One of my more colorful bosses was a communications exec with a distinguished military background. His career included not only senior posts at the Pentagon, but also two tours of duty in Vietnam as a paratrooper. When things went wrong and I went crazy, he’d sometimes pat my shoulder, smile indulgently, and say: “It’s OK. No one died.”
Coming from him, it was more than a cliché, so I tried to adopt that mindset. But, let’s face it, the agency life doesn’t exactly promote a calm, Zen-like attitude. According to one study, PR is the seventh most stressful occupation of the year.
Stories of hellish deadlines, ridiculous expectations, and crazy hours are legion. But is public relations really more stressful than other “non-combat” occupations? Or do we just love to think so? After all, it’s not life and death.
Of course, the profession offers some stress triggers that may be unique to the practice of PR, or at least more significant than other service professions.
We serve many masters. Any client service business has special demands, but foot soldiers on the front lines of media relations have to answer to clients, direct supervisor(s), and, very frequently, members of the press. The goals of these three are often in conflict, yet we need to please all of them to be successful.
We trade control for credibility. The very magic of earned coverage is that it’s not within our control. The dynamic media environment in which we work only increases the risk—and the stress—of an unpredictable outcome.
PR is still poorly understood. Advertising professionals create something tangible, usually previewed by the client at key stages of production. Corporate counselors are similar to lawyers, yet attorneys aren’t usually asked to guarantee results and the cost of switching is fairly high. In contrast, client expectations for the PR process, timetable, and actual publicity results are often unrealistic. And, yes, this causes stress on both sides.
It’s based on billable hours. At many PR firms, you’re only as good as your billability, which can change from month to month. Both factors—pressure to prove one’s value, and lack of consistency—can pile on the stress.
Inside, it’s a staff position, not a line position. Billable hours go away on the corporate side, but these PR officers often struggle with the notion that their job isn’t always considered integral to the bottom line. Many clients tell me they feel like mini-agencies that serve different corporate divisions, yet they don’t enjoy the esprit de corps of an agency. This results in the worst kind of battle fatigue.
PR is in transition. Well, what industry isn’t? Yet, the rise of social media and the speed with which new platforms, strategies, and tools must be mastered and adopted is only accelerating. More opportunity, more learning curve—and more stress.
And yet love it … most of the time.
Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story appeared on the Crenshaw Communications blog.