When you get to the stage where your job literally makes you sick, then there is a problem. I will be the first to admit that in the past month I fell ill because of the stress related to the work that I do as a public relations (PR) consultant.
We initially tend to ignore the signs. We "tough it" under the relentless pressure from difficult clients or the "challenging" economic environment. It may come as a shock to people inside and outside of the profession that a recent 2019 study by CareerCast.com revealed that PR ranks among the 10 most stressful jobs.
PR professionals face some unique challenges with added pressures to a career already deemed as very stressful.
According to the CareerCast.com research, 78% of respondents rate their job stress at seven or higher on a 10-point scale -- a sizable jump from the 2017 stress survey, which found 69% of responding readers scored their job stress seven or higher.
The most common stress factor cited in the 2019 survey was meeting deadlines (38% of respondents), with growth potential and interacting with the public tied for a distant second stressor at 14% each -- helping to explain why communications careers are considered such nail-biters.
Interestingly, three other communications-related jobs -- that of broadcasters, event coordinators and news reporters -- also made the Top 10 list, higher than that of the senior corporate executive. Military personnel remains the most stressful, followed by fire-fighters, airline pilots and police officers.
"Stress in the workplace might prompt job seekers to consider a career change. While no job is stress-free, choosing a profession based on its stress level is purely a personal choice," CareerCast.com's Kyle Kensing said.
"Although PR professionals aren't literally putting out fires, their job does involve taming flames in crisis situations by managing and maintaining brand reputation. While they thrive in such scenarios, others cringe at the thought of such high-pressure situations, along with tight deadlines, unpredictable hours and last-minute travel," writes Cision's Laura Roman.
But truth be told, PR practitioners are pressured to take the fall for the brand. Is there anything less stressful than that? Roman rightly observes that without PR counsel, companies end up compromising accountability, aggravating negative impact and damaging brand reputation.
However, having a well-supported team and plan in place is one sure way of reducing stress to both personnel and the brand.
In the unique world that we live in, PR professionals can be stressed by proving their worth in an organisation mainly because we deal with intangible results of something that executives and other leaders find it difficult to get around.
"Mere impressions, mentions, sentiment and number of placements will no longer be sufficient information to prove the value of public relations. Clients are becoming increasingly interested in seeing how their PR budgets are proving impressive ROI through tangible results," says Roman.
Data, the bane of most communicators, has provided the means to provide insights that prove the value of PR and ultimately, help a brand's C-Suite understand and influence consumer behaviour. Those that do not embrace data will find themselves left behind in their respective industries.
The adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will go a long way to provide solutions to situations that practitioners have found stressful. Paramount among them, measuring and evaluating impact.
Another area that has proved challenging is the heavy reliance on marketing at the expense of PR. Mismatched budgets have long been a bone of contention.
However, trends are moving towards integration. An integrated approach will demonstrate how targeted audiences are interacting with a brand.
The failure to break down silos across areas of marketing and communications will result in an ineffective approach leading to measurement reports with holes and gaps. It will translate into stress for those affected and in one case I am familiar with has led to a highly capable candidate turning down a plum PR job at the end of her probation.
To say that the public has considerably lost trust in traditional media outlets is an understatement. There was a time when paid media occupied that dark space. In a way, PR practitioners had gained notoriety, most of it undeserved, of being the purveyors of spin. This contributed to a lack of trust even for those working in-house.
I remember being excluded from executive meetings at one of my illustrious jobs because the team didn't trust me. On further investigation, a colleague confessed that the others felt I would leak sensitive information to the media! Add to say this was a stressful period for me, and fellow practitioners would understand the feeling of being a pariah.
A State of the Media report has said that brands have an opportunity to provide relevant, authoritative, accurate content to the public in order to preserve and rebuild consumer trust. This situation highlights the importance for PR professionals to seek and take advantage of more owned media and contributed content opportunities for clients in addition to traditional media relations.
At Magna Carta Reputation Management, we encourage clients to embrace thought leadership and content marketing as a way of positioning brands as reliable and trustworthy sources of information. We are moving away from writing puff pieces that offer little value to consumers to bankable advice that will help them make informed choices.
According to Crenshaw Communications, here are stress triggers about our profession that resonated with me:
We serve many masters
We trade control for credibility
PR is still poorly understood
It's based on billable hours
Inside, it's a staff position, not a line position, and that,
PR is in transition.
The most disturbing aspect coming out of the study is that if work occupies so much of our life and that work is stressful, then life will be stressful.
The CareerCast.com study is based on an evaluation of 11 stress factors, including deadlines, hazards, physical demands and public interaction.
Lenox Mhlanga is lead consultant at Magna Carta Reputation Management. He serves on the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Relations Council and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org