PR can be stressful, but what are the likely causes and what should agencies be doing to support their teams?

This week’s survey news from the PRCA and CIPR laid bare the cold truth about working in PR. It can be stressful. There’s no point denying it, because it is, and it always has been. The call out stats prove this beyond doubt:

  • 91% of PR professionals experienced poor mental health over the last year
  • The number of PR professionals diagnosed with a mental health condition increased from 25% to 33%
  • 30% of professionals rated their stress levels for the past year at 8 out of 10 or higher

These stats merely pour more fuel on an already roaring fire. Whenever research is done into the most stressful professions, PR and communications is almost always in the top 10.

Yesterday’s survey cites ever-growing workload as a major contributing factor. To me, this suggests that so much of this stress is avoidable if agencies choose to behave in the right way.

What do I mean by this? Well, in my experience, the stress that any one person feels, at any one time, results from a combination of pressures:

  1. Agency pressure
  2. Client pressure
  3. The pressure we put on ourselves
  4. Other pressure

Let’s consider each one separately:

Agency pressure

This is all about culture and the values any one agency holds dear. Does it care about its people? Does it believe in work/life balance? Does it, in most instances, put its people before commercial success? Does it celebrate difference and promote inclusion? Does it try to share work equally so no one person is forced to burn the midnight oil several times a week?

This does not mean to say that occasional long hours won’t happen, especially if an agency is in peak campaign delivery mode, or preparing for a launch or an industry event. But these examples should be the exception and not the rule.

Ultimately the value of any agency is determined by the quality and fortitude of its people. Agencies need to remember this and act accordingly.

Client pressure

We’ve all had ‘those’ clients. Unreasonable requests at the eleventh hour. Poor briefs that require constant campaign revisions haemorrhaging unplanned hours. Aggressive attitudes that seek to undermine the team and rule through fear, not through collective positive momentum.

We’re fortunate at CCGroup not to have these types of clients. This is our choice. We have parted company with several clients over the years that have not met the expectations we set out in our client charter. Our client relationships are built on mutual respect and a determination to work together to achieve stated goals. Yes, we need to be motivated to keep improving and remain ambitious in the results we strive for, but these should never come at a human cost.

The pressure we put on ourselves

Without doubt, this is the hardest to spot and the pressure we, as PR professionals are least likely to admit. We are all people pleasers. We want people to appreciate us. Sometimes this leads to overservicing, at worst it can lead to burnout. This can often be linked to setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves in search of a perfection we’re never likely to achieve.

This pressure has caused me the most stress throughout my 20-year career, which has been compounded by my own neurodiversity which simply upped the stakes in terms of how hard, and how late I felt I should be working.

Unpacking this hidden pressure is best done through talking. Chats that can start in house, but they should really be handled by trained professionals who are qualified to help people find solutions. We offer access to these professionals as part of our employee benefits package.

Other pressures

Life brings its own stress, even before you include work stress. The cost of living is excruciating – energy prices, interest rates, food prices, childcare costs etc. War continues to rage around the world, geopolitical tensions are rife and we have a bunch of elections this year promising more periods of uncertainty.

Now, as an agency owners, we can’t do much about these outside world factors, but we can work with our teams to create a work environment in which they can feel valued and thrive. We want to make sure that CCGroup is considered to be a great place to work. A big part of this is accepting that PR can be stressful and ensuring we’re set up to support and help our team should they need it.

CCGroup is shortlisted for PR Week’s Best Places to Work Award in the Mental Health Champion category for 2024, having previously won four Best Places to Work Awards in the last four years.

Written by Paul Nolan


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