Indies Turn to Zoom for Community During Pandemic
By J.W. Arnold, APR, Fellow PRSA
Independent practitioners have long been used to working from home, but when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the offices of their clients, most quickly realized the comfortable arrangement they had enjoyed would change.
Within days of the first lockdown orders, PRSA’s Independent Practitioners Alliance (IPA) launched weekly IndieCHAT sessions on Zoom to offer connection and community amid the uncertainty.
Both IPA members and nonmembers were invited to attend, along with employed PR pros who may never have worked from home or might be considering launching their own consulting businesses someday.
“While I love being an indie, it can be isolating, even before the pandemic,” said Carol Higgins Taylor, APR, owner of Bryant Street PR in rural Maine for nearly a decade. “IndieCHAT brought other PR people together from all over the country, people I would never have had the opportunity to meet. The words of wisdom they share and camaraderie we have developed are invaluable.”
IndieCHAT quickly grew, averaging 20 to 25 participants each Friday afternoon, and soon a second session was added on Tuesdays. While the early meetings might have been akin to support groups or group therapy, soon topics were introduced, like business development and marketing, legal issues, proposals, pricing and specialization. Never shy or short of opinions, members forged a community for both new and inexperienced indies.
As Ric Bachrach, longtime president of Celebrity Focus in the Chicago area, pointed out: “IndieCHAT provides each of us with our own virtual board of directors. We’re both a forum for sharing ‘best practices’ and a source of accountability and partnership. This is truly a community of like-minded, driven professionals — each with a desire to improve, while caring deeply about helping others do the same.”
Leading to collaborations
The relationships have also led to collaboration. Gina Blume, APR, of Out of the Box PR in New Jersey, equates being an indie to living on an island, “but without the aquamarine sea view.” She started on new professional development programming for IPA with an
IndieCHAT member from Miami and is now pursuing business opportunities with others in the group.
“Collaboration is essential for business to thrive and, more important, provides connection to one another during this isolating time,” Blume said. “So, I may still be on my own ‘island’ as an independent practitioner, but
IndieCHAT gave me a great group of beachgoers to hang out with.”
There is also a social element to IndieCHAT. For example, the group threw a virtual holiday party in December and launched a lively virtual book club in January, led by Lauren Howe of EmpHowered PR in central Massachusetts, who will lead the IPA in 2022. Birthdays and business anniversaries are always a big deal and laughs abound, regardless of the topic.
IPA has benefited from what began as an impromptu offering. “We are a welcoming and engaging section that totally loves to network and IndieChat is now a ‘must attend’ event,” said IPA membership chair Bart Graham, Sr. “During one session, we had five new Section members join during the chat.”
Zooming on in 2021
IndieCHAT will continue on Zoom through 2021 on Tuesdays and Fridays at 3 p.m. ET. Meeting links are regularly posted in the IPA and Open Forum communities of MyPRSA. For more information, contact J.W. Arnold, APR, Fellow PRSA at email@example.com.