PR Is Only As Stressful As You Make It

For years, “PR executive” has been listed high among the most stressful occupations — Number 2, in fact.

Yes, I know — take that, neurosurgeons and air traffic controllers!

This year, somehow, it dropped all the way down to Number 7, behind soldiers, firefighter, cops and, um, event planners. (One of those things is not like the other.)

I imagine right now there’s a group of PR people conspiring to somehow get that ranking back up next year. Because here’s the dirty little secret to this profession: people take perverse pride in how stressed out they are. That “We’re #2!” factoid has been touted by industry people for as long as I can remember.

I suppose it provides a kind of validation that the work we do is vitally important. Or maybe it’s a defense we use for all those missed dinners and soccer games for whatever crisis has arisen at the office — “Sorry, honey, you knew when we got married that I work in the second most stressful profession!”

But here’s the thing: we are only as stressed as we choose to be.

Yes, we face a lot of pressures — demanding bosses, mercurial clients, cranky reporters and the need to bill, bill, bill. And so much of what we do is beyond our control. A (literal) tsunami steps on our story. Our client’s product is recalled. The printer is out of ink!

I threw that last one in there because I find the people in this industry who claim to be the most stressed out react with equal alarm to all three of these events. Everything is on 11.

Stress is self perpetuating. The more we act stressed, and talk about being stressed and promote our rankings among the most stressful occupations, the more those around us become stressed.

And it creates an image problem for us. The perennial complaint among PR people is that we don’t get invited into the boardroom or the C-Suite. There are probably many reasons we may not get a seat at the table.

But I would submit part of the explanation is the image we project. Think of the chief counsel or CFO or CIO — are they running down the halls screaming about how stressed out they are? Do they look like this:

Probably not. They’re cool, calm, composed. And not because they have no stress in their lives, but because they know that that’s a sign of leadership.

One of the most effective and respected people I’ve ever worked with was a vision of grace and ease. (They even named an award after her — the Grace and Ease award!) She was unflappable. And that attitude, like being stressed to the max (!), was contagious. It made you aspire to be as composed as she was. (And to be as different as possible from the VP flipping out in the hallway because the printer is jammed.)

So buck up, PR people. If we’re being muscled aside in the stress rankings, that’s probably a good thing. Be happy that, unlike those near the top of the list, you’re not being shot at on a regular basis.

And if it does trouble you, take comfort in the fact that at least we’re the second most caffeinated profession.

(A version of this article was picked up and ran in PR Daily.)

(Photo by John De Boer)