This morning, I was briefly admonished by a senior PR executive on twitter for picking up on a thread about stress in PR. I was in a particularly bad mood due to arthritic pain and consequent lack of sleep, which meant I jumped into a discussion with both of my size 10s without much thought. Silly Paddy.
Now I’ve thought about it, and whilst I think my essential point remains correct, what it actually does is reveal a wider truth and PR in general.
One of the reasons why PR might be stressful is that we are constantly involved in intellectually contrary projects, where we are attempting to change the mind of a constituency for whom we might have significant sympathy over and above the POV of our client.
I mentioned working for dictators as part of this dynamic, and as I said I think this stands, if as an unnecessarily dramatic example for the average PR experience (if not all). Running a programme to drive capital investment into a sovereign state where one would not ever wish to spend a significant amount of time due to the massive difference in moral and philosophical beliefs, let alone physical well being, is an intellectually challenging exercise. This is why I’ve very much enjoyed it in the past.
However, it’s not restful. What makes it stressful is the hostility of much of the audience with whom you wish to communicate and the self doubt of knowing that you’re pushing a boulder up the hill. You know they think you’re an arsehole for doing that work (I’ve been told this forcibly). It’s even worse if you’ve got genuine subject knowledge because you can’t hide behind the platitudes that big companies do: “everyone else does it / if we didn’t, someone else would / we aren’t helping them do x / y / z, it’s just about investment / we’re not guiding policy / maybe we are a bit of a force for positive change”. As I was told, rather directly a long time ago, “you’re helping to normalise evil behaviour. That you know this and continue makes you a [redacted]”
The thing is, it’s the same across comms. As was mentioned in the original (excellent) blog:https://prvirgin.com/2017/02/23/pr-more-stressful-than-most-jobs/ “A PR person is probably thoughtful, empathetic and a bit of a rebel, a critical friend, and that’s not easy”. We know that the product we’re hawking isn’t a “game changer”. It’s probably not going to enrich the life of anyone that buys it. That new perfume or shampoo won’t actually enhance your sex appeal any more than its competitors. That new product from Silicon Valley won’t be anything more than a marginal enhancement without fundamental systemic change to your business model that requires more investment than the overall return.
I reckon this is why PR is an inherently stressful gig. In addition to the many correctly identified systemic challenges within an industry notoriously for appalling management practice; at the heart of it we often don’t quite believe what we’re saying. For a smart bunch of men and women, this is an equation perfectly designed to create stress.