Work Hard, Play Hard—How Successful PR Executives Think About Stress

Think job-related stress is a recent phenomenon? Not quite.

The remains of Britain’s King Richard III were found last year. Turns out the guy was pretty stressed out. Analysis of his teeth showed that they worn smooth from teeth grinding and clenching—a common accompaniment to a stressful life.

With late hours and client deadlines, some of us might be grinding our teeth, too. Public relations was recently named the 5th top most stressful profession of 2013, higher than “photojournalist,” “taxi driver,” and “police officer.” The least stressful jobs, in case you’re wondering, included “university professor,” “seamstress/tailor,” “jeweler,” and “dietician.”

Is public relations really that stressful? Well, yes. Clearly some pressure is built in. When I worked on the agency side, I organized many new business pitches. We squeezed in the long hours of preparation between and around client work. It wasn’t easy—but when we won, it was exhilarating. In addition, I came away with some valuable coping skills that still serve me. I take care to manage my time wisely, so that I can accommodate unforeseen events as they arise while still producing what I’m on the hook to produce. I also delegate to the right people when I can and involve new players who add new thinking to the situation.Luke Lambert web

Wondering how other executives in our profession have managed the pressure in the course of their careers, I reached out to two: Gibbs & Soell CEO Luke Lambert and Elise Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Communications Group.

Both acknowledged the stresses of running a PR firm, but they also put this issue in perspective. “I find it hard to put our industry in a ‘top five’ list of stressful professions,” Lambert said. “First responders, military personnel, their families…that’s real stress.” Mitchell noted that PR professionals can handle stress better than most, for we are more comfortable existing in a constant state of ambiguity and flux. “Being prepared for anything is one of the PR pro’s greatest gifts and certainly something that is critical for success in today’s evolving business environment.  When others feel a need for clarity, we’re comfortable with uncertainty and can offer counsel, help them think through various options and simply provide clear-headedness and calm in the midst of chaos.”

Elise Mitchell 2013 webResearchers are finding that a limited amount of stress causes positive changes in our brain physiology, leading to better mental functioning. As Lambert sees it, there are some important business benefits, too. “Agencies whose teams build up their resilience to stressful situations can embed into their culture certain endurance strategies, ultimately building team unity and organization-wide confidence.” Mitchell notes that stress only hurts us if we let it paralyze us. “The best way to manage stress is to understand why you are feeling it, what your worst fear is, what the best outcome could be, and then determining an action plan to both avoid your worst fear and realize your best outcome.  Most of the time, our worst fears never materialize, and if we become effective at channeling our energy toward achieving the best possible outcome, you have a much higher chance of attaining it!”

As far as tips go for managing stress in the course of a high-performance career, Lambert and Mitchell suggest that up-and-coming professionals in our field the following:

  • Stay optimistic.
  • Always retain your sense of humor.
  • Plan well—so that you can focus on your work rather than worrying about your deadline.
  • Go outside your company for help on things you can’t do on your own.
  • When your company is rapidly growing, stay open to evolving and growing as a leader. Putting up resistance just adds more stress.
  • In truly stressful times, take time to step back, gain perspective, and develop a strategy.
  • Train your teams to manage conflict better. If they’re less stressed out, you’ll be, too.

All this is great advice. And I’m sure many of you out there have favorite techniques of your own. I hope you’ll take a moment and share them with us in the comments box.

I find it rather exciting that we’re thought of as the #5 most stressful profession. All meaningful jobs have stress. We need to push beyond our comfort zones if we ever are to create anything new and worthwhile. But we also need balance. So work hard, help clients through their tough moments, and grow your businesses. But don’t forget to play hard, too.

5 thoughts on “Work Hard, Play Hard—How Successful PR Executives Think About Stress

  1. I’d add one other tip to your most excellent blog, Kathy. PR firm leaders need to find an outlet for their stress. All work and no play makes Jack or Jane a dull boy or girl (excuse me, lady). I choose to rock, ice and mountain climb to clear my mind and soul of any work-related stress. And, believe it or not, performing stand-up comedy achieves the exact same result. In fact, comedy’s counter-intuitive, stress-relieving side-effects are one reason why we’ve incorporated it in our management training program. It’s an experience that each, and every, employee will tell you helps put their routine, PR-related stress in greater perspective. Try it. You’ll like it.

    1. Thanks, Steve. Excellent point. A stress reliever like regular exercise indeed provides perspective and other positive benefits. You’ve reminded me why I enjoy running.

  2. Great and enjoyable post. Learning to laugh and not taking yourself too seriously probably helps. So too does exercise to sweat away the stress. But it aint easy doing what we do.

    Ronn Torossian

  3. Just came across this piece. Focus on what is immediate, and take time to exercise and eat right. Positive stress brings about challenges which to me develops a persons ability to grow and develop. There is something about a seasoned profession who has come through many different stress avenues in life, who makes it all look easy. After a while it is easy to steer a stormy sea, and know when to stop and seek a safe harbor. Working in all my little jobs, which covered major critical and crisis areas, no one would know how much knowledge and skill it really took, since it all looked so easy, till…


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