Friday, January 5, 2018
If you don't experience anxiety in PR you don't know PR. I'm not talking stress. I don't mean worry that your boss might get mad at something not being perfect. I mean anxiety. A hand creeping around your neck that your client will not be happy with you this week, or that day. That the meeting you're about to go into could be your last. That the pitches you're sending out won't be answered. That the interview won't result in coverage. That your competitors are better. That everything is coming crumbling down.
You see, PR is not structure. People apply plans, call events 'campaigns,' and the truth of the matter is that they're simply chaos. You try and predict the chaos, but you will never, ever hope to know how it will work. It can be out-of-control chaos - articles popping up that you have to deal with, understand, deal with. Or it can be reversed, cavernous, empty chaos - a lack of coverage, a lack of responses, a deluge of competitors being written about or the key subject that they want you to get on top of. You're sat there on your own - even with a team - and the hand grows tighter around your throat. Is this it?
The bigger the company, the more chaotic things are. I don't care if you're a 1-person startup or a 5000-person company. Size just means more chaos. You can pretend you had a campaign in gear that did everything, but really you can only hope to control the chaos of other people. You can only hope to poke enough bears and shake enough bushes to make things happen in a way that's remotely what you imagined. Sometimes that chaos is what you expect. Most of the time it isn't.
Clients will say "WHEN WILL THIS RUN?" or "WHY HASN'T THIS RUN YET?" like you know. You'll make up excuses. Oh, the reporter's sick. Oh, lots of news that day. The truth is you mostly don't know. You can sometimes be told these things, you can guess, but really you know nothing. Nothing of the world inside their heads, their editor's heads, their readers' heads. We talk of demographics and analytics like they're real things but they are not. They are only measurements of chaotic individuality.
And that's the beauty of what we do and the sickening anxious poison we all drink every day. We bathe in chaos. Some try and pretend they're soothsayers and that they know it intimately enough to predict the exact ebbs and flows of the industry and the reporters they work with. Some claim they're 'good at their job' because they're able to report what others have done and fit it roughly into a document they wrote once. The truth of the matter is we're all guessing. Some of us are just better at guessing than others. Some of us know enough people to help bring some harmony to chaos. But there is never, ever peace. There is never a lack of anxiety. There is never a calm or a moment of relaxation where you can say "my work here is done."
There will always be new clients, or current clients with news, or simply checks coming in that mean you have to keep working. It gets worse when you add more people in the way of the money from those checks getting to you. It gets better when the checks just come straight to you. The anxiety becomes worse, but the reward becomes larger. You can buy better computers that answer your tab-changing faster. You can buy nice soda or coffee that tastes good and keeps you awake.
But your reward must always be outside the screen, otherwise the anxiety will kill you. The hunt of the pitch - the joy of the successful piece running - is powerful and rewarding, but when it's all you rely on, you are a shell and a weak one. Make love. Have children. Get a dog. Paint. Sing. Do something outside of PR in tandem with it. Or it - and the poisonous anxiety within - will eat you whole.