Life, liberty and the pursuit of work

4 Jul

This is personal. While I wanted to write it ('I write therefore I think') I'm not necessarily so keen on you reading it.

(Here's how to do it well: a graceful statement showing how to move from one job to another.)

In my case, I'm leaving one job for several, and it's happening over an extended period. Had I been primarily motivated by money or by status, I'd certainly have stayed put.

Money first. Don't assume because it's not a motivator that I don't need it. I'm a borrower not a saver, and am still anxious about money most of the time. It's just that money doesn't go higher for me than the base 'food and shelter' level in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's not an end in itself; my self-esteem is not at stake. That said, will I have food and shelter should I live to be 90? Will people close to me be adeqately provided for should I die at 50 (it happens)?

Status next. This is very easy for me. I'm just not bothered at all about titles or name plates above office doors. They're not a motivator – especially in a world where it's easy for an individual to express an identity outside their organisational role. Again, I recognise that my attitude can be self-defeating. I was surprised at how many times I was approached by head-hunters when I was the (interim) PR manager for a very well-known software company. Others were evidently drawn to the title; titles are magnets attracting attention, fame and fortune even. But still I'm not motivated – I suspect because of the ties that bind.

So what's my driving force? In a university, I'm surrounded by people who respect left-side of brain reason (and sometimes undervalue emotional factors). For me, decisions about the future have to be emotional and intuitive because the future is largely unknowable.

One factor is longevity. Six years in one role feels a long time for me (it's longer than I've worked for any other organisation). Organisations provide security and community; they should provide constant new challenges. But they can also constrain the spirit in ways that have people longing for retirement.

Then there's the question of size. We often cite numbers of employees as an indication of success (on the assumption that big is best). It sometimes is – but look what happened to the dinosaurs. Evolution suggests that smaller organisms were more adaptable in times of change.

Change is happening (it always has). Again, its effects are unpredictable, but I can point to some trends. The years of easy growth in mass higher education are coming to an end, but education and training will play an even more important role across a working lifetime. Technology is a factor – both in delivery and in challenging the legitimacy of organisations. That more than anything was the message in Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody.

I have form. I left my first PR consultancy job after five good years and spent the following ten as an independent practitioner. I'd joined a small, specialist independent – Aeberhard and Partners which became A Plus Group during my time there. Subsequently it was known as Brodeur, then Pleon and now it's being merged with Ketchum. I'm sure this growth strategy brought benefits, but I knew that I was better suited to the early phase of this business.

Now for two breakthrough moments. The first was the advice from someone close to me to stop looking for jobs and to start looking for work. Good advice in a world in which jobs are becoming scarce but work is always abundant.

The second was the search for role models. When I think of the people I admire occupying a similar space in the PR educational ecosystem, many of them operate outside of institutions and job titles. They have work, but not necessarily jobs. They comfortably operate across the boundaries between university education, consultancy, professional qualifications and training – and they write books (and blogs) too. I greatly admire (for what they do and for the way that they do it): Michael Bland, Paul Noble, David Phillips and Heather Yaxley (to name just a few, in alphabetical order).

This is a long preamble to stating that I'm leaving a full-time job at Leeds Metropolitan University for a part-time job at the much smaller University of Gloucestershire. For the university part of my week I'll be teaching and supporting undergradaute students; for the other part of my week I'll be educating professionals towards the CIPR Diploma qualification. There should be time for other unpredictable educational, consultancy or writing projects too.

Happy Independents Day!

8 Responses to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of work”

  1. Philip 04/07/2009 at 8:44 pm #

    Enjoy your Independancy!

  2. David Phillips 05/07/2009 at 11:13 am #

    Hi Richard
    Thanks for the role model mention, I would be happy to include Heather and Michael and Paul on my list too.
    Its is a great adventure and, here, at Bledcom, there are a number of others that can be added to that list including Jon White.
    It would seem to be a risky move, but in my experience, it is very rewarding and huge fun.

  3. Greg Smith 06/07/2009 at 2:52 am #

    Enjoy your freedom, Richard. I’m also moving on at the end of the year, back to PR, but with some uni work. Might get time to write a book. Nah, I like surfing too much.

  4. Edwin Galvez 16/07/2009 at 10:50 am #

    I’m just browsing over the Net on independent PR consultancy for my graduate school talk next week and came across your blog. Very inspiring. I’ve been a freelance consultant for almost a decade now and it’s been both tough and easy for me. Anyway, I’d like to know how independent consultants are doing in UK or US and if there are recent studies that point to a growing number of PR practitioners doing independent consultancy or if more clients are hiring consultants more or switching to them from having a PR agency, whether big or small? Thanks.

  5. Richard Bailey 16/07/2009 at 6:42 pm #

    I’m not aware of any academic studies into this, but here’s what I think has been happening for the past decade.
    1998-2008 (approximately): size and scope have been important in the PR consultancy business, driven by two factors: the need to provide a global service to larger clients and the need to provide integrated marketing services.
    What happens next? It seems a fair assumption that this bubble has burst, along with the economic boom. Now, in recessionary times, I predict a reversion to ‘small is beautiful’ in place of ‘big is better’.
    I suspect there will be more pickings for small, independent specialists and that the large global full-service agencies will scale back (there’s some evidence of this in recent results from WPP).
    But the picture will depend on what happens to in-house teams: if they remain substantial, they will take on some of the work of consultants. If they downsize, more work will be outsourced to consultants. Independent practitioners have an added option: to go in-house on short-term contracts to meet short-term demand.
    I think this is a time for fleetness and flexibility.

  6. Rob Skinner 21/07/2009 at 1:25 pm #

    Belated congratulations, Richard! I’ve long enjoyed your blog – perceptive, interesting and insightful. Good luck in your new adventure – Gloucestershire is a lovely part of the world (I worked in Cheltenham for six years).

  7. Stuart Pearcey 22/07/2009 at 3:39 pm #

    Richard’s assessment is spot on. For me, small has always been beautiful, and furthermore I think that larger companies have always contained individuals who believe that too.
    It’s my experience that most clients are reassured by long relationships with independent PR professionals, so long as the independents work hard to ensure the remains relationship fresh, and keep coming up with new ideas alongside a ‘can do, will do’ attitude.
    There is comfort for the financial people in larger organisations in not having the substantial oncosts that come with larger in-house teams; they love the opportunity to get better value for their money, especially because they can see how it’s being spent. And that’s enhanced when you consider that by having microscopic overheads, unfettered by the expensive that comes with being a large, London-based agency, for example, an independent can still make a comfortable living.
    And finally, many congratulations on your shift of professional direction, Richard. I’m sure it will pay off. Full marks too to the CIPR; meeting potential clients in the organisation’s members rooms lifts professional credibility enormously…

  8. Stuart Pearcey 22/07/2009 at 3:41 pm #

    … or indeed that the relationship remains fresh; the quickness of the hand once more defies the eye, and the brain, in this instance.

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