Just before the Christmas break, I went to a dinner put on by friends. Based near Fulham, they are very successful, working excellent jobs and living in one hell of a flat.
It was a great evening – brilliant food, catching up with old friends and a party that wound down at 4am. There was also a host of new girlfriends, boyfriends and flatmates in attendance – so naturally, the ‘what do you do for work’ conversation was used as the opening gambit by many. As always, everyone was ‘loving’ work – across the board it was positive, with everyone looking forward to the break but it going fantastically well. It wasn’t until later that someone deviated from script and admitted that things were tough.
The person in question had an incredible marketing role with a world-leading brand; a job that took them across the world and into the kinds of events I could only dream about. And halfway through the night, they admitted that they felt like they were constantly battling against a feeling of inadequacy and falling behind, mainly because they didn’t have anyone to talk it through with. This has led to them taking time off before the Christmas break, burning out and cancelling a load of social plans that they had pre-arranged.
PR, marketing and communications is a confidence game; you need to project an assurance and a swagger that means companies trust you to run the public-facing aspect of their brand. But truth be told, a great deal of public relations work is the swan effect: on the surface, you’re serenely gliding through the job with minimal fuss, but underneath the surface, your kicking your legs as fast as you can to ensure that everything runs perfectly.
That is how the relationship needs to be with clients. But I do think that the need to keep a stiff upper lip while within certain agencies brings with it some detriments. For those that are struggling with their workload, a tough client or the pressures of a particular project, sometimes it can feel like everyone is doing fine and you are the only person scrambling to keep up. That feeling is suffocating.
It’s an industry filled with competitive, intelligent people who have the opportunity to progress fast, so naturally, people are reticent to show that weakness. But if a culture is in place where people can speak freely, then the positives that come with this can be vast.
Tweaking the culture
Some of the best lessons and confidence-building experiences I’ve had within PR is where someone more senior than me has admitted that they are, to phrase it gently, still ‘learning on the job’. It’s a bit like reaching adulthood and realising that those older than you at work aren’t a different species, but simply other people who can now grow a decent beard and have realised they need to incorporate vegetables into their diet.
Team members who can openly discuss their strengths and weaknesses simply get better results. Overburdened towards a deadline? Have a culture that allows you to discuss this, ask for help and agree on how to manage it next time. Don’t know how to do something? Find yourself in a place where you can ask without feeling embarrassed. Not as hot on your media relationships as you are on your content writing? Ask someone else with complementary skills for a hand.
Most importantly, set a culture of openness where that person feeling the pressure, even though they might not show it, can tell someone that they need help. That goes beyond good work practice and can make a real difference to someone’s mental health and wellbeing.
I’m lucky to work somewhere that believes in this; there is plenty here at Aspectus that I think other places can learn from. Across teams there is the ability to ask for help when your work crosses sectors, staff members have attended mental health training, mindfulness sessions have been run and all levels of the company speak openly. But it always feels worthwhile to remember: when the pressure is on, show a bit of weakness and make yourself and your colleagues all the better, more effective and happier for it.