Ann Getman, a principal at Getman Strategic Communications, in Cambridge, Mass., and Barbara Wellnitz, a principal at Ryan Wellnitz & Associates, in Foxboro, Mass., are members of the Boston Sole Practioners Collaborative, a network of about 60 owners of public-relations firms. Like Getman and Wellnitz, most members of the collaborative are soloists who rely on each other for business guidance, help finding new customers, and support on bigger projects. Similar PR alliances have sprung up across the country, from Maryland, to Nebraska, to Alaska. And Getman knows why. "It's the same goal everywhere -- to overcome a sense of professional isolation." Getman herself missed the resources and collaboration she enjoyed in her previous life at a midsize national PR agency.

When you go solo, she says, "The first big surprise is you don't have access to the scope of projects you did at the big agency." But being part of an intimate local group like the collaborative helps. When Getman brings members into one of her projects, she has the client meet them first. "In this field, there is a growing number of us, and you'd think we'd be increasingly competitive with each other, but we're not because we all have the same goals." Still, she says, there's a slippery slope between competition and cooperation. To ensure that friendly competitors work in harmony, the collaborative developed a few ground rules.

For starters, members must also belong to the national Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and to its Boston chapter, which requires members to adhere to a professional code of ethics. Why the rule? "It's a way of screening people," says Julie Dennehy, who helped start the collaborative six years ago with 12 other soloists. "The code of ethics binds us all, especially when it comes to getting new business. It's a filter if you don't know someone in the group personally," she adds. "You have to find like-minded people because your image is all you have." Dennehy also belongs to a national alliance of PR firms known as the PRConsultants Group. She says, "These collaborative models are very powerful if you can make the combinations work."

To find the balance between competition and cooperation, the Boston Sole Practioners Collaborative developed the following guidelines to help members form good working relationships:

Establish How the Team Will Be Positioned With Clients

  • Partnerships will entail:
    • Joint business development as partners
    • Equal divison of labor
    • Shared client relationship
  • Virtual agency approach will entail:
    • One contact, many resources
    • Extension of individual capabilities

Review Team's Background and Assumptions

  • Determine compatibility in:
    • Standards and expectations (performance, work product, communication, and ethics)
    • Personal and business objectives
    • Skills, interests, and experience
    • Personal style (candor and integrity in facing and solving problems)
  • Check references from:
    • Clients
    • Other colleagues or collaborators

Define Team Members' Roles and Boundaries

  • With a team of equal partners or a team of leader and subcontractor:
    • Match strengths and weaknesses to division of labor
    • Determine who is accountable to whom and for what
  • Outline the communications strategy:
    • Agree on objectives and protocols
    • Maintain regular, open contact and feedback
    • Clarify and streamline communications with client
  • Use open-book policy on budget and expenses

Clarify Contracts and Agreements

  • Reconcile rates and fees
  • Clarify who's paid, how they paid, and for what (hourly, project retainer, management fee or markup)
  • Create seamless business relationships through the lead individual
  • Streamline client billing (one invoice)
  • Agree to accountability with colleagues and subcontractors
Published on: Jul 22, 2002