Interview with freelance publicist Ali Webb
Ali Webb has spent over ten years working as a publicist and communications specialist at some of Melbourne’s top arts, music and cultural institutions including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and National Gallery of Victoria. We chat with her about why being a single mum inspired her to make freelancing work and why self-promotion is a necessary evil to succeed.
TELL US HOW YOU ENDED UP HERE AS A FREELANCER? WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?
After working as an in-house publicist at a variety of major Melbourne arts organisations for over a decade, I decided to flick the switch to freelance so I could find more hours in my day to hang out with my rad four year old son. I had started seeing a fine gentleman and formed quite a crush. When he told me he was heading to Europe for four weeks, I took the plunge - realising I wouldn't have a handsome fella around me to distract me - and set up my business and starting the 'gazillion' approaches to organisations and people I wanted to work with. I started receiving responses and BAM! house of webb was born. It's all about focus and drive, right (and no distractions)?
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START FREELANCING?
Working with so many organisations, artists, creative and brilliant people, I saw a gap where I could step in and provide assistance - and make a living out of it.
As a single (and excellent) mum, my son inspires so much of what I do and all I wanted to do was ride my pushie next to him on our way to kindergarten and be there waiting with a bike basket full of veggies when he finished his day. We do everything together - he even comes along to a lot of the music gigs I work on. Being able to choose my hours as well as work with such varied, incredibly interesting people every day is a superbly inspiring adventure.
WHAT WAS YOUR LAST 'REAL JOB' AND HOW DID YOU MOVE AWAY FROM THIS AND START WORKING FOR YOURSELF?
My last 'real job' was working as the PR Manager at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It was very hard for me to move away from such a glorious role and organisation. I'm delighted to say that the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is now my client which means I can regularly see and hear Melbourne's most inspiring musicians on a weekly basis. Go see this incredible orchestra - your mind will be blown away!
IN THREE EMOJIS, DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE AS A FREELANCER...
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR BEFORE YOU STARTED FREELANCING? ANY TIPS ON OVERCOMING THIS FEAR?
My biggest fear was the Big Change from a regular salary to Freelance Cash Flow. I keep in contact with my fellow arts publicists to stay in the loop with jobs, grants, funds, excellent coffee shops, so I am constantly seeking that next client! My biggest fear now is over-committing to too many jobs.
WALK US THROUGH A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF YOU?
A pot of black tea and a record chosen from my ever-growing collection helps me work through my emails in the morning. I like anything by Minnie Ripperton or Sly and the Family Stone to get things going. Handsome fella (as mentioned above) just got me onto Melbourne band The Harpoons, and it's great for getting dressed to in the AM. I always dress as though I'm going to the office, even if I'm working from home. It helps me get motivated and focused. As does waking up to an alarm.
The morning starts with emails, arranging meetings, phone calls and writing. So much writing. I have written so many press releases over the years, that these can be banged out in the hour, give or take the research time.
I'm old school (you may have guessed that by the record collection) and I still receive newspapers - in their hard copy format - delivered to my door. I read these cover to cover to keep across the news.
Then there's the kid - dressing, lunch packing, library books, breakfast, quick loungeroom dance sessions - and then off to kinder.
I love instagram and I get a lot of inspiration from my feed, so I do some scrolling and then back to writing, writing, writing.
I'm writing a book on 'How to divorce your first husband' which I whittle away at in the background. The story contains many giggles and is superbly entertaining (so I like to think!)
No day is really typical in my life as a freelancer. I work in so many different offices at different organisations, sometimes from my home in Kyneton in country Victoria, sometimes on the commute, sometimes backstage at Hamer Hall and sometimes from a cafe. It's an exciting way to work. You can certainly never get bored!
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT FREELANCING?
Freelancing is so varied. It's quite thrilling to live on the edge and not quite know where your next adventure will take you. I love meeting people and I have made so many friends.
WHAT SUCKS THE MOST ABOUT FREELANCING?
I was once told that the best publicist is one who does their own self publicity. As a publicist I need to promote myself and what I do, sometimes as much as the product I'm currently promoting. Self promotion can sometimes suck, but it works to 'put yourself out there', but the constant pitching for yourself can be somewhat tiresome!
WHAT THREE QUALITIES TO YOU NEED TO SUCCEED AS A FREELANCER?
Confidence, Drive and Enthusiasm
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE JUST STARTING OUT?
When starting out, pull together a list of all the people/companies you could only dream of working for. And then get in contact. Offer your services, and on top of this offer to help in any format with a project. Every day holds an opportunity, don't be afraid to say hello to someone as you never know where it might lead.