Bye-bye, science PR - hello, freelancing

Liebes Tagebuch

People have been asking me a lot in the last few days: Why on earth would you give up a secure PR job at Germany's best-known scientific powerhouse? And on top of that, to work as a freelance writer, since we all know how hard this job is? Here's an attempt at an answer.

I confess, I almost misspelt my name when I signed it. Seeing “Termination agreement” in cold, black letters in front of me gave me a strange feeling. Instructions about the deadlines for registering with the employment agency, health insurance, pension insurance and social security. A notice to take my outstanding leave. It all seemed rather definitive.

But now it's over.

I will no longer be taking care of a wide variety of tasks as the “Army of One”. From the summer of 2023 on, I will be throwing myself into unknown territory but with a highly focused spirit, abandoning the political constraints of a large organisation and, rather unfortunately, also a pretty good and stable salary.

Foxes in the Forest

As a one-person operation for the entire press and public relations of a scientific institute, the entire range of science communication was at my disposal: Press releases, expert mediation, internal communication and community building, the development of communication strategies and independently tapping into new formats, and much more.

On social media, we did not have a presence to speak of, nor was there any internal reporting on interesting events at the Institute. Both had to be established first. The foxes that roam around the campus all the time provided material for these channels again and again. At last, I could share my excitement for these beautiful animals with others!

Event management and supporting TV teams, groups of schoolchildren or delegations of politicians have always seemed to be a bitter pill to swallow for me. Coordination and organisational tasks are simply not my thing. I know how to handle them—thanks to modern software—but it never really came naturally to me.

Overwhelming Overhead

What I underestimated about the job, however, is the overhead that accumulates through the daily small details. Because in such a position, all the work that you as a team leader would otherwise outsource to specialised colleagues or assistants is left to you: The maintenance of databases, monitoring social media activity, copy-and-paste updates of websites and event calendars, or the design of information boards for digital signage or flyers.

Add to that such things as purchase orders, hospitality applications and quotations that have to be obtained, appointments to be made, deadlines to be coordinated, running after missing approvals, texts and corrections, begging for contributions and following up on non-responses. You get the idea.

K.O. not creative

At the end of the day, I was often exhausted and still didn't feel like I had achieved anything. I didn't have the capacity for anything really new. It slowly dawned on me: All things considered, a job in PR is not necessarily that creative.

The desire to professionally grow according to my personality was becoming ever stronger over the last year. I longed back to my best days as a blogger, when I pursued my own topics and projects. I had quite an impact with some daily news articles a good ten years ago.

Professional Peers

On your own you are also quite ... lonely. Sure, I was able to make many decisions on my own without having to consult with anyone, that's convenient. But without colleagues to bounce ideas back and forth with, to plan projects and campaigns on an equal footing, or simply to split tasks among each other, I always felt doubtful about my abilities and performance.

I clearly underestimated the disadvantages of not being part of a collective of peers. Another lesson I learned: Apparently I am more socially inclined than I would have thought. In this respect, I certainly wouldn't improve as a solo freelancer!

Adventues ahead

So why do I still want to be a freelancer? Essentially, I am going back to my roots. I will revisit my topics, critically review research results and expertises, and hopefully draw on my experience from the last 15 years of my career.

At the very least, I will expand my professional portfolio. If the experiment fails, that's OK too. Because if I do want to return to PR at some point, I would benefit from this experience.

At the moment, I'm in the middle of my planning phase, working on cost plans, insurances and lists of potential clients. I am talking to a lot of different people these days. To help focus, I will set myself fixed milestones. That way I can get out early enough if I'm heading for a dead end.

In any case, I have an eventful time ahead of me. It is true that it is painful to say goodbye. But I know that I would regret it if I hadn't tried and I am really looking forward to it.

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