Has the fun gone out of PR?
6th January 2016
Getting back into the swing of work can be difficult at the beginning of a new year, especially if your job gets you down. But luckily you work in PR, and PR is fun, right? But perhaps not as much fun as it used to be. Francis Ingham, director general of PRCA, suggests that this is because people take themselves more seriously than they used to, and more seriously than they should. He says: “The never-off, always-visible consequence of mobile technology, and high-quality photos of low-quality drunkeness are something to do with that.” Ingham believes this trend has now gone too far, explaining, “Our industry leaders want hard workers, with insight, skill, and enthusiasm. And enthusiasm not just for PR, but for life. They tend to be gregarious, outgoing people. So they're drawn to equally gregarious, outgoing people.” The PRCA claims it is trying to do its bit by providing evening networking events (with wine, naturally), and is not alone, as there are always plenty of dos that a PRO can put in their diary (obviously the most important being the PRmoment Awards!).
However, despite all these events, there are fewer opportunities to get out of the office. As Steve Earl, managing director, Europe of PR agency Zeno Group, says: “The range of interaction and communication we employ is narrower than it used to be. And yes, both the fun and the learning opportunities that come with meeting journalists and managing interviews in person has diminished. We have digital media and content to compensate of course, but there’s still no substitute for a quick drink with a hack and a natter to both build relations and uncover editorial openings.
“One of the reasons it can feel less fun is because we spend too much time staring at screens and not enough talking to people. Too much email, not enough real conversation, and too much meaningless formulaic business-speak rather than cutting to the chase. PR has evolved into broader communications, so we need to be more expansive in how we communicate to put some of the fun back in.”
One person who is amazed that anyone would suggest that PR is getting dull, is James Selman, managing director, London at agency Allison+Partners, although he points out that you have to make the extra effort to go out: “An integral part of what we do means getting out and meeting people. Anyone who thinks that they can do the job without it, is simply deceiving themselves. What is important to remember is how you use the time. Most industries that we serve, be it tech, travel and hospitality, FMCG, entertainment or even our own, have useful opportunities to engage socially that allow us to grow our business and position ourselves as a credible and trusted stakeholder.”
Selman admits that PR does involve some slog, but says there are many fun elements included in this hard work: “The job can be hard. However, if we are honest about that with ourselves and our colleagues, we’ll ultimately find the best people to do the work. The job also continues to evolve. The marketing disciplines have blended together, which means exciting opportunities to hone new skills and do more creative and impactful work for our clients. They can come to us with bigger challenges now, and we can legitimately offer a comprehensive set of services ranging from strategy, planning and insight to creative, production, activation, analysis and measurement.”
In fact some people may even go as far and say that it is these challenges that make PR more fun than ever before. Joe Walton, deputy managing director, technology at PR firm Weber Shandwick says: “I enjoy meeting people and socialising as much as the next person, but in my view it’s never been the schmoozing and boozing that makes this job fun. The PR industry is fun because instead of sitting behind a desk checking contracts, building pivot tables and clock watching, you are working in a creative, unpredictable, high-pressure and high-energy environment. There’s no question, agency life can feel relentless and stressful, but there is no better feeling than toasting the success of a long, high-stakes PR campaign or a hard-earned new business win with clients and colleagues. That’s what makes this job fun.”
Is PR too much work and too little play?
Ian McCawley, managing director at agency Acuity PR:
“Having spent a decade in journalism and a decade in PR, I can say from experience the job has always been pressured and time precious. If anything, KPIs have got tougher and we need to prove our worth quicker. So a job that’s always been relentless is now probably best described as breathless.
“That doesn’t mean it has to be all work and no play. True, there are fewer journalists who have time on their hands for long lunches over which useful gossip is traded. PR remains a relationship business, however, and it’s essential to make time to establish social relationships with clients and journalists. A little entertainment never hurt anyone (although the FD sometimes winces at receipts).
“As for life in the office, the main thing is to build a team of people who gel and get on with each other. If you can have a laugh it makes it easier to get through the tougher times. We’re a small agency but as we grow I want to avoid cliques, and ensure everyone understands and respects our nurturing culture – whilst working hard of course!”
Amy Airey, PR director at agency Manifest Communications:
“I think it’s true to say that there's probably less face-to-face socialising in everyday PR than perhaps there was 10 or 20 years ago – but that’s very different from saying there's less opportunity to meet people and socialise, or that the industry is less fun than it once was.
“Communication and ‘socialising’ in modern PR is at an all-time high – it’s just that the professional and social landscape has shifted so significantly that much of it happens in a different way. Like any industry, PR has evolved to become more effective and more efficient, so whilst there is still that same drive to deliver a personal, meaningful ‘sell’, this is just as likely to happen through a low-budget social campaign as it is at an all-singing and dancing event.”
Victoria Ruffy, partner and co-owner of agency Little Red Rooster PR:
“I don’t believe PR has lost its sparkle at all – not if you’re the sort of person that loves socialising. At a time when some agencies are neglecting media relations, it remains the most important part of our job. Our clients pay us to get coverage and what’s the best way to achieve this? By reaching out to journalists and forging lasting relationships. If you make this process more enjoyable, then invariably you’ll enjoy PR much more. 'Go for a drink: get coverage’ might sound old-school, but it’s still incredibly effective – as long as you have done your research, have something to say, and know what you’re talking about. Meeting a journalist face-to-face still opens up far more opportunities than over the phone."
Ben Philipson, director at agency Marlin PR:
“Someone once said to me that ‘boredom is self-inflicted’ and I guess you could apply the same mantra you do in work and outside work. PR has never been so much fun. We live in an incredible world that is evolving exponentially. Our daily lives are lucky enough to see us sit at the cusp of experiencing mind-blowing technologies that complement that world. We learn how to communicate more efficiently and they help us be more productive. Technology PR is relentless, it is continual excitement, challenge and learning. We make time for what we enjoy and building relationships with media and meeting new people through networking are a fundamental part of that. They will never play second fiddle