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Workstyle Stories 004 - 'Firgas'(1)

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Welcome to Workstyle Stories, because life changes and every life is different. This week, I'm talking to Firgas. Hello Firgas. Hi Alex, how are you doing? I'm good, very good thanks. We're going to be talking about all things family, and work fitting around life, obviously, and the culture of the PR agency landscape, I guess, a little bit as well today. So before we get into all of that good stuff, Firgas, tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, and where you are in the world. Okay, I am a publicist. I've been a publicist my entire life, ever since I left school. I'm very honoured to currently be Hoxby's PR - part of Hoxby's amazing communications team. But I also work on PR clients through Hoxby and as a freelancer externally. You've been freelancing for quite a long time, right? Oh, yeah. Gosh, about 12 years now, I think. Yeah, so quite a long time. What made you do that? Why did you go freelance 12 years ago? Well, do you know what, I started work in musical entertainment PR. Way, way, way back in like 2002 there was a massive industry-wide cull, you know, everybody's permanent job just didn't exist anymore. So, partly that was the nature of the work, you know, there was a lot of contract work or project based work, rather than full time salary jobs within that space. Secondly, the nature of the sort of publicity that I do quite often meant that it was, based around a project or an activation or an event or festival, so the team would be hired. Thirdly, in PR, just to kind of keep yourself fresh, it's sometimes nicer to just, you know I mean if you can get freelance work, it's sometimes nice to just do that, rather than kind of getting stuck in a rut. I remember once when I was in a hiring situation, my boss said to me, "Don't look at anyone's CV if they've been stuck somewhere for five years", because they'll just be so same old, same old and they won't be able to think freshly. I think there were a lot of preconceptions in the industry about who you were and what you could do if you'd been in one place for too long. Yeah, okay. So that's interesting, and it's an interesting industry for freelancing. The way you're talking about it, freelancing actually is more the aspiration or the kind of best in class for what you do, and I think, in a lot of lines of work that's not necessarily the case. So as a freelancer in the PR world, how has it been for you? What have your experiences been as a freelancer and, in particular culturally, working with agencies? Have there been any memorable events for you that have shaped the way you think about work? Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, it's a hard slog as a freelancer in PR because nobody ever gets in the freelancer to do the job that they want to do themselves. They get them in because, you know, suddenly there are challenging times and they need to pull something out of the bag. I mean no client willingly spends extra money to bring in extra staff if their own staff can do it themselves. So essentially you go into a situation and it's all on you half the time. I actually like the detachment, you know I like the fact that there's no office politics and there's no management expectations. I like the fact that I'm going in with a problem and I need to find the solution and that sort of does it for me, but it's not without its own level of stress. Historically, the freelancers are the ones that work the hardest, really, because unless you're hideously unprofessional, you can't really step away from the problem until the problem's fixed. Which always means that you invariably end up doing extra hours. Yeah, that's difficult. So do you find you get treated differently then? So in terms of the expectation, and when you're going to work and what you're going to be expected to do? Yeah, I mean, you do, but I've got a bit of a reputation in the industry for doing what I do, I suppose. So I guess, for better or for worse, they know they're getting me. But, you know, it is hard. You have to be quite tough, you have to be quite vocal, and you have to push for things and you need to have the courage to just be able to get up and leave because otherwise you'd be sleeping at your desk. So talk to me about your lifestyle now. So, you've kind of changed your attitude, your outlook. I've changed my entire life, I know. So talk to me a little bit about the catalyst for that change, and then we'll talk about what your life is like now. So what was it that happened that made you change the way you look at work, or the way you work? Sure. So it was the 17th of April 2017 - aka Easter Monday. Okay. Yep. Exactly, that exact moment. So I'd been freelancing for a luxury PR agency and they brought me in to work on a pitch for a private members' club. On Easter Monday? Yeah. Well, we'd been working on the pitch the week before. They demanded that I came in on Easter Monday to come and rehearse the timings for delivering this pitch. Now, the pitch wasn't due to be delivered until four o'clock on the following day, so there was every reason why we could have done this on the Tuesday morning or done it an hour before. There were lots of other options, but the MD said, "No, no, no, everybody needs to come into the office and that's that". My partner's a photographer. He was offered a job. Literally not there. At the time, I had three kids. The youngest was about seven months old. So I have literally no choice but to put them in the car, bribe them with their leftover Easter candy. It was an absolute baking hot day. Half the roads were shut and I had to basically drive into central East London and go into the office and leave my children, including a seven month old baby, in the carpark and basically watch them out the window whilst we all rehearsed this pitch. Absolutely none of this needed to happen. I've delivered maybe like a thousand pitches in my life, you know. There was absolutely no need for this and, completely ironically, we didn't even win the brief because the client said afterwards that the other agency that was pitching against us responded to the brief in a more organic way and they liked their free thinking. You know, it wasn't even worth it. I mean, it literally wasn't even worth it. I mean, that's a kicker, but the expectation for you to come in to the office on a Easter Monday... On a public holiday, leave my three children in danger in a hot car where you wouldn't even leave your dog, right? Well, that's just inhumane, it's unthinkable. Absolutely, yeah. But I'm sure that it's not the only case of something like this happening - not only in PR, but all over. So, I can see how that would be the straw that broke the camel's back, if you like. So what happened after that? What did you do? So after that, thankfully Hoxby came into my life via another mum friend who introduced me. But at the time, obviously, I didn't know what workstyle was. I thought if I can just find some work that I can do from home, then I can take the commute part out of the equation, you know, and that would be a massive help for me. Me and every other self-employed mum was finding that we were having to call each other up 10 minutes before pickup time and blag favours of like, you know, "Can you pick my son up because, you know, I'm still in Hammersmith?" It was always like that and I thought, look, whatever the work is, even if I can just take the commuting out of the situation and just be there and then I don't have to pay for childcare etc. So I thought, right, that's great. Obviously I didn't know what workstyle was, but now I do. Obviously the fundamental difference between every other compromise solution like flexible working or working from home or whatever you want to call it, and workstyle, is that workstyle's obviously entirely dictated by you. Whereas you could work flexibly, you could work part time, you can work from home, but your boss will still phone you at half past 9 at night while you're trying to do bed time or, heaven forbid, have a glass of wine with your husband or whatever, and the expectation is still there. Obviously the difference between working school hours with workstyle is that not only are you there for pickup but then you're done and you can take the kids paddleboarding or you can go for an ice cream or something like that, and you're not having to check your phone every 10 seconds. So now that I've discovered it, we've embraced it. So suddenly, now that we've defined our hours, we're like, okay, let's work out what we're going to do with our free time. So we moved out of London, we bought a 15th century house, we have another child, we have three dogs, we have three rabbits, we've got boats and an allotment and what we do with our spare time is live our lives, really. Yeah - that's amazing. So, it's a great situation that you've put yourself into and I think underneath all that is a motivation to switch emphasis. So, put the needs of your family first, have work fit around that, and as you say, be in command of that, be the people who decide how that happens. But fundamentally, it means doing it around having space, giving your kids great exposure to a friendly environment, and to live in the countryside and to fulfil that dream is fantastic and a real shift from what sounds like quite a challenging time of competing priorities whilst living in London and working in that traditional pressure cooker of traditional agency working, and being the freelancer within that. So in terms of the work that you do now, just for clarity's sake - is the work that you do now any different to the work that you were doing when you lived in London and when you were working for those agencies? Absolutely not. Absolutely not, and it's quite interesting because, again, thank God for the internet. Way back, traditionally in London media agencies, not just PR agencies, there was always the preconception that if somebody comes from anywhere that's not London, I mean even from Manchester or something, but certainly if somebody came from Norfolk, the preconception is that they haven't been working with national media, they haven't been working with global brands. They've maybe been doing PR for the local fudge shop or something. But obviously that's all changed and thank God it has. So I'm really grateful that I do work on global brands, and that I do work on international celebrities, and I do work on fantastic projects and secure national media coverage probably every single day at the moment. Good on you Firgas. So you know, I mean that's great, but there's no reason why anybody needs to know where I'm based. It doesn't make any difference, right? It really doesn't make any difference. I've read somewhere though that you're only on the planet for 29 thousand days or something so, you know, why waste them on the tube? Why waste them in a horrible cubicle in an office? Why not spend your afternoon on the river like we do? And that feels like a brilliant way to bring this conversation to a close. Thank you Firgas for that - I couldn't agree more. Well done for designing the life you you've wanted for you and your husband and your family, and long may workstyle continue to enable that. Good to catch up and we'll see you soon. Thank you everyone for tuning in - that was Firgas. Bye! See you soon, bye bye.

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Posted by: _kim_nguyen on Sep 8, 2020

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