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Interview | 20 Feb 2020

From journalism to PR, Damien's story

Posted in PR and Communications, Freelancer, Motivation & inspiration, Freelancer's stories,

Freelance member Damien Fletcher, ex-Daily Mirror journalist and transitioned PR specialist shares with us how he works with clients after moving to Mexico and sheds light on his interesting career journey.

Being an ex-Daily Mirror feature writer for 10 years, how easy was the transition to PR?

It was a big challenge. Journalists had a tendency to be rather arrogant about PR, thinking it would be a doddle to go straight into the industry. But I soon learned that it’s important to respect the steep learning curve you are bound to experience.

As print newspaper sales plummeted, many journalists decided to attempt a new career in PR. I had often been told I should consider it because I had a habit of “selling things” that I’m passionate about to my friends. My approach, after an honest conversation with my managing editor about my new career aspirations, was to meet the two PR agencies supplying me with the best stories – Taylor Herring and House PR – and ask to work for them as a consultant.

They both gave me a chance, so I started working night shifts at the Daily Mirror and did my PR work during the days. I enjoyed it and the agencies were pleased with the results. I wrote punchy press releases for one of them and brainstormed big ideas for the other. But the truth is that I was an absolute beginner in that world.

It was only when I actually got a full-time job at Pearson VUE, the global computer-based testing company, that I actually learned how to do PR properly. They wanted to hire an ex-journalist and were kind enough to invest in me, so I attended many Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR) courses and workshops. By the time I left the company five years later, I had been successful in every aspect of the profession – from creating long term PR plans to writing every kind of content including white papers, and handling crisis comms.

Many of my journalistic skills and experience helped me a great deal, but that CIPR training was crucial in transforming me from a daily newspaper journalist to a global PR manager.

What advice would you offer freelancers in The Work Crowd network or to those considering a new, self-employed lifestyle? What benefits have you seen?

I had been a freelance journalist a very long time ago and that helped me a lot. I found that I was spending 80 percent of my time working from home as an employee, and I had many internal “clients” at the companies I worked at in my global PR manager roles, so making the step to being a freelancer was surprisingly natural.

I behaved the same as I had done while employed: listening carefully to clients, creating and agreeing a PR plan, then executing it while communicating clearly and often. The big difference is that I had to charge for my time, but this has not been an issue so far. It is all about communication and respect for me. I want to behave like a member of their team and I care passionately about getting great results.

It has been a rewarding experience so far and I am very glad I made the move to a freelance life.

How have you tackled working collaboratively with clients in a remote environment in order to ensure consistent communication?

My particular challenge is that I not only went freelance but also emigrated to Mexico! But again, I had worked with colleagues in different time zones for years, so this was nothing new to me.

As a journalist, it was drummed into me to be contactable at all times. I know that clients appreciate this a lot, so I give them multiple ways to stay in touch: email, Google Hangouts, Skype, Slack, WhatsApp, virtual phone numbers. If I need to work at a certain time, for example pitching to UK newspapers at 3am, I am happy to do it. It’s not like I have to do that every day, and I am being paid for my time.

You are currently working with a few clients through The Work Crowd. Can you share any insights on the types of briefs you are working on and how you are adapting your strategies to coincide with their goals?

I have always thrived on variety in my working life. Working at the Daily Mirror, for example, was like having a different job every day due to the huge diversity of stories I would pursue and write.

Working as a freelance PR consultant has been equally thrilling. I have covered b2b and b2c PR ranging from pure writing and pitching to creating and executing entire long term PR plans for clients across multiple sectors.

Each client has completely different needs and working methods so it is important to listen carefully so that I can succeed for them.

What are some key highlights in your career?

At the Daily Mirror I clearly remember my two favourite stories: interviewing Gordon Brown when he became Prime Minister and getting a huge exclusive interview with the eccentric British artists Gilbert & George.

The Gordon Brown interview was particularly memorable due to the near-heart attack inducing stress it caused me. To make things even more difficult for myself, I had arranged for people representing different strands of society to visit 10 Downing Street with me and give him a grilling. I was halfway there in my taxi when I got a menacing call from the deputy editor informing me that a teacher could not attend because her train had been delayed by a flood and I had to replace her quickly or the story would not work. I stopped at every school on the way trying to grab a teacher and persuade them to meet the PM immediately. I got lucky on the third attempt and all was well that ended well.

The Gilbert & George interview was fabulous for me because everyone wanted to speak to them about their huge Tate Modern exhibition and I spent two weeks faxing them (they don’t use a phone!) before they finally said yes when I knocked on their door. They allowed me to wear their self-designed clothes and live a day in their lives, walking together around London, whilst carrying out the interview. They signed a huge photo of the three of us as a gift because they loved the finished article so much.

In PR, my most exciting project was creating a B2B and B2C campaign for a new driving theory test service for Pearson VUE in France on a very tiny budget with a lot of pressure to succeed. We had to act like a start-up company with a new brand, and it was a huge stretch for me – using many marketing tactics I had never even experienced before – but crucially it was a huge success. We ended up with coverage in several national newspapers and magazines after creating a huge buzz with events, PR, social media and YouTube influencers.

Right now I am really thrilled to be working with some fantastic clients thanks to The Work Crowd and I can honestly say I am greatly impressed by the quality of your service and the professionalism of your team.