Had a former political staffer friend of mine ask me a couple questions about Government Relations today. He wanted to know if it was possible to start your own GR shingle these days and what was better - to slug it out on your own or to accept the limitations of working for someone else?
For what it's worth, this is the answer I gave him:
Here's the reality; GR, as it has evolved over the last decade or so, is in decline. Government rules are tight (and are only going to get tighter) and with the prospects of global economic uncertainty for the foreseeable future, businesses are hesitant to try new service providers. When the pressure's on, you go with known commodities. Plus, there are way too many newbies on the market, trying to make the cut.
What I'm seeing happen is that existing firms are either petering out, merging (or at least engaging in more partnerships) or growing. Those trying to break into GR independently are doing piecemeal work offering to do everything from database management to press releases in addition to standard GR. Potential clients see what's happening and are encouraging pro-bono work, suggesting if they're going to pay money they might as well go with the established experts. This pro-bono work leads to either businesses bringing talent in-house or bigger GR firms snatching them up.
Even the bigger, successful GR firms are branching out into business management, more PR/Comms, that sort of thing. The water hole is shrinking, so it's diversify/evolve to survive, or fall behind (there's a lesson for the CPC in here).
If you really want to break in as a fresh face, you're going to have to develop an untapped market to play in. To this end, look at what's going to be needed down the road and start laying seeds now. The Knowledge Economy is the next big thing; that means education, workplace development, cognitive development and that great social taboo, mental health. Also keep this in mind; the future of the industry won't be two-way chats between Client and Government, but multilateral conversations that connect Government, the Private and Not-For-Profit Sectors in collaborative, initiative-driven opportunities.
It's a tough row to hoe, but if it's what you want to do, go for it. To last, though, don't go in it for the money. The model to follow is teaching - find what you're passionate about and pursue that. You'll end up happier that way, too, whether it pays big bucks or not. Expect it to be an uphill trajectory, though - the best approach is to have another gig and then slowly build a brand for yourself from there.
I wouldn't say I'm an expert on GR, but there are seasoned vets that peruse this blog. What do you folks think?