A couple of recent blog posts by people who I admire and respect have made me think about my own career.
First Paul Sutton wrote ‘Painting yourself into a corner’ about pivoting his business and following the advice “Carve yourself a niche” and “Focus on and become known for one thing”.
Next Euan Semple wrote ‘On not having a job’ about the difficulty of describing what he did and about the “nagging doubt” of self-employment and being part of the ‘gig economy’.
Both of these posts rang true for me as they have similarities with my own situation.
Many people I know, even professionally, don’t really know what I do. Most know it’s ‘PR’ or communications. Many think it’s digital PR and social media. Some know I am a trainer. Some know I do consultancy. But that doesn’t really reflect what I actually do and what I want to do.
Two phrases that leapt out of Paul’s post were “you wouldn’t be interested in this” or “you’re too senior for this work”. I hear both of those. The other is “you’ll be too busy for something like this”.
This article is about clarifying for you (and for me) what I do and how I might be able to help you.
I help you modernise your public relations and communications
What do you specialise in?
As I’ve been in public relations since 1989 I’ve had an opportunity to do just about everything including corporate, business-to-business and consumer PR.
However, today the aspects where I do the most work are:
- Public relations and communication strategy
- PR and communications measurement and evaluation
- Digital public affairs and corporate communications
- Crisis communications and planning
- Corporate digital and social media – there are lots of people doing this in the consumer space, but not very many doing it in the corporate space
- Digital transformation and innovation – which sounds like the sort of jargon I hate, but is a good way of summarising that most of the biggest changes in the first four in this list are to do with digital technology.
So you see, I’m not just that ‘digital PR’ or ‘social media’ guy as that’s not even what I do most of these days.
What do you do for clients?
I help you to modernise your PR, corporate communications and public affairs in two ways – PR consultancy and PR training.
Public relations consultancy can take many guises as it depends on what clients need help with. Sometimes clients have already identified a need and just want help in improving their professional practice.
For others it will be to conduct a more thorough review or audit of in-house PR teams and PR agencies to look at absolutely every aspect of how they work and identify areas for development and modernisation. I then help the client to change either by working directly with them or by bringing in other senior professionals who specialise in it (those are the associates part of Stuart Bruce Associates).
The PR consultancy is usually to support and improve corporate communications and public affairs, although for PR agencies I also work on more consumer focused issues and campaigns.
Typical projects might include creating a new communication measurement and evaluation framework or developing a new crisis communications plan. Or it might be identifying where digital can be embedded right across the team to improve performance and effectiveness.
Typically the output from a consultancy project will be a report analysing the current situation and making a series of recommendations. The outcome will be improved professional practices that more closely align with international best practice and are focused on using public relations and corporate communications to deliver tangible impact on business objectives.
Sometimes I also help clients to implement the recommendations in the report, sometimes they are able to do this themselves or working with their existing PR agencies.
Public relations training is delivered either directly to in-house and PR agency clients or through third party professional and trade bodies or commercial training companies. In-house courses are typically bespoke and designed around the needs of the in-house team. Sometimes the need is already identified by the client and other times I will conduct an audit to identify what skills will provide the most business benefit. Typical courses include:
- The ‘future’ – how public relations and communications is changing and what you need to do to keep up
- Measurement and evaluation of communications and public relations
- Crisis communication planning and management
- Digital public affairs and lobbying
- Integrated communication strategy and PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned)
- Content management – content marketing and corporate storytelling for PR and corporate communications
- Digital media relations – using social and digital to improve traditional media relations
- Digital and social media for internal communications and employee engagement
- Digital and social media for public relations and communications
As well as the in-house and bespoke courses I also deliver versions of some of these courses through third parties including the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and the Institute of Internal Communications, as well as similar organisations in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Usually if you want a course for more than three people it’s better to do it in-house, if it’s just for one or two then one of my third party courses is the most cost effective option.
The third strand to my work is speaking at conferences all over the world on similar topics to my consultancy and training work. Every talk is bespoke and created specifically for the audience at that conference. For many of the talks I’m a paid speaker, but I also speak pro bono (for expenses only) at some events if they meet some key eligibility rules.
Some of the conferences I’ve spoken at include the World Communication Forum in Davos, the International Crisis Communication Summit of the International Air Transport Association in Istanbul, the European Lotteries Association in Zagreb, the World Conference on Public Relations in Emerging Economies in Kenya and the Economic Times Corporate Communication Summit in Mumbai.
Who do you work for?
My clients are typically either:
- In-house PR and communications teams at big companies (although not always huge or listed as I also work for smaller, private companies) and government departments.
- PR, communications and public affairs agencies. I’ve worked with lots of small and large independent agencies, as well as agencies that are part of big groups such as Interpublic, Publicis and WPP.
Countries include India, Belgium (the EU in various guises including agencies and parliament), Kazakhstan, Georgia, Kenya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Poland, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Switzerland and Turkey.
I’ve never worked in South America, Australia or New Zealand so if you have a consultancy or training gig anywhere there then I’d love to hear from you!
Will you work for me?
It depends! To be honest I do turn lots of work down if ethically it doesn’t work for me, if it doesn’t seem interesting or if budgets are too low. But I also take on work that sometimes surprises me that I’m doing it.
And despite turning work down, I do have capacity to do more work, so if you think I might be able to help you then just ask. I know that sometimes people do want to work with me, but dismiss me as I think I won’t be interested or will be too busy.
If you are interested then get in touch and we can have an honest conversation and see if there is a way to make it work. I’ll be honest. I’m probably not going to be your cheapest option, but if we decide to work together then I’ll work my hardest to ensure I’m the best value option.
A common issue for many people who work for themselves is that work doesn’t come in a steady flow. Tell me about it! Mine is frequently feast or famine. Some of my clients have set up a training budget with me, which enables them to get the spend into one budget year, while choosing training dates that work for their business and team, and my schedule.
What’s a typical project?
There isn’t a typical project so I’ll share with you some examples of the things I’ve done to help you imagine how I can help you:
- Two day measurement and evaluation workshop for the PR teams of a prime minister and cabinet ministers.
- Developing a measurement and evaluation framework for a $10 billion conglomerate that can be used across a myriad of different industry sectors.
- Creating a crisis communications plan for a US pharmaceutical company.
- Delivering a training and development programme for the Middle East arm of an international public relations consultancy.
- Half day workshop on measurement and evaluation for a Russell Group university.
- Digital public affairs plan and implementation for a global engineering company.
- One day workshop on measurement and evaluation for a large UK-based charity.
- Developing and implementing a social media crisis response for a large international insurance company.
- Future of PR and communications workshop for the in-house PR team of every country for an international health retail brand.
- One-to-one mentoring and coaching for the global head of communications for a government agency with an international remit.
- Crisis communication training for the PR team of a UK government agency.
What does Stuart want to do next?
The appeal of getting a real job is limited for me. I love the freedom that self-employment brings. It doesn’t rule out a full-time job, but it would need to be one with enough flexibility about days and locations. I don’t mind travelling. My type of clients and work mean I’m away a lot. Often in London, but especially overseas.
But when I’m not away I’m working from home with all the flexibility that brings. I can take my daughter to school and collect her. If I’m sitting at my desk, without a deadline and not getting anywhere with the job in hand I can just stop. I can go for a walk. Read a book. Watch TV. Play on the Xbox (Assassin’s Creed titles are my favourites). Play a PC game (Total War titles are my favourites).
There are downsides. Not being part of a team and experiencing its highs and lows. Not often seeing the results of my work as I help to plan and initiate, but then move on before all the benefits are visible.
I’m very happy with my mix of consultancy and training, but would love for it not to have so many peaks and troughs. Every year since I started in 2011 has been great and I’ve earned more than I did the year before, despite never really doing any new business development activity.
My ideal work/life balance scenario which will help resolve the downsides of self-employment are:
- A non-executive director role with a PR, communications or public affairs agency. I’ve had discussions with a few, but none where I felt it was the right fit and I could offer the right value to help them improve and grow.
- Or an associate or consultancy role with a PR agency where I commit two to five days a month for a fixed fee.
- A non-executive director role with a start-up. Again I’ve had discussions, but none where we both wanted to pursue it.
- More bespoke in-house and PR agency training projects.
- More ‘modernising PR’ consultancy gigs where I audit an in-house team to identify where it can develop new skills and processes and then help them achieve that change.
What do you do next?
You can see my recently refreshed business website at www.stuartbruce.eu, which is still a work in progress with more to be added.
Bravo if you’ve read this far. Surely it means you’re at least interested in potentially working with me. So why not drop me an email or give me a call on 07852 135456?