Today we are publishing the interview of Andrea San Pedro, PR freelance consultant and founder of ASP Public Relations with extensive experience in PR and brand management. First trained as a journalist, before working in-house and in PR agencies, that's the birth of her first child and the imperatives of maternity which made her decide to change her path and leave the corporate world to go Freelance. Having worked on both sides in various industries, her tips are very valuable for any PR who would like to go freelance. Read her story!
1. Tell us about you and your professional background
I’ve been in the PR industry for 14 years. I’ve worked both in-house and in agencies on everything from finance products to a renowned sex therapist. Originally, I trained as a journalist, and occasionally I still do write op-eds and thought pieces in national press. I also used to write erotic short fiction for a racy monthly women’s magazine, which is no longer in publication. Currently, I manage the publicity and reputations of startups, supporting growing businesses in various sectors – from education, AI and fitness to the elderly care sector and children’s publishing. I’ve worked long enough in the industry to understand that job satisfaction really comes from collaborating with businesses whose purpose and ethics resonate with yours.
2. How did you get into PR and ultimately become a freelancer?
I initially came into freelance life after just two years working in-house at a stocks and shares firm behind the Bank of England. It had been my first job. My employers – a predominantly male-run company – wanted me to come back to work six weeks after giving birth. Instead, I chose the insecurity of self-employment and handed in my resignation during my maternity leave, using it as an opportunity to expand my PR expertise beyond the finance sector and into consumer brands, which I found more enjoyable, and striving to achieve success on my own terms whilst still being present for my baby boy.
It was a frightening time; freelancing is something that more senior consultants do in order to command more money and strike a better work-life balance within an industry that is neither family-friendly nor dominated by working parents. Freelance life is not for everyone, but some of my proudest career achievements have come from work and campaigns that I have conceived and generated myself.
After an initial four years freelancing through my own agency, I re-entered regular salaried life working at a large Soho-based advertising agency. I was lured by the perks of working on big budgets with big brands who were open to big creative ideas, unlike risk-averse SMEs. I also missed the culture of having work colleagues and Christmas parties but it wasn’t enough to sustain my long term career vision; I reverted to freelance life just over two years later when I couldn’t strike a work/life balance and was unhappy in the role. I have been my own boss, ever since.
3. What services do you generally provide your clients?
A retained press office is usually the norm; I’d develop a strategy aligned to a client’s business objectives, set the deliverables and then implement and deliver on the plan. Some businesses like stunts and engagement via events; others prefer targeted thought leadership, so I’d personally interview them as a journalist would, write up a narrative, identify news angles, cobble together synopses and then pitch these to editors.
I’ve written thought leadership pieces on everything, from the future of AI on behalf of an expert who actually has a PhD in AI & Robotics, to the lack of diverse social representation within greeting cards for an independent publisher. I also work with clients on a project-by-project basis – such as the publicity around the launch of a product or the closing of a significant funding round; it all depends on the client’s budget, their objectives and how fast they want to achieve their goals. Ultimately, I work with startups long term and until they are big enough and established enough to require full-time in-house PR help.
4. How do you find new clients?
Mainly word of mouth recommendations. I work with a lot of entrepreneurs who might be part of an incubator or accelerator programme, and often other startup founders would see my clients getting lots of high profile coverage and fancy getting a bit of the limelight too. Some of my best connections are also angel investors, so I get referrals that way, and sometimes from journalists and editors I’ve become friends with over the years.
In the early days, when I was re-establishing myself as an independent consultant, I would draw up a wishlist of potential desirable clients and proactively approach them. I’ve won business quite a few times using the cold-email method, so it’s worth persisting but it’s not my chosen avenue for obtaining new business. However, the method works well when you’re personable and non-salesy. I’ve also acquired new clients via business networking groups. It’s worth attending these; you never know who you’ll meet.
5. What’s the piece of work you’re proudest of?
I’ve worked on huge award-winning PR campaigns before agency-side, but the best reward is really from clients saying that one single piece of coverage yielded dividends for them in terms of new business acquisition and opportunities, keynote speaker invitations and increased recruitment drive.
One client – a tech startup that is endeavouring to innovate the elderly care sector - recently shared with me a screengrab of his inbox the day after a strong piece of profile coverage was published in the Evening Standard. There were reams and reams of emails with all sorts of new business and speaker opportunities, as well as genuine heartfelt notes from members of the public who just wanted to commend him on his venture and the social issues his solution was trying to address. It was overwhelming and he simply conceded that “PR definitely works!” Even now, it’s the piece of coverage that keeps on giving; they’ve recently been shortlisted as a finalist for the Evening Standard Business Award SME and Start-Up of the Year 2019. Also, getting coverage for a fitness app client in Vogue – the style bible of the world - has made me rather proud.
6. What has been the biggest challenge in your freelance career so far?
The biggest challenge and bugbear of most freelance and self-employed people is surely getting paid on time, and ensuring financial fluidity when you don’t. Once, I had a client who didn’t pay me for six months, and it nearly destroyed me. I learnt that you have to be choosy with which businesses you work with; you must vet them for reliability and integrity of character in order to make an educated assessment on whether they’ll be an ideal client. There are plenty of businesses out there who treat the small guys with disrespect. There is no place for those kinds of people in an enterprise.
7. What makes you keep doing it? What do you love about what you do?
When you get a good piece of coverage, you get what I call a PR-gasm. The thrill is addictive, the achievement is satisfying but only transient, so you feel compelled to go back for more. Freelancing has afforded me a comfortable lifestyle where I have earnt more money than I ever would in a senior consultant salaried role, but the most important thing is that I have achieved this off my own back, on my own terms, and have still been around to see my young family grow. I can do the school run, apportion some time to fitness and well-being, and choose to work with teams and clients who are good people, with good businesses, and with good ethics and values. That kind of freedom and autonomy has a cost, but when circumstances work out, it is liberating.
8. What are your top tips for aspiring PR consultants?
Read every day, never stop learning. Write and continue to hone and fine-tune this skill. It’s unbelievable the number of PRs out there who cannot write compelling copy. Remain curious about the world and people, as that’s where your reserves of creativity will pool and collect. Be hungry and determined to succeed and realise you are accountable for both your successes and your failures; you can, of course, learn from the latter and it will make you a better and humbler consultant. Never be disingenuous. If you can help it, work with brands and businesses you genuinely believe in and admire.
Some of my most notable career crises came from the soulless task of placing electrical white goods like kettles and fridges in Top 10 product round-ups and then tearing my hair out when journalists preferred to feature product from Amazon or John Lewis instead of ‘Britain’s largest electrical retailer’. Life is just too short. Don’t use hackneyed industry slang like ‘drill-down’, ‘deep dive’, ‘low hanging fruit’ with your colleagues and definitely not with journalists. Work hard, use your smarts, but then also understand that PR can be a relentless, thankless industry sometimes, and even if you have the right news angle and the perfect pitch, success is often governed by the lack of good timing and external events that are largely out of your control.
9. What average rate do you charge your clients?
Around £350 / £375 per day, but I have worked for significantly less for clients I’ve really liked and whose product and business I really believed in.