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Why is PR such a stressful profession?

13th February 2013


PR typically makes it to the top ten most stressful professions in the world, along with policeman, army generals and fire-fighters. How exactly does PR fit in on this list? Insane deadlines, evolving PR roles, 24/7 social media gaze, demanding bosses and clients, getting regularly verbally bashed by irate reporters; it can all feel like a mini war. So it’s no wonder that PR professionals in India , like their counterparts across the globe, are feeling the stress. PRmoment India’s latest dipstick survey shows that 75 per cent of PR professionals in India, polled, feel that their stress levels are high.

Nihal Shaikh, Assistant Manager of Public Relations at HolidayIQ.com, says, “A PR person is judged on the ability to create an effect, an effect with so many nuances involved at so many stages that complete authority on the outcome is impossible. It’s like judging the weatherman on the weather, not the accuracy of the forecast. I know these reasons are repeated ad nauseum still, I would say the root of the stress is lack of business understanding and unrealistic expectations on four fronts client, media, internal management, yourself.”

Other young PR professionals agree with this assessment, adding that so much of the stress comes from unclear mandates and client expectations in the face of rising importance of social media experts. Says independent PR professional Ina Bansal; “In most PR firms, PR practitioners and the digital team members servicing a particular client are often not on the same page. Also, the deliverables expected from both overlap at times. So a better clarity in terms of roles and deliverables will go a long way to improve the quality of service rendered to the client. It will enable a cohesive working environment and increase efficiency. This is pertinent in times of crisis as it will ensure that the team works in harmony to quickly and effectively resolve the problem before it goes out of hand rather than wasting time in establishing whose mandate it is."

Ina adds, "It is interesting to note here that while PR practitioners and digital team members in India struggle to take ownership of the social media handles of their clients, their western counterparts enjoy far greater freedom and flexibility to respond to a social media crisis.”

Psychologists such as Seema Bhatia say that PR is about exactly what is say it is, that is about personal relationships. Seema, who trained at the British Psychological Society, says, “From a psychological perspective, such relationships are all about control. If a PR professional feels that their expectations are not met, then they feel out of control and stressed, especially if these unmet expectations are tied with deliverables. This is a universal feeling. We are dealing with human beings and at any given time they are changing. No formulas can therefore apply to human beings and to relations. To be successful at PR, the person has to be very good at handling changing human beings and their nature and to handle change from time to time, from situation to situation and from person to person.”

Along with changing situations, PR professionals are often expected to handle unrealistic client expectations. Nihal says, “PR firms prioritise business acquisition over long term value and end up promising unattainable results to any type of client, and many businesses see PR as a quickie to fifteen seconds of fame and are not interested in long term value. Agencies dedicate resources to training their teams in best practices however we see few PR rock stars at the helm and the actual servicing team is fumbling in the dark. The overall lack of foresightedness harms the ecosystem.”

Ina Bansal agrees there is a gap between the senior and middle management in PR; "Yes, I do believe there is a gap but then it tends to happen in every industry. The mid level looks after the day to day execution, operational activities, planning for their clients and hence have hands on knowledge as to what can be delivered and when. On the other hand, the senior leadership generally has an overall view of things and is mostly involved in the planning and review phase. The disconnect generally happens when the senior leadership team promises to deliver something to a client without consulting the team and what they can deliver. Consequently it builds undue pressure on the team and results in more stress."

From a psychological point of view experts offer a three part solution to handling these situations, “There are three main ways to reduce stress at work as a PR professional and all of these are trainable competencies and qualities. First, is to have an open mind. Understand what you want from the person or strategy very well and keep an open mind on how to get it done. Which essentially means your business strategy must not be rigid and it should be flexible enough to adapt to changing demands. Secondly, it’s very imp to focus on your communications skills, which is a key core competency for PR professionals. Thirdly, it helps to reduce the stress if the person can find ways to increase their self esteem and confidence and one major of doing that is by making sure that they are well groomed.” Says Seema Bhatia.

Nihal echoes this advice, offering the following tips. “First preparation: Always remember, you are a super hero with just one power – persuasiveness. Thoroughly investigate what you are getting into and have confidence in your groundwork. Secondly, perspective: Have foresight. Often, young PR professionals become emotionally involved with work and are unable to think objectively. A client wants coverage yesterday for an announcement he will think of next week? – say no! And thirdly, people: Encourage a sense of fraternity in the PR industry.”

The PR business in India is in the middle of deep transition. Change, naturally, causes stress-but being aware and open will go a long way in reducing stress in the PR business.


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