Being a publicist or public relations executive is truly a thankless job.
Publicists get no respect. It is even worse than comedian Rodney Dangerfield could have imagined. Everyone dumps on us — the media, lame advertising people who don’t understand public relations, and worst of all — clients.
Public relations clients are never satisfied. It is kind of like being in a relationship with a nymphomaniac or sex addict. No matter what we do — securing front page magazine and newspaper articles, intriguing online profiles, top TV coverage, etc. — it is never enough. They always want more, more, and even more…like true media whores.
Your past successes mean little in the public relations industry as far as clients are concerned. PR clients’ overall attitude and mantra remain constant: “What have you done for me lately?”
Sadly, most of the clients I have encountered and worked with through the years, have little or no clue about what us publicists actually do for them, the actual difficulty of the job, and the true nature of how the media works. They want everything yesterday even though obtaining media relations always takes much longer than anyone thinks, and is a time-consuming and frustrating process that requires diligence, and patience — the one quality most clients I have known…lack.
I could write a 10 volume encyclopedia about what clients don’t know about public relations and even that wouldn’t cover it. Each PR campaign launch requires a constant educational effort for clients who expect instant media coverage. Keeping clients’ expectations within realistic and achievable goals is an ongoing job that never stops.
The main problem is too many people don’t really know what public relations actually is and what role PR can play in promoting a company and building brands over time. Too often they confuse it with advertising where you may control and pay for the message, but it doesn’t have the same credibility as public relations, which is simply free earned publicity for of your company, etc.
Yet even trying to explain this difference to friends and family is a daunting and frustrating challenge. A typical conversation goes like this:
Family member or Friend: “So…you’re in advertising?”
You: “No…public relations.”
Family or friend: “That’s the same as advertising…isn’t it?”
You: “No. Not exactly. In public relations, we don’t control the message of our clients. We provide free publicity. In advertising, they buy the message and essentially ad space or time. We have to earn public relations coverage by telling stories and promoting the news value of our clients…”
At that point, your family member or friend stares at you blankly in abject confusion.
“Oh, OK,” they say and quickly move on to another subject.
So once again we get no respect as no one, including our clients, truly understand what we do and the true value of what a strategic public relations campaign can overall bring to enhancing a company’s reputation.
Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t just stay in journalism. I might be hated but people would at least understand what I do.
The funny thing is I thought public relations would be a cushy, high-paying job. Boy, was I ever wrong. You couldn’t blame me, though. I was an underpaid, overworked high school and college sports editor for a Southern California daily newspaper. I actually loved the work and writing but hated the late hours, constant deadline pressure, and ridiculously low pay. At one point, I worked 45 straight days without a day off. I worked almost every holiday and most Friday and Saturday nights. I even worked Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve one year. It was hell on my social life, to say the least.
Even if I wasn’t at the office, I could be called into work on a moment’s notice or would have to work on articles at home. I was stressed out and couldn’t ever seem to relax and get away. I see now that it was my first introduction to work burnout. I figured public relations couldn’t be that bad, but PR had its own downsides I didn’t foresee. As a reporter, if a reader doesn’t like one of your stories, they can write a letter to the editor, call the editor to complain or post nasty online comments under the story. However, generally, you don’t lose your job over reader complaints. There still exists a US vs. Them mentality in journalism even today.
In public relations, if a client complains to your boss about your performance– you could be gone. As with many other industries, there isn’t a lot of employer loyalty in PR especially when it comes to public relations clients and the business they bring into an agency or firm. The client is always right even if they are so completely wrong. They pay the bills as advertisers, and to a lesser extent, subscribers, do for news organizations.
Also, you can remind your clients a million times that you have no control over the media and you need to approach the media with modesty, finesse, and creativity, and all they want to know is why you couldn’t get their lame product or story covered in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Even at times when you land a huge placement for your clients, they will still complain and ask why the media didn’t just print their comments from the press release or their favored message points. They essentially want to turn the media into their own publicity outlet with no regards to the news value of their product or story or the media’s own needs to tell an interesting story to their readers.
You can painstakingly explain this media dynamic to clients like they are a 3-year-old and many of them still won’t get it.
Recently, I was reminded of this media dynamic at the CES show in Vegas. I had one client that became the hit of the show and received an avalanche of coverage. They get the role of PR in launching their business and support our efforts and the planning that went into it. They treat us more as a partner in their business than a vendor.
The other client we had at CES began complaining and demanding instant coverage even just 12 hours after launching their press release at the show. Their product was hardly anything new or truly groundbreaking at a show that specializes in just that. Still, eventually, our team rallied to get our client interest from a major business publication and an interview with another high profile publication at their booth.
The bullshit never ends.
Even though I have been able to effectively transfer my journalism skills to the PR world, I have long since lost patience with the bullshit side of the PR business. This why my career has been a revolving door, and an endless and ongoing search for the perfect public relations job and agency that I am beginning to realize may not exist. Still, I hold out hope…but can’t help thinking that I am deluding myself.
So…welcome to my life in public relations hell.