Friday, January 5, 2018
Rock bottom is a different place for most people. It doesn't necessarily mean you're destitute in an alley with no money and someone is peeing on you. It can also mean that you've failed, unbelievably and spectacularly. You've been fired. Your girlfriend left you. Your apartment's rent got jacked up and now you can't afford it. Your startup is being roasted by the press - or worse still, nobody cares about it. A trade went against you, and you lost a few thousand, or tens of thousands of dollars. A reporter hates you. You're still with your girlfriend. You're still at your job. You're still doing the same old thing that hurts you, and that hurts so much worse than a removal of a thing.
You see, rock bottom can be a complete lack of movement. Your boss is awful to you. He screams at you. Or his deputy does. Or their deputy does. Someone is angry at you all the time, but you can't leave for fear the economy will never produce another job that you can fill. Your startup isn't getting any traction for whatever reason, and you're too afraid to shut it down or do something drastic.
Or, to get back in the theme of the world of PR, you're too scared to leave your position where you've invested so much time and energy. You're established with your clients. Or you're not, and rock bottom is that you feel that, for all of your clients - each and every one of them - you're not sure where to pitch them. Sometimes rock bottom is the beginning of your day, as you open up your email and find no leads, no hope, no way to get that client the piece of coverage they need to keep the happy. Sometimes it's a new client, one that got brought on and is a big fat check for the company, but you have no goddamn idea how to make movements.
In reality, rock bottom is fear in the absence of hope. Something that isn't taken into account is how common this is in PR - maybe not to the extreme of it being true rock bottom, but how common it is that a poor Account Executive, SAE or Director is left staring at an empty inbox and with no beginnings.
Jump-starting your day can be really hard. Legendarily hard.
Staring into a gaping portal and knowing you have to produce ephemeral results to hold back the beast of burden that is having a PR retainer. There's little to start it without an email from a reporter.
A lot of things that reporters don't realize is that pressure to make something happen. I can understand that too; you're tasked to write, which kind of comes out of your fingers like so, and PR people are tasked to make words come out of YOUR fingers. That pressure is incredible. Especially to new PR people who don't really know what the fuck they're doing.
I remember my second or third day of PR. I was sat in an office with a big window, and I felt very special until someone walked in and told me I need to 'pitch.' I was told I needed to get people on a list - an excel spreadsheet was opened up in front of me - to write about an education platform. I felt this horrible emptiness in my throat, like someone had just asked me to speak fluent arabic or something. But I did it. My first call didn't get picked up. My second call didn't get picked up. My third one I got hung up on. The first few emails didn't get responded to, but the next was a few words:
"Take me off your list."
I felt awful. I didn't know what I'd done wrong. What had I done wrong? What was this about? Why didn't they want to be emailed? And why hadn't my manager told me that this was the case? Why was this so hard?
I remember staring at that email and tears welling up and thinking "This is awful. I can't do this job. I don't even know what this job is."
I went to my manager of the time and asked them what to do. They said to go to my colleague. I went to my colleague and asked her: "How do I pitch?" She shrugged and laughed. She told me some vague things that didn't necessarily make sense, and that I just 'had to keep trying.'
And sure, I did have to keep trying. But I remember the fear and the sadness. I was in a foreign country, working on a time-limited visa, doing a job that I didn't know how to do that had little or nothing to do with seven years of reporting, regardless of almost every PR blog and book saying it would.
I remember lying to people about how the job was going.
I truthfully can't recall how I got from there to where I am today, where I can generally get a response, even if it's not a completely angry destructive 'get out of my face.'
But that loneliness is still there about the beginning of some days. That gutted feeling when you don't know why you're there or what you're doing. And I know others feel it too - though it's very hard to admit that you are at that stage.
The way out of it is usually through a combination of luck and contrition. Of starting again. Of reading a lot of things and finding someone who might find that thing you're working on interesting. Of sitting a little longer on the toilet than necessary and then it hitting you that yes, that one writer might be the one who might respond and might talk to your CEO and might write a piece.
It's all about finding momentum. But finding that first momentum in your first PR job can be really, really hard. Impossible, some might add. I really shouldn't have found it. I really should have been fired along with the reams of people who got fired. I was not good, at least not at first, or at least not good enough to not fire.
Reporters might not realize that freezing isolation when you're left on an account with nothing to start with but ideas and nobody telling you where up and down are. But it's there. It's scary. It hurts. We can and will scoff at PR people with bad pitches and bad ideas who hound and hound the media, but they're not doing it because they just love to annoy you. They might be being told to, or they might have nothing left. You might be their last-gasp attempt. Sure, they may have copy-pasted it, but that might be all they know how to do, like that one fresh-out-of-college blogger who writes out every ounce of needless detail and uses over-verbose terminology to go over a memory stick.
No matter how good a company does at preparing someone for it - and many do, including ones I've worked for - there will always come this time in a PR person's life. It could be the beginning of a project, or the middle of it, or several months in when you're exhausted from looking at the same things every month.
For new people, that's the reason I'm writing the book. For current people who are having that problem, I really recommend doing something completely different, if only for a few minutes. Play a stupid iPhone game - a shuffle-board game worked well for me. Go out and walk around the block and get a big cup of coffee with a colleague and bitch about something - anything - unrelated to your job. Do something you'll enjoy, something cathartic that will divert your attention away from all the problems. Even if you're a chronic worrier like I am, you'll divert your brain from the problem at hand perhaps long enough to spark some frayed creativity to give you momentum.
You need it. You need a reason to keep sending those emails. You need to keep moving, keep doing things, keep fires aflame and plates spinning. Never stop moving, and never stop trying, because the moment you do you're stuck. Don't ever give into the idea that it's all over, and that nothing will ever happen again. It's up to you - in any industry, in any situation - to make things happen. The paralysis of fear is powerful, but not unbeatable. You can and will live again.