Not saving lives here

For the past couple years, public relations has found itself at the top of the most stressful jobs list. In fact, if you take away the life-or-death careers (police officer, soldier, fire fighter, pilot), our profession is #1. Not brain surgeon, not nuclear engineer – public relations professional. Take a moment to really let it sink in.

Many PR people take this as a point of pride. It shouldn’t, unless we’re also willing to admit a self-importance problem. (Before I go any further, I’m not trashing the public relations profession. I love what I do and think it serves an extremely valuable service to organizations.)

My co-worker Lindsay half jokingly reminded me a while back the common industry phrase most of us have heard before: it’s PR not the ER. Even though it was meant in jest, there’s truth to this statement. What we do shouldn’t be so stressful. We are not performing life-or-death procedures. We help organizations communicate. Do you see difference?

So why is our profession routinely one of the most stressful? The easy answer would be to point to those outside the profession – our managers, our CEO, our clients. It’s their demands that keep us so stressed, right? Yes and no. It’s part them, part us.

We’re Just Misunderstood

Public relations is an incredibly misunderstood profession. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard someone say, “We need some good PR,” expecting it to solve all business and reputational goals. To which I always want to respond:

So it’s easy to imagine how we could be put under undue stress by those who sign our checks when they see PR as a cure-all. Public relations can do a lot of things, but it can’t be expected to replace all the other business functions that factor into a company’s success, like marketing and advertising. But because public relations is so misunderstood, it’s easy to blame when things aren’t going well.

Unfortunately, that’s not the whole problem. As I mentioned, part of it falls on us.

We Need to Manage Expectations Better

The nature of a PR agency is stressful. We need our clients to believe we can help meet their business goals. If they don’t, they stop paying us – and that is a very bad place to be.

But ultimately the reason PR people are hired is because our clients need someone who knows more about PR than they do. It’s our job to provide them counsel on what to do. And if they don’t know understand what public relation does (and doesn’t) accomplish, it’s up to us to fix that.

Next time you run into someone with unrealistic expectations about PR, here are a couple things to keep in mind to help keep the stress level down.

  • Ask (the right) questions early: What are your client’s business goals? Who are they trying to reach? Where do their targets get their information? These are the questions that will help you determine what strategies and tactics make the most sense.
  • Set agreed-upon, measurable goals: Without a clear objective, it’s easy for people to suddenly have different expectations halfway through a campaign. It might take some time and frustration on the frontend, but it’s well worth the effort.
  • Have some humility: Yes, you might be the PR expert, but we aren’t the only department offering advice toward the organization’s goals, and sometimes we just have to suck it up and play along. 

Greg Surber

Greg Surber, APR, is a public relations strategist through and through. He works on a variety of accounts, leading research projects and content strategies, but he also has extensive experience with more traditional PR efforts including national and trade media relations campaigns.

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