Looking for the right freelance consultant? Call The PR Cavalry

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Nigel Sarbutts started a brilliant service for SMEs and business owners called The PR Cavalry. It’s like Booking.com for clients in need of PR freelancers with a deep understanding of their market and relevant skill sets. It’s somewhere between a search engine and a dating agency, Nigel jokes.

Nigel shared a glowing testimonial from a client about one of the consultants listed on The PR Calvary. This was a client in the PPE or Personal Protective Equipment market, which is a very crowded market, and so they came to the platform to find a freelancer who could help them start a business. In only a day and a half of work, this freelancer was able to get them on national TV, get them impressive international press media coverage, and a huge number of specialist market titles as well. It was on the back of knowing the market, having great contacts in the media, and then, without any fuss or fanfare, just getting right down to it. That’s what clients want. They want somebody whom they don’t have to explain how their market works. They want someone who understands right away what is needed to be done and can pick up the phone and speak to journalists that can make it happen. For the client, it was an amazing investment of a rather small amount of money for some amazing results in the media.

The perks of hiring a freelancer over an agency

When it comes to money, on the whole, clients and SMEs are really wary about agencies coming up with big-ticket consulting fees. Nigel’s had clients who approached relatively small agencies, and those clients were told that unless they were willing to pay the agency a retainer of £3,000 or more a month, then there wasn’t much they could do for them. Meanwhile, freelancers could be charging £400 a day, and that’s five, six, or seven days a month of work from a freelancer who is experienced and also very invested in the results, because they can’t pass the work on to anybody else. Freelancers will always give an honest appraisal of what’s achievable, because only they are there to deliver it. For the investment of £400 or £500 a day, the upside is getting somebody with at least 10 years of experience in the market and has complete dedication to getting the task done and doing it well, and it’s difficult for agencies to compete against that. Freelancers are able to benefit from low fixed costs, and while any business has overhead, a freelancer is an extraordinarily cost-efficient way to get an expert working for you with minimal overhead.

Nigel says that of the 1,600 freelancers on their platform, around 95% are from the UK. Within that, as you can imagine, they have anything and everything on there. He reckons they’ve got about around 12-15% of the freelance market registered on their platform. So, if you can’t find what you’re looking for in 1,600 people, then you probably have got a really unusual niche. They have had unique or very specific briefs that they’ve been able to match with extra diligence, but it’s the algorithm that fuels the business. The matching algorithm between what the client wants and the skill sets of the freelancers that they’ve indexed is very accurate. They very rarely find that the client comes to them, searches the platform, and finds no matches. It just doesn’t happen, according to Nigel.

What can The PR Cavalry offer?

When it comes to how a client would find a freelancer on PR Cavalry, the approach is similar to that of Booking.com where you input your criteria into the search engine and then the algorithm does the matching. A client would go on their website and say, for instance, “I want somebody who knows the DIY sector. And within that, I want somebody who has done blogger outreach, or event management, or copywriting, or has profiled a CEO.” There are different types of PR work, just like hiring a lawyer. There are lawyers who specialize in divorce, property, crime, and so on, so for PR, it’s not always simply, “I need a PR person.” Quite often, businesses struggle with this. They say they want someone to do their PR work, but it doesn’t have that extra level of narrowing down. Clients need to specify what they want, because The PR Cavalry has nearly 30 types of different PR and communications activity that a client can indicate.

The PR Cavalry makes it easy for clients to articulate their needs, which produces a much better outcome. When that first contact between the client and the freelancer takes place, it’s a meeting of minds, because they’ve matched very precisely between what the client’s got in mind through some simple drop-down menus on their platform and what the freelancer is able to provide. There are benefits to both parties in the way that they work, and it’s all driven by a simple front-end on the platform. It doesn’t take an expert in PR to work it, just as you don’t have to be a travel agent to know what you want when you go into Booking.com to book your vacation. As long as there is a clear idea, The PR Cavalry makes it very easy for the system to understand that and match it precisely to find at least one in 1,600 people who could possibly be the person you’re looking for. 

Nigel’s background is PR. He’s run agencies and he’s been a freelancer, so he’s been a buyer and a seller of freelance services. It was seeing both sides of the coin that gave him the inspiration for PR Cavalry as well as knowing that there is this huge talent pool of freelancers out there. But for most people, it’s invisible. It’s very hard to know where the talent is, and so clients end up putting a shout-out on LinkedIn, asking around, or fishing around for business cards that they may have. It’s a very haphazard way, and Nigel thought, “In an era where we expect everything to be searchable and there will be instant results, there’s got to be a way of matching the two sides, the need with the availability,” so that’s what they set out to do two years ago. They built the shop, and then they had to stock the shelves. They spent a long time building up that talent pool to the point where they were confident that pretty much any client search could be matched within their resources.

The PR Cavalry been open to clients for searches for around a year and a half. And in that time, they’ve had around 300 assignments go through the platform, and they want that to increase. Everybody took a hit at the start of the year with COVID, but Nigel says it’s surprising how much work is coming back to the platform now. They feel buoyant about the future, because they believe that as the economy feels its way back to the “new normal,” people are going to take baby steps. They want to have flexible resources on tap rather than take the plunge. People are hopefully going to commit to a big investment in people as a resource, so having talent that you can dial up and dial down with very low risk and in a very cost efficient way positions The PR Cavalry at the right place at the right time. That’s certainly borne out of the number of client briefs that are now coming back onto the platform.

In terms of their business model, Nigel says there is no mechanism in their model for them to charge a client for what they do. They are free: free to search and free to hire through the platform. The way that they make money is when the client pays the freelancer’s invoice for the work, they take 10% from the freelancer, not the client. This way, they are creating value for the freelancer in work finding them possibly while they’re doing something else, so they can devote more time to actually working and less time hunting for work which is expensive for a freelancer. And because of that precise matching, it’s very profitable work, because it’s right in their sweet spot of what they do best. For the client, they are an inversion of the traditional recruiter model where normally, a client would pay to be matched to somebody. But on PR Cavalry, they charge no fees at all to use their platform to hire anyone. Of course, clients love that, because they’re getting access to a huge search for talent pool at no cost.

PR is not only for big businesses

There’s this perception that only big companies can do PR, but even SMEs and owner-operated businesses need the marketing support too. Nigel says that most of the work comes directly from SME business owners or SME marketing managers, because freelancers add huge amounts of value to their business. A very time-hassled SME marketing manager simply doesn’t have the time or the resources to have a big black book of contacts or freelancers. These are the people posting on LinkedIn or looking around haphazardly for support, and they’re in a position that is time-pressured. That can lead to a problem, and that’s why they call The PR Cavalry. When people are pressed for time and trying to find an expert, those two things can be in conflict, and that can lead to hiring the wrong people.

A lot of clients can be dissatisfied with using PR, because it wasn’t quite what they wanted. Nigel believes that the root of that problem is not speaking to the right person, or the right person wasn’t available to them to hire at the time when they needed it. That’s what The PR Cavalry is trying to solve. If 10 names are presented to you five seconds after you’ve hit “Search” on their platform, then they’ve solved that problem. They’ve given you a list of 10 people that are able to do the job, and then it’s up to you to decide which of those 10 you want to have a further conversation with to dig deeper into their skills, and for that freelancer to dig deeper into exactly what you need, so that they can come up with a plan and proposal which is right for the budget, right for the task, and also right for human chemistry. 

The algorithm is great, but it doesn’t replace human chemistry. They put human beings in touch with each other to determine whether they can genuinely work together, because Nigel says PR is a bit different from hiring a web developer or hiring someone to do your SEO. You need someone whom you have a deep understanding and good mental connection with, because there’s a lot of trust and other variables involved. There are lots of tiny details that need to be oriented to get the right things in the right order in PR. That’s why Nigel says they are very clear that the algorithm is great, but it’s only the start of the process. It doesn’t solve everything. And of course, no client would hire a freelancer on the click of a mouse, and probably no freelancer would want to be hired purely on the click of a mouse. There needs to be that human contact which is the second stage of their process once the client is shortlisted. In terms of testimonials, freelancers are free to place testimonials on their profile, previous work that they’ve done, and they do encourage them to do that, particularly with a named individual, because that offers the greatest credibility. However, they decided not to have a star rating, because things can go wrong. As TripAdvisor has found, people leave reviews sometimes for the wrong reasons, and AI is not a magician. 

This goes back to the analogy of law. Simply hiring the best barrister in the city doesn’t mean that your case will win. There are other factors involved. There is an element of risk. PR is a question of judgment and the risks involved, but when it works, it can do wonders, as with the mask supplier startup. They invested a day and a half, and they ended up with two or three minutes on Good Morning Britain TV. They got an amazing spread of coverage for an investment which isn’t even four figures. It was under £1,000. With that, if anyone needs to call in The PR Cavalry, you can visit their website. Nigel encourages you to watch their explainer video which is very simple and easy to understand. If you’ve used a site like Booking.com, you won’t have any problems using The PR Cavalry. If you’re an owner of a small business and want help with your PR from an expert without breaking the bank, then you should definitely consider The PR Cavalry. 


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Photos from The PR Cavalry

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