillard, online community, public relations, social business |

[Note: A slightly reworked version of this post now appears on LinkedIn] A new research report by a Forrester analyst, suggesting that brands are wasting their money on Facebook and Twitter, has generated lots of interest this week. The report itself is behind a pay wall, but has been covered on the Wall Street Journal CMO blog. “You don’t really have a social relationship with your customers,” analyst Nate Elliott wrote in a new report titled “Social relationship Strategies That Work.” According to Mr. Elliott, top brands’ Facebook and Twitter posts only reach around 2% of their fans and followers, and less than 0.1% of fans and followers actually interact with each post on average. What’s more, Facebook announced last week that another tweak to its news feed algorithm will soon make it even less likely brands’ unpaid posts will actually be seen by users. As a result, marketers hoping to interact with consumers online  might be better off investing in social features that exist on their own websites, or in smaller, more niche social networks, Mr. Elliott said. I couldn’t agree more with the view that many brands are indeed throwing their money at social media programmes that don’t generate measurable progress towards strategic outcomes, but it’s the lack of strategy, rather than the platforms themselves, that’s primarily to blame for this. It doesn’t matter if .01%, 2% or 80% of a brand’s fans and followers see a post if having done so doesn’t boost awareness, improve perception, give the consideration process a nudge, drive a lead, generate a purpose, or tighten the embrace of an advocate. The shift that Elliott speaks of, from the larger social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter towards more niche platforms and functionality provided by a brand’s owned web properties isn’t just about seeking refuge from news feed algorithms. It’s about ownership and control over users and their data and also enhances the ability of brands to establish and nurture smaller, better, more focused communities connected to business outcomes. A collection of fans and followers on a branded Facebook page is not a community because there is little shared sense of belonging or intention of those fans and followers to work together with the brand towards a common goal. This can only happen within a smaller community where stakeholders can be brought closer together, and closer to a brand, through the creation of meaningful participatory frameworks. It’s not the fault of changing algorithms that brands find it difficult or impossible to build genuinely meaningful “social relationships” with customers. The approach of most large brands on social media has been to apply a broadcast model on a medium that demands something more direct, personal and engaging. If the strategy is broadcast, then changes to news feed algorithms will diminish the potential for brands to succeed in social, but if the strategy is to engage in ways that are meaningful for customers, and generate outcomes important for the business, the algorithms are much less likely to impact whether brands succeed or...

10 ways to be a great agency client

By on Nov 3, 2014 in fleishmanhillard |

Below are some top tips on how to have a successful relationship with your agency… 1. Involve stakeholders early on I’ve been involved in situations where clients share too little too late with their own internal stakeholders. The reality is, organisational silos inhibit success, so keeping things to yourself is unlikely, in the medium to long-term, help anyone achieve what they set out to.   2. Disclose budgets In the real world, whenever we want to purchase a product or service, we outline the budget we have in mind – otherwise, how would the car dealership know what you mean when you say you want a “great car” or an estate agent know what you’re looking for if the only parameter is that your seeking “the perfect home”? Disclosing your budget, even as a range, helps your agency develop a proposal aligned with your expectations.   3. Treat your agency as an extension of your team If you don’t trust your agency, you probably shouldn’t have hired them. Every piece of great client work I’ve ever been involved in has shared the same characteristic – namely, the client treated us as an extension of their own team that brought capabilities and capacity that wasn’t present inhouse.   4. Establish clear boundaries of responsibility There’s few things worse than balls getting dropped simply because no one knew they were responsible for picking things up. Make it clear in your Statement of Work, and any plans developed subsequent, what responsibilities are owned by who.   5. Respect that they are a time based business Agencies are usually time based businesses, billing by the hour. It’s fine if you’d like an hour long conference call with the entire team each week, but this eats of time that people could be using to deliver. Don’t get me wrong – regular communication is very important, but budget for it upfront.   6. Understand and communicate your own objectives clearly, as well as their motivating factors It’s important that your agency clearly understands your objectives and the motivating factors behind them. This isn’t just about aligning with your corporate strategy – it’s about helping you look good by helping you contribute towards meeting that strategy.   7. Deliverables and processes should be iterative – encourage failure where it contributes to future success Throughout the client/agency relationship, you’ll be continually learning through success and failure. Identify and leverage these learnings early, making iterative adjustments that capitalise on them. Just because the SOW states your agency will do something a particular way doesn’t mean that, with your agreement, 6 months from now they should be sticking to the letter if your interests are better served by some adjustment.   8. Flag dissatisfaction early and offer a chance to improve Sometimes agencies don’t get it right – they put the wrong people in place or misunderstand a process or deliverable. When that happens, let them know as soon as possible so that they have a chance to rectify the situation. Letting things simmer beneath the surface until you can’t take anymore can ultimately lead to a time consuming re-pitch that diverts agency resource as well as your time.   9. Don’t let procurement weigh cost greater than capability and creativity You know what you want from your agency, so don’t let the generalists in procurement tell you any different – it’s better to get what you need from the agency you’d prefer to work with than to be saddled with a procurement led decision where cost is the most heavily weighed factor.   10. Recognise that commercial and professional incentives are different Agency people love to do intellectually challenging, creative work. The agencies they work for may very well love the awards that type of work might bring, but are ultimately a commercial entity so are driven by revenue, profitability and margins. Many agency people feel awkward having commercial conversations with their clients – it’s not why most of them joined the industry they’re in – so make it easy: define the amount of time based budget that should be spent on activities upfront.   Like all relationships, those between clients and their agencies take a bit of work but it’s worth a bit of give and take to get this right. (Please note that the opinions expressed in this blog post are entirely my own and may or may not be shared by my employer and/or...

communications is key in the evolution of business models

By on Jul 31, 2014 in fleishmanhillard, public relations, social business |

Most Communications professionals spend their time focusing on tactical executions – crafting outputs and pushing them out hoping that that they’ll create outcomes in the form of events or, if they’re lucky, events that generate patterns. I’ve long argued that the role of Communicators can and should be more strategic. To do that, we need to get involved in the development of structures and new organisational mental models. Findings from FleishmanHillard’s proprietary research on Authenticity identified 9 key drivers of brand authenticity. Only one of those drivers, Credible Communications, is directly under control of the PR and Marketing function. The rest, which include Innovation, Consistent Performance, Better Value, Customer Care, Care of the Environment, Employee Care, etc are mostly the sort of things that are determined at the Structural or Mental Model levels of the business, long before the PR team find out about it. So how does this reinforce my argument that Communications can and should play a more central, strategic role in business? Because we’re the best placed to connect up the dots between what stakeholders want and expect from a brand – through it’s offering but also through it’s behaviour in the World –  and what the brand stands for and communicates about itself. Business models are shifting and approaches that put Communications at the heart of efforts to understand and address that change are the most likely to succeed. The evidence for this is all around us, from crowd-funding to public-private partnerships to the Internet of Things. Here’s what Harvard Business Review recently had to say: “As the Internet of Things (IoT) spreads, the implications for business model innovation are huge. Filling out well-known frameworks and streamlining established business models won’t be enough. To take advantage of new, cloud-based opportunities, today’s companies will need to fundamentally rethink their orthodoxies about value creation and value capture. Value creation, which involves performing activities that increase the value of a company’s offering and encourage customer willingness to pay, is the heart of any business model. In traditional product companies, creating value meant identifying enduring customer needs and manufacturing well-engineered solutions. Competition was largely feature-versus-feature warfare. And when feature innovation eventually proved to be too incremental, price competition would ensue, and products would become obsolete. Two hundred and fifty years after the start of the Industrial Revolution, this pattern of activity plays out every day, at your local big box electronics retailer or department store. But in a connected world, products are no longer one-and-done. Thanks to over-the-air updates, new features and functionality can be pushed to the customer on a regular basis. The ability to track products in use makes it possible to respond to customer behavior. And of course, products can now be connected with other products, leading to new analytics and new services for more effective forecasting, process optimization, and customer service experiences. A variety of consumer products and services, from Nest thermostats to Philips Hue lightbulbs to If This Then That (IFTTT), highlight these new possibilities for IoT-based value creation.” Value creation isn’t just about clever engineering anymore. It’s about creating evidence-based, insights-driven, creatively-led and socially-optimised experiences that are authentic. To do this, brands need to understand audiences, to engage them directly with opportunities to generate shared value, to monitor and react to customer experiences in the real world and in real time. Brands that get this right – brands that realise Communications is the strategic heart of the business of the near future – are likely to...

the past, present and future of social media (or why facebook is pretty much dead to me)

By on Jul 28, 2014 in Uncategorized |

Clearly, as someone who has earned a living off helping brands devise and implement social media strategies for around 15 years, I’m off message with this post. Or am I? Social platforms come and go. I remember setting up my first bulletin board system on an Apple IIe back in the mid-eightys. I clearly recall building a 5000+ person email list on Yahoo Groups in the early 90’s. I ran facilitated web chats with a variety of experts in the mid-90’s. And I created a whole slew of bulletin boards, both personally and professionally, around the same time. I’ve always been an enthusiastic (usually) adopter of just about every social platform to emerge, and sometimes die, from the late 90’s until today. For some time now, I’ve realised that my use of social media has segmented across three distinct use cases, based on my perceptions of time and the usefulness of contacts and communities across it. Let me explain: The Future: I use LinkedIn, almost exclusively, to connect with and keep track of people who, in the future, might be personally or professionally relevant to me. LinkedIn is like a safety net. People I can call upon later to provide support for a project as a freelancer. Who I might want to employ. Who I might want to work with or for. I have friends, as well as professional contacts, there. But the key thing is that I want to stay in touch with contacts on LinkedIn because, if they aren’t relevant today, they might be tomorrow. That and it’s my number one source of professional content, these days. The Present: I use Twitter for the present – through the people I follow, and those who follow me, I learn, in real time, about the world. They aggregate and filter content, then deliver it to me. Twitter has replaced RSS and google alerts for me, and the human filters it applies are, for the most part, better than the technological one’s that proceeded my enthusiasm for the platform. The Past: Facebook has, for a long time, been sort of a storage closet of my past. It’s where I learn, usually after the funeral, of the passing of a friend from years ago. Or of a fundraising effort for a friend in need. Well, that or a fundraising effort by a friend from long ago who wants their mates to finance a charity walk the length of the Great Wall of China. Basically, Facebook is dead to me as a social platform of preference. And it’s not just a personal thing. I’d have a really difficult time, in most instances, recommending that a client focuses their energy, or budget, there. How many brands do you follow on Facebook? What’s the last piece of branded content you engaged with? I’m guessing those two questions are ones that most people, most of the time, wouldn’t be able to answer with any accuracy or conviction. “I loved what brand X posted the other day”. Yeah, right. The thing is, on LinkedIn, where your professional reputation is at stake, a like means,”share this industry news with people who I might, now or later in life, have a commercial or industry related interest in connecting with.” It has meaning. On Twitter, a re-tweet is an expression of interest, maybe professional, possibly personal. A nod to collaborative filtering and sharing. Again, it has meaning. On Facebook, a like is more of a bookmark of something you might wish to go back to later, or possibly a nod that you’ve seen something, but not necessarily a sign that you wished to share that content, saw value in it, or agreed. I realise, probably more than most, that Facebook is the dominant social network. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a bit shit. To me, anyway, it’s like Friend’s Reunited – a curiosity to those who care about the past, but not something that will have much value to those focused on the now or the future.      ...