Interview with freelance legal PR Antonia Welch
Find out how Antonia launched a successful freelance PR career in 2014 after a mammoth career break spanning almost exactly a decade.
What’s your career background?
My background is corporate PR. My first role was in the press office of an international property company before moving into the legal sector where I worked at two City law firms.
My career is a little topsy-turvy in that most PRs initially gain experience in agencies before moving in-house. As a freelance PR, I now effectively operate as a boutique agency. As well as having my own clients, I also work closely with a great PR agency so this has filled the agency gap on my CV.
What inspired you to set up a freelancer?
While I had always hoped to resume my career, a move out of London to the south coast and a third child made a return to the workplace seem like only a remote possibility.
Realising that a long daily commute would be not be possible, I turned to freelancing after being inspired by a previous colleague who is now my mentor. Without her encouragement I’m not sure I would have found the courage to make my first cold call.
What do you enjoy most about your role as a legal PR?
Although a very niche area, I am fortunate that the work of a legal PR is so varied. On a day-to-day basis I work with a wide variety of lawyers ranging from corporate teams through to divorce specialists and white collar crime experts.
Clients tend to be very bright and at the top of their game so it is also rewarding to work in such a stimulating environment. I also enjoy the buzz of dealing with journalists on national newspapers who are often working on breaking news stories.
I still get exactly the same thrill when I secure a great piece of media coverage for a client as I did in my first PR role two decades ago. In the long run, good communication can drive real business results so it is rewarding to play a key part of this process.
What’s your USP?
Although I’ve come across several marketers specialising in the legal sector, I’ve only come across one other freelance PR who works exclusively with lawyers and barristers. Consequently, I have developed real expertise in the legal marketplace, my niche area.
Clients also benefit from the consistency provided by one point of contact. Having said that, there will always be a place for PR agencies and I would never claim to be able to offer the same breath of service as some of the larger agencies working in the professional services space.
What was it like returning to work after a ten year career break?
Absolutely terrifying! Like many stay at home mothers, I had lost confidence and it would be an understatement to say I was forced to leave my comfort zone. To a certain extent I was lucky that my old PR skills enabled me to set up as a freelancer but the old adage, “you make your own luck” also rings too.
Sheer guts and determination got me through the early stages. Four years later my confidence has soared and I hope to instill a strong work ethic in my children.
While the fundamentals of being a successful PR are exactly the same, the sector had moved on in the decade I’d been out of the workplace. For example, Linkedin and was only in its infancy when I left the workforce in 2004 and Twitter didn’t even exist so a crash self-taught course in social media became an initial priority.
On personal level, I had underestimated the impact working would have on my home life. Although my return to the workplace has been hugely rewarding, things have slipped at home. The school holidays can be challenging and there are occasions when my children are forced to entertain themselves although this is arguably no bad thing in an age when children are often over timetabled.
What are you top three pieces of career advice?
- Network – networking with old colleagues and contacts made me realise that a new career as a consultant/freelancer would enable me to combine working with family life. Networking, via Linkedin, also led to my first piece of freelance work.
- Believe in yourself – after a long time at home, a lack of self-esteem is perhaps the biggest stumbling block for many mothers. Remember that skills learnt at home such as multi-tasking, a sense of perspective and maturity will be valued by employers. If you aren’t ready to look for a job, try volunteering as a way to build confidence.
- Have fun – perhaps the biggest surprise of my return to work, is how much I’ve enjoyed it.Although relatively little has changed, it has been fascinating to re-join the corporate world after such a long break and working alongside people, such as millennials, a group I never really came across as a fulltime mother.