Channeling the Overwhelming Side of Public Relations

Businessman with face pressed against wall, profile, close-upIt’s been about a month now since I joined Sternberg Strategic Communications and began, in earnest, working toward the career-long goal I have set for myself to “build something great. And in that month’s time, the biggest concept that has stuck out to me is one maybe I should have learned early in my public relations career: this really isn’t about me anymore; it’s about our company and it’s about building our clients’ business.

Throughout every contact I have with clients—whether that be a new business meeting, contract negotiations, day-to-day discussions about project work, etc.—it’s my thoughts, insight and expertise that has a lot to do with the success of a campaign, but ultimately, the only goal I have for myself is to build our client’s business. To “build something great,” and that’s really not about me, or my wants, desires, day-to-day stresses or anxieties. It’s about servicing wants, desires, day-to-day stresses and anxieties of our clients, and providing a value to them far greater than what I hope to receive out of the partnership.

I was reminded of this recently while talking with some colleagues in the PR business about the seemingly never-ending need we all feel now to keep up with the tweeting, blogging, reading, IM’ing and other non-stop forms of communication that come with working in this business.

We’ve all been there: It’s 4 p.m. Monday and you just came out of an epic client meeting as a junior-level pro, meaning you likely now have a list of about eight projects that need to be finished by COB Wednesday, and then, suddenly, a massive story breaks within the industry of your other big client. Now, it’s time to shine!

But what about the work you need to tackle right away from that meeting? And the tweets you need to catch up on within the small business sector to make sure you haven’t missed a key trend developing from President’s Obama’s latest economic reform speech? And what about the blog post you need to write for your other client? (The other client other than that “other” client I mentioned above. Confused yet?) Oh yeah, there’s also the Op-Ed you were fortunate to get with AdAge that’s due, on deadline, in oh, about 25 minutes.

And then there are the phone calls, 26 e-mails and another meeting to go to before the day is officially “over” at 6 p.m.

Catch my drift? Yeah, our day is never really “over” in this business. And yes, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. But you know what? Our clients don’t need to know that, nor do they want to know that. They have their own overwhelming schedules and jobs to deal with, and their own businesses to run and meetings to attend.

And you know why? Clients pay PR people a hell of a lot of money to be on top of all of this for them. That’s right: We get paid to manage and not outwardly show we’re overwhelmed by all of the constant modern digital distractions coming our way.

And frankly, publicly sharing how overwhelmed you are—or even in private, with a client—is an admission to the entire world, your clients and our industry that you just can’t keep up; that you want to quit the never-ending catch-up game that is PR. And you know what? We all feel that way at some point. Probably every day, but I wouldn’t dare ever say that in public.

Bottom line: The PR business is always going to be filled with non-stop pressure, sometimes overwhelming demands and a constant feed of information from numerous mediums. A big part of what we do well—what we get paid to do well—depends on us channeling all of these disparate stimuli into a coherent and strategic plan for our clients, helping them to build something great for their business.

Channel away, friends.

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  • jeffespo

    It's not about you is a great takeaway from this post. While we may be overwhelmed in one way, shape or form, it doesn't matter – it is our job. Now has it gotten more time consuming than it was in the past?

  • keithtrivitt

    Jeff – Good question. Coming from the sports PR side, like I did, I'm sure you can relate to the many sides of the sports business (esp. on the college/minor league level) that were still done by hand – stats, faxing, filing, etc. – where, I'm not really sure what we are doing now, with all of the mental distractions, is really all that more time consuming than it was, say 10 or 20 years ago, when those distractions largely did not exist.

    What I think has happened is the scope of the PR business has expanded dramatically, often without a corresponding shift in pay, client fees, resources, help, etc. And this has caused numerous issues in terms of getting quality work done as both bosses and clients demand more quality work out of us, and especially now in PR – more monitoring services – than ever before.

    It's something we all have to grapple with. But that's also the thing: We're all dealing with this issue at the same time, so to endlessly complain about how overwhelmed we are, and especially in a public venue or directly to clients, without offering a constructive solution, seems vapid at best, and incredibly foolish in the long run.

    Thanks for chiming in!

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  • Samantha

    Really enjoyed the post. I find myself saying often that “PR is a lifestyle, not a job.” because it is. I cannot ever remeber a 8-5 day since I've been working. Lunch? It's what I eat at my desk when I have a few minutes between meetings and pitching. I love it though, I think to be in PR you HAVE to love it–if you don't you're going to be miserable, which unfortunately, a lot of people are.

    It is important to find a balance though, as you said, there is always work to do, but being able to prioritize, communicate with your team and breathe (which is easier said than done!) goes a long way in managing the stress.

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