By Dorothy Crenshaw
One of my more colorful bosses was a communications exec with a very distinguished military background. His career included not only senior posts at the Pentagon, but 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 okay. No one died.”
Coming from him, it was more than a cliche, 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 CareerCast, PR is the 7th most stressful occupation of the year. Stories of hellish deadlines, ridiculous expectations, and crazy hours are legion. But is PR really more stressful than other “non-combat” occupations? Or do we just love to think so? After all, it’s not life and death.
And yet, our profession offers some stress triggers that may be unique to the practice of public relations, 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 in order to be successful.
We trade control for credibility. The very magic of earned coverage is that its not within our control. The dynamic media environment we work in has only dialed up 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 can be likened 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 there PR officers often deal with the fact that their function isn’t always considered integral to the bottom line. Many clients tell me they feel like mini-agencies who 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 competition for mindshare, more opportunity, steeper learning curve….and more stress.
War is hell. And most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.
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.