There are few things in life more challenging than becoming a first-time parent.
You go from living a relatively unrestricted lifestyle to constantly responding to a tiny human that demands your attention 24/7. It makes client management and PR work seem like a walk in the park.
Having just returned from three months of maternity leave, I’ve learned that being a new parent and being a public relations executive carry a number of similarities. I’ve identified five key abilities that I learned from the last eight years in a PR agency that I use to carry out both jobs successfully:
1. Anticipate needs.
Keeping your baby happy and yourself sane is all about anticipating needs. If you can figure out when your baby is going to need to be fed, have her diaper changed, and take her nap you will already avoid a good percentage of meltdowns. Plus, even as a newborn, your baby will start to learn that she doesn’t have to let out a shrieking cry every time she wants something, because Mama is usually anticipating her needs.
Similarly in PR, when you can anticipate client needs such as getting those results reports, strategy documents, or event schedules before they ask for them, you will gain their confidence and trust in your abilities. It will also often help you avoid the impromptu end of day status call on a Friday afternoon, because your client knows you have their interests under control and are always thinking a few steps ahead.
2. Be a contingency planner.
Thinking ahead is crucial when you’re a parent. It’s the difference between a peaceful car ride home and sitting in traffic for an hour with a wailing baby covered in sour milk because you forgot to bring an extra set of clothes.
In PR, contingency planning means that with every campaign, press release, pitch idea or event, you are thinking about the “What If” factor. What if a journalist gets called away and doesn’t show up? What if disaster strikes? What if your client says or does the wrong thing on stage?
List the “What Ifs” and answer each question before you have to, so that if something does go wrong, you can show your client that you are prepared to deal with the situation appropriately.
3. Pay attention to detail.
There is a lot to think about when you are a new parent, and remembering the details of everything you are responsible for can be daunting. You find yourself asking: “When did my kid last eat?” “Is that normal?” “Is she supposed to go to the bathroom 11 times in 12 hours?”
Developing a system that helps you keep track of the details will be crucial in making sure your child gets the care she needs. It’s no different in the public relations. As a PR professional, you should be setting up a game plan in advance and then following up with a well-honed tracking system, so that you always know whether your client is getting the proper amount of exposure or whether PR goals are being met. There are plenty of resources that can help you accomplish these things, and your client will be much happier for it.
4. Use creative problem solving.
As a parent, there comes a time (or many) when you must get creative in order to make it through, and failure is not an option. Whether it’s figuring out how to distract your kid from the giant needle the doctor is about to stick in her behind or making up a song to make her smile after she just cried hysterically for an hour, you learn to use your imagination to make it happen.
In PR, there is almost no greater talent than the ability to get creative to make a client’s goals a reality. It’s important to step outside yourself and come up with wild ideas—even when the client isn’t asking for them—to show that you are always thinking about their best interests.
Think creatively about how you can make their latest campaign really pop. How about adding some extra flair to their next event? Even if the client doesn’t have it in their budget to make it happen, they’ll appreciate your coming up with ideas that showcase the possibilities.
5. Get some perspective.
One important thing I’ve learned as a new parent is that sometimes you just need to take a break to get some perspective. For me, a hot shower and a quick nap did wonders for helping me reduce my stress level and remember the joys that come with being a mother.
Similarly in PR, taking a step back and getting a 30,000-foot view will help you really see the big picture, something that’s difficult to do when you are in the trenches day after day. Talk out your latest campaign challenges with a colleague or a friend, or take a walk during lunch; you’ll be surprised at how your perspective can change on a client.
Simply getting away from the screen and finding inspiration outside the office can do wonders for your creativity (and your sanity) and ultimately help you understand the direction you should go.
I take incredible pride in being the best public relations executive I can be, but the birth of my beautiful daughter has taught me that there is a lot more to life than just work.
It’s extremely hard to be in the PR industry and not be a workaholic, but shutting down every once in a while and spending that time with your loved ones will make you a happier person all around, which in turn makes you a better PR person.
And you know what? Most bosses and clients actually want you to have a life and will understand when you just need a little time with your family because, like you, they have families, too.