Alcohol in PR: When does it become a problem?

Times are hard for many of us right now, so whether or not PR is worse than other industries for encouraging people to drink is debatable. As Isabel Ludick, marketing director at pet-owner advice site Pet Keen, says: “I don't think PR has a specific correlation to increased drinking problems more than other industries. I mean, yes, PR can get stressful at times and wrong moves could potentially carry high risks and lasting implications, but I don't think PR leads to drinking problems at more alarming rates than any other profession.”

But even if PR is no worse than other industries, alcohol dependence in PR must be tackled, and ideally people should be helped before their drinking becomes an issue. Below, we describe why drinking is hard to avoid in PR; warning signs that it has got out of hand; and ways to help yourself, or others, if there is a problem.

Why drinking is hard to avoid

 It’s seen as normal

Grainne Byrne, associate director at PR agency Represent: “Those in stressful jobs are most likely to be vulnerable to medicating through alcohol to destress. With so many PR professionals reporting mental health issues, I would say ‘Yes’ we are likely to be more at risk. Ten years ago, it would be normal to have one or two glasses of wine at lunch and no launch event would ever be complete without bubbles. In the work-hard, play-hard marketing industry unwinding with alcohol has historically been the norm.”

It's easily available

Armarni Lane, digital PR manager at digital agency Clicky Media: "Some of pop culture's most prominent PRs - from Samantha from Sex in the City to Patsy in AbFab, are rarely seen without a cocktail. And this 'party people' persona still permeates through to how outsiders view the world of a PR. Between schmoozing clients, press events and company party cultures, free alcohol to a PR is sometimes the equivalent of the age-old 'you're never more than 6ft from a rat' adage.”

Warning signs to look out for

 Irrational behaviour

Isabel Ludick: “One warning sign would involve frequent drinking, of course. Every day I believe is the danger zone. Another warning sign is impulsivity, irrationality, and aggravation when you can't drink. Also, a clear dependence and correlation between alcohol and stressful situations.”

 Encouraging others to join in

Grainne Byrne: “The warning signs to look out for might include a colleague creating opportunities to drink, eg, suggesting a bottle of wine during a lunch meeting or overdoing it at a client event. Whilst not easy to pick up signs remotely, other tell-tale indicators might include coming in to work unfit due to alcohol, increasing unreliability, performance issues, showing signs of stress or mood changes.”

Drinking on your own

Chris Owen, UK director of PR agency The Hoffman Agency: “From my own experience, it became clear there was a problem when I was drinking the same (significant) amount every evening and often on my own. Drinking alone is definitely one sign there’s cause for concern. Professionally, experts will flag blackouts as an indicator - if you drink so much you can’t recall what happened, that’s obviously not good.

“It goes without saying that frequency is an obvious indicator - if the above is happening a few nights a week (let alone daily), then talk to someone.

“As far as signs from colleagues, it’s tricky to say and never an easy situation. Smelling of drink in the morning shows a heavy night before - which will happen sometimes for all of us, but midweek and often is a worry. Obviously uncontrolled drinking on nights out - essentially, not knowing when to stop - is easily identifiable, again, especially if a frequent night out.”

How to help

Talk to a professional

Chris Owen: “At the end of the day, if you have - or someone you know has - any concerns, have a chat with your GP, or use one of the variety of confidential helplines.”

Change agency bad habits

Graham Goodkind, founder of PR agency Frank: “Drinking is, rightly or wrongly, part and parcel of agency life, it is a culture. Friday afternoon drinks trolleys, company meetings fuelled by free booze, weekly agency drinks on the company credit card, champagne corks popping to news of a new account win. Over the top alcohol consumption by PR folk at awards’ events, client drinks, journalist drinks, supplier drinks. But, given all that boozing, in all my time running agencies, I’ve only had one instance where alcohol had become a problem for an employee, and I did all I could to help that person to get proper treatment and counselling for that. They got better. I also had a person who had recovered from alcoholism come and work at Frank, we talked about the drinking culture in agencies and I changed certain bad habits we’d perhaps fallen into at the agency as a result.”

 Encourage alcohol-free socials

Armarni Lane: “It's easy to get into a habit of drinking - the high-pressure nature of the industry makes blowing off some steam with some shots dangerously tempting. But that's changing. The BBC reported Gen-Z is the most teetotal age group, and diversity and inclusion efforts are encouraging alcohol-free company socials. Health is wealth and in an industry rife with burnout, as the workforce becomes younger and embraces different cultures, I predict we'll start to see chai lattes and healthy mindfulness replace the champagne lifestyle and constant hangovers."

Helpful resources

PR is stressful, life is stressful, so self-medicating with a few drinks is completely understandable. When someone becomes addicted to the “medication” is when positive action needs to be taken. The good news is that there are many people, and resources, available to help.

Further listening

In this podcast Hoffman Agency’s Chris Owen discusses his previous problems with alcohol with PRmoment publisher Ben Smith 

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