Much has been written about the PR business being such a stressful occupation. Lots of reasons are cited, from slashed budgets to demanding clients to cranky reporters. And while I tend to believe that much of this stress is exaggerated (these are, after all, PR people talking), there’s one major source of stress that’s often overlooked.
Many PR people — especially agency people — are miserable in their jobs. And they’re miserable because they’ve been slotted into a career track that they don’t like or that they feel unequipped to handle. This problem isn’t exclusive to PR, as I wrote the other day. Lots of people hate their jobs.
But the traditional PR firm structure almost guarantees unhappiness.
Think about ad agencies. You have two basic, and very different, career tracks: you can be an account person or a creative. (Yes, there’s also media buying and a few other jobs, but those are the main ones.)
Account people deal with the clients — managing the relationship, acting as liaison between clients and creative and performing the delicate task of balancing everyone’s expectations. The creatives write the copy and do design and production.
These are two very different jobs, requiring very different skill sets — indeed, different sides of the brain.
But in the traditional PR firm structure, account and creative responsibilities are combined in one job. One minute you’re brainstorming tactics and the next you’re managing spreadsheets. You go from writing a speech to soothing a client’s nerves.
Some people just aren’t built to do both jobs. And that’s why you get the VP who can land a quarter-million-dollar account but can barely write a decent press release. Or the managing director stuck in task force meetings all day who dreams only of closing his door and writing speeches.
They’re both miserable because they feel inadequate in the face of all the different responsibilities that are demanded of them.
Some firms have addressed this problem by creating editorial departments or hiring creative directors. But those seem to be an exception, and even within those firms most people are still required to wear two hats.
And that, I think, is a recipe for misery, and an important source of stress.
Now I don’t know if it’s feasible for PR firms to structure themselves along the lines of ad agencies, but I’ve known a lot of unhappy people over the years who would welcome a change like that.