Dear PR People: Calm Down
I imagine that the housekeeping staff at the Las Vegas Westin has seen their fair share of early morning shenanigans. So hopefully, they thought nothing of me running through the hall in my socks and banging on the door of Room 831 shortly after 6 a.m. one January morning in 2013.
Sadly, I wasn’t returning from a raucous night out. Quite the opposite really: I was feverishly working on a set of talking points that were due in 90 minutes when my wireless connection crashed.
“I need to use your hotspot,” I demanded when my colleague cracked open her door.
Before she could answer, I sat down at her desk and began emailing myself a series of documents from our corporate network. Then, since my laptop was useless without a Wi-Fi connection, I went to the hotel lobby and finished the messages at a stand-up Internet kiosk with one arm guarding my work S.A.T.-style. It was only after I hit “Send” that I realized I was still wearing pajama pants.
And why did I feel compelled to do all that before, say, putting on a proper pair of pants? Well it was my job, of course. But also because a few weeks prior, the account lead had instilled the fear of God in me and my colleagues after our monitoring team missed an article in our daily media scan. We were warned that if anything else went wrong with this client, we would lose the account, and subsequently, our jobs – assuming the world was still turning, that is.
I took him at his word. As did we all.
24/7: The New Normal in PR
Most professionals who have worked in this industry for a significant amount of time could probably relate to that situation – and likely share a horror story or two of their own.
Perhaps one about spending four hours on the phone negotiating the delivery of a box of must-have annual reports via a flight from Chicago because the delivery company’s overnight service failed (again). Or maybe one about the time a manager insisted that you return to the office at midnight to add footnotes that no one ever mentioned to a memo that you didn’t write.
We’ve all been there. And we all know it’s ridiculous. And yet, we tolerate such terrible behavior. Even worse, some of us perpetuate it.
Last year, I was ready to unleash a tirade of epic proportion on an assistant who shared an incorrect dial-in for an early morning conference call when I received an e-mail from her that said: “I’m sorry I didn’t answer you. I got hit by a car on my way to work.”
It turns out that she was probably lying about that, but she still had a point: a botched dial-in isn’t the end of the world.
And neither is a missed clip in a coverage report. I sort of wish that I had the guts to tell my manager so when he threatened to fire a dozen people over it.
Regaining Perspective: How to be Reasonable in an Unreasonable World
If I had to guess why so many professionals in our field are unapologetically intense, I would say it’s because we once had to be. Not so long ago, the world of communication and media relations was both widely misunderstood and seriously undervalued. I imagine that the professionals who are responsible for convincing executives that PR is well-worth their time and money weren’t the most easygoing bunch. Perhaps we’re still working through the effects of that.
At the same time, plenty of people will explain that the reason why PR people are still so ferocious is because we work in a high-stress field. I’m not buying that one. Everyone in today’s working world is under strict deadlines and intense scrutiny. We all have to do more with less. We all think we’re overworked and underpaid.
But most other professionals seem to be managing these factors a bit better than we are. When I worked at a technology company, for example, I never saw an engineer run through the hall in his socks. And I’ve known an HR manager to get upset a time or two, but never over a lack of footnotes. We do that to ourselves.
The sad truth is that in an honest effort to simply get things done, many PR professionals lose sight of the bigger picture. We’re hyper-focused on our own agenda instead of considering how we can add value beyond our function. Too often, we work ourselves into a frenzy about issues large and small, urgent or not, real or imagined – all without ever asking, “Is this going to help achieve our objective?”
The fact that so many of my colleagues – myself included – complain that executives, clients and spokespeople simply don’t respond to our requests for the “great” media opportunities we generate or offer feedback on the bylines we’ve drafted implies that not enough of us understand what success really` looks like to the people we support.
How could we? We’re too busy running.
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