Do PR pros find it tough to assert themselves at work?

PR is one of the most stressful jobs in the world, no doubt.  Constant negotiation and pushback are required from PR professionals against stakeholders over whom they have limited say with. During interaction with a range of PR executives, this reporter repeatedly heard stories about the challenges of pushing back and saying no to clients, the C-Suite and journalists.

Garima Bakshi, assistant account manager with Channel PR says, "Every publicist has been challenged by a client or two – whether it’s a sticky situation where a fussy client calls and complains incessantly about something you’ve worked on diligently or an overly needy client who calls at least twice a day to find out what you’re up each moment and why they aren’t featured in particular publication."

"So rebel a little. Find your voice. And watch success walk your way"

Commenting on this further, a mid-level PR executive, who chose to stay anonymous says young PR pros can easily face a crisis of confidence when faced with the demands of PR without adequate support, "Most clients do not understand the proper functioning of PR which leads to unrealistic demands. In the process of navigating through this challenge, PR professionals at a fresher level can easily lose confidence and start questioning if they are even suited for this job. Additionally, freshers are still in learning stages and the best way to learn is from mistakes. However, getting harsh or negative feedback from a media person further brings down the confidence levels of the PR person." 

"What would help me be more assertive at work is reduced micromanagement, adequate training programs to handle media, and senior management's involvement and support to manage client expectations right from the start." Annonymous PR Professional.

However, Tarunjeet  Rattan, managing partner, Nucleus would chalk up a lack of confidence at work to a lack of research and belief in their own ideas. Says Rattan, who has a PR firm owner perspective, "When you are convinced and passionate about what you are selling, the media and client will recognize that and connect with it. On the flip side, when you don't they also see through that and that's the energy they resonate with."

Smita Malwe, account manager, Media Mantra, agrees, "Lack of knowledge leads to lack of confidence and this gets reflected in every action; be it client meetings, media pitching or leading strategy for clients. There is a constant pressure to stay ahead of the changing industry dynamics and media landscape. To cope up with this pressure and stay confident, every PR professional must invest time to read, observe and research."

Cultural conditioning against saying 'No' to authority figures 

Rattan, however, does agree that culturally in India, "Being a good little individual is often equated with non- argumentative obedience, that often gets in our way. If we would only move out of our own way, there is nothing that could stop you. Thankfully, this is also changing. So rebel a little. Find your voice. And watch success walk your way."

Senior corporate communications and PR professional, Swapan Dholakia, explains our inability to speak up at work, "We are a vocal, opinionated nation. But I often do see a general approach-avoidance when it comes to conflict or different points of view."

Dholakia adds that "Personally, I have not had to push back more than a few times. What has helped is being calm and above all, the backing of senior management and their faith in you."

Senior Management support crucial to confidence levels in PR pros

Bakshi also speaks up in favour of having a strong voice at work, "Your work isn’t always going to run smoothly, and passive-aggressiveness won’t change that. Instead of simmering in silence or working behind the scenes to get even, asserting yourself can actually make things better. The reason many of us don’t respond to obstacles in the workplace this way, though, is because we often see assertion as an individual thing–something we do for our own benefit, like asking for a raise or promotion or defending our ideas in a meeting. But we can use the same tactics on behalf of our team to resolve challenges facing by all of us, boost morale and help get everyone motivated."

However, a key factor in instilling confidence in PR pros is the support of top management. Rahul Rakesh, senior communications and PR professional sketches out the following scenario, very candidly.

 " When a PR professional is bogged down with unrealistic/ unprofessional/unethical demands or requests from journalists (Oh! Don’t be surprised, they do and so we do, even though they are in a minority!), the problem is not when you are not able to manage it but when you approach your peers and seniors and they don’t help you with satisfactory responses. And the worst suggestion -  they are journalists, we cannot rub their shoulder in the wrong manner! Obviously one will lose confidence – in oneself, in the team, in the organisation, in the profession! "

The lesson adds Rakesh is " Tactfully manage the situation, today we have access to options like Indian PR Forum (IPRF), One Source where we can discuss such issues candidly, not to forget PRCAI and others. But do remember to choose your fight."

According to Amit Pant, also from Channel Partners, another problem that undermines the confidence of PR pros at work is that "Several PR agencies apply a practice that mentions less cost and the maximum number of deliverables without considering the story peg just for taking the client on, this also creates differences. A journalist only looks for story points that a PR professional must know because a good PR tells a good story. The marketing department has its own pressures that create challenges for the PR professional."

Whatever the challenge, what emerges also is that PR professionals are working hard to counter them, but somewhere at the systemic level, gaps remain in skilling, training and empowerment.

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