Public relations is a fast-paced, deadline-oriented industry. The rigors of balancing multiple projects for several clients and colleagues can be overwhelming, especially early in your career. I shed a few tears and was stressed, scared, and overwhelmed from time to time in the early days of my agency and corporate career.
However, I did learn a few lessons and created some techniques that helped make me a more focused, poised, and subsequently more productive and happy professional.
Here are a few tips and suggestions for entry-level and senior PR pros alike.
1. Maintain perspective. We aren’t doing life-saving surgery, fighting a war, or walking on a tightrope over a pit of ravenous hyenas. OK, it may feel like that sometimes, but although the work we do is important and meaningful, generally speaking it is not something over which we should be shedding serious tears or stress. Perspective is a great thing.
2. Play the “worst case scenario” game. When I am swamped or stressed, I ask myself: “What is the worst thing that can happen if I miss the deadline? Make a mistake? Upset my boss?” Hopefully, the answer isn’t as awful as your stress suggests.
3. Don’t be so sensitive. Your boss or client criticizes your work or, worse, you. Learning to take constructive (and even negative) feedback is an essential element to career success and life success. Not everyone is going to love your work all the time. Your ability to take the suggestions or criticisms, learn from them, and not dwell on the negative will serve you well.
4. Put out the hottest fires first. Learn to prioritize and assess what tasks are the most urgent. Although all assignments are important, you must figure out how to assess various shades of urgency. Revisit No. 2 to help determine priorities.
5. Speak up. If you say “yes” to everything without letting your clients and supervisors know the other important work you are doing, you will get overwhelmed. In PR, you’ll be given us much work as you can handle, so handle as much as you can, but learn to tell others what you are doing so the quality of the work doesn’t suffer.
6. Step away. As you feel your stress rising, take a moment before you crash. Get up, get a drink of water, stretch (yes, stretch your body), walk outside for a bit. Taking a few deep breaths away from your desk will help you.
7. Find a mentor. Identify a colleague or a friend whom you respect and trust. Find a colleague who seems to maintain his/her poise even in intense situations. Bouncing ideas or struggles off this person will help you to see things more clearly. It is hard to have perspective when you are in a stressful environment.
8. Don’t get distracted by stressful colleagues or friends. Rehashing the negative encounter with a colleague or client doesn’t always help, and it makes you look like you cannot handle pressure. What was probably a small incident may turn into an issue if you react immediately. Everyone knows someone who has a negative story to share; don’t become that person. Take an hour, or even a day or two, and move on. If you are still bothered by something after a few days, perhaps you should discuss it with a peer or trusted mentor.
9. Turn the phone/computer off. Are you attached to your personal electronic devices? Try not to check work emails or personal texts around the clock. Carve out segments during your workday when you don’t check emails for a half-hour. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll get done.
10. Take time to read a book at night, exercise, or get some sleep. You must do something to shut off your brain each day. Find that thing, and do it religiously.
Finally, laugh. Having a sense of humor about yourself and your business is healthy. Take pride in what you do, but never forget to enjoy it.
Lorra M. Brown is an assistant professor of public relations/professional communication at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. She serves as the internship coordinator and advisor to the Student Public Relations Association. Prior to her faculty position, she held senior-level positions at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and Weber Shandwick Worldwide.