How a Cog Breaks Free – an Interview with PRCog

For those of you who are active on Twitter, @PRCog needs no introduction. One of the few examples of social media anonymity done right, PR Cog expresses – with trademark humor – many of the frustrations that exist for a mid-level PR pro. These generalized beefs can be with both clients and upper management, and many of his tweets are now on behalf of other annoyed PR tweeters, submitted anonymously to him by Direct Message.

I was happy to electronically interview this popular Twitter character turned blogger, who shares his insights on both PR Cog’s Gear Grindings and PRBreakfastclub (where he serves as Editor and Publisher). But little did I know I was about to be given a worldwide exclusive to the Cog-related story of the year!  Read on…

1. Being a PR Cog sure sounds tough — how’d you come to such a fate?

Well, I became a Cog in a small professional services based shop about 5 years ago after leaving the professional services space.  I became @PRCog on a bad working day almost 18 months ago. I made the account, tweeted a bit, followed some journalists and pros (not in the Law & Order sense) and forgot about it.  I returned a few weeks later to discover I had been re-followed by more than I expected.  I fully expected backlash and have only been told by one person that they know of someone who doesn’t like what I’m doing.  The person who doesn’t like it has yet to grow the brass ones to tell me. More details can be found in Valerie Simon’s interview from a few months back.  But it’s been a very enlightening experience since I started.

2. What’s the most difficult thing about your current state of affairs?

Let’s come back to this one…

3. Do you ever long to escape the grind and become a Solo PR Pro?

Well, this is the first time I’m putting this out there publicly — I already have.  A few months back my old agency and I parted ways.  I wasn’t growing as a professional any longer and had filled all the possible positions / done all the tasks at that agency (we were VERY specialized).  It was all very amicable – I still try to refer them business and they send me work occasionally.

Since then, in addition to looking for new opportunities at an agency and in-house (because we all like the stability of a paycheck, and I’m the first to admit I’ve got plenty to learn – I know if I don’t pursue other opportunities simultaneously I’ll wonder what’s out there), I’ve setup my own shop and have been living the solo life (living room office, kids asking for juice during biz calls, etc. – the whole kit’n’kaboodle).  I’ve worked a few contracts/consultations and am continuing to seek out new business.

4. Is being an independent PR consultant the best way to find freedom? What’s a Cog like you dream of doing?

Unless you can find that perfect agency/company and love everyone you work with (i.e., if PRBC were to form their own agency – xo Cats & Kittens 😉 ), it would appear to be.  The experience has been very liberating.

During a recent potential client meeting, who in addition to my normal skillset I discovered was also looking for skills and experience outside my comfort zone, I was able to actually say, “Yes, we can do these things, realize though this part of it isn’t where my background is and it’ll be a learning experience for both of us.”  I disclaimed that if needed we could knock down the tab or I’d bring someone in short term to teach me a few things.  I’m happy to sell myself to the best of my abilities, not make promises I then expect my “staff” to fulfill.

Could it have cost me the contract? Maybe, but that’s better than having a dissatisfied client and not being true to what I can and can’t do. Particularly early on – some of the best clients at my former company came from satisfied client referrals – don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.

So, returning to question 2 — the biggest issue now is the social media side.  Inevitably the question comes up, “Do you have any social media experience?” It’s quite a dance trying to reference my blogging, PRBC activities, and Twitter use without specifically referencing PRCog. Returning back to a normal twitter account will be difficult given the number of people that have actually seen me IRL (most of whom I trust, but there’s too many to depend on it being kept a secret).  Thankfully, I’m having more conversations than snark, so even if I have to go there I can.  Potential clients have no interest in outing me.  Most of the current venom has been archival or ghost tweets (tweets sent on behalf of others [as therapy] that they can’t send because their bosses or clients are following them).

5. Any extra tidbits you can tell us about the man behind the mask?

Oh goodness.  Well, next big projects include an interesting PRBC project and for this summer — Masquertweet, of course :).

I’m still the same snark filled, fun loving, optimistic (ok, that one’s only partially true) me.

Actually there are a few odd observations — One of the biggest things that surprises me is the number of people I’ve never tweeted with before whose first question in a dm is ‘What agency are you at?”  I don’t assume everyone in the PR world knows who I am (goodness, I would hope not), but if I was really going to randomly disclose that info wouldn’t I have it in my bio?  Or a real name? Or…something else indicating I want to tie my real self to this identity?  This may be an indication of one of the biggest SM/PR problems — not researching (or reading) before engaging.

The lack of identity seems to put a number of people at ease online – I’ve had numerous people tell me things in confidence I wouldn’t tell others that I do know IRL.  Perhaps there’s a belief (which is true) that I have no incentive to ruin anyone (at least anyone that hasn’t given me reason to), and the credibility of an anonymous person is in question so the risk is minimal.  Maybe others are just more trusting than I am (a definite possibility).

So, there’s the bombshell. I had intended to interview a Cog on how he longed to break free – only to find out he already had! Fellow PR pros, do you agree that becoming an independent consultant is the best way to escape life-long Cog status? What advice would you offer to our newly-solo PRCog?

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  • Congrats, darling (you sneaky thing)!

  • KarenSwim

    I applaud you for doing what so many fail to do- manage their careers. You could have gone along on the same path for the safety and comfort of the “known” but chose to keep managing and directing your own career – brava! I also applaud you on your honest representation to clients, proof that clients don't expect or need you to know it all.

  • He is sneaky indeed, but that's part of his mysterious allure. 🙂

  • Of course you picked up on the honesty aspect, since you are so honest yourself! Great words of wisdom: “clients don't expect or need you to know it all.”

  • KarenSwim

    Awww Kellye, thanks! 🙂

  • Yes Kellye, I entirely agree that until you are your own boss you will inevitably be ruled by politics, office hierarchy and endless meetings designed to kill your spirit:) Here's what I say to Cog: keep on doing what you're doing. You will grow your business by growing your circle of contacts and I imagine you already have a pretty wide circle because of your Twitter infamy and PRBC.

  • heatherwhaling

    So happy for Cog! He'll be a great addition to the ranks of Solo PR people!

    Kellye, to answer your question, I don't know if it's the *best* way to break free of Cog-like status. Owning your own business is challenging, and requires skills that go beyond PR. You could be the best PR person, but that doesn't necessarily mean you want to be in charge of developing all your own business or managing all the paperwork and other stuff that comes along with the territory. That said, like Cog, I left my safe, steady job because I wanted a challenge. Needed to do something different. And, while I'm only 4 months or so into it, I know it's one of the best professional decisions I've ever made. So, for people who feel stuck — or who feel like a cog — going out on your own is a fantastic career option to consider. I can't imagine going back now!

  • Tee hee, always a surprise in store 🙂 Thank you 🙂

  • Thank you very much Karen. I'd much rather have a client start on firm ground than expect miracles. Cheers 🙂

  • Hi Lori –

    Thanks so much for the advice, great to hear confirmation from someone such as yourself. Cheers & Good luck 🙂

  • Thanks so much for the vote of confidence Heather, happy to be among such a great group 🙂