It’s quiet … but when is it too quiet?

What can you hear right now? General office chitchat, background music and people talking on the phone? Or would the sound of a pin dropping disturb your concentration for reading PR offices used to be renowned for their lively atmosphere, but as more work is done online rather than over the phone, noise levels have dropped. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on what you are trying to achieve.

You cannot share ideas without speaking, but when you are trying to think, silence can be golden. Rassami Hok Ljungberg, director of PR agency Rassami, says that usually, she likes things quiet: “Personally, I cannot stand constant chatter and noise, whereas a lot of people refer to a chatty, noisy office as 'buzzy and very happening', not taking into account the quality of the 'noise'. Talking with a purpose is fine, but constantly discussing the latest boyfriend gossip, what's for lunch, and a gorgeous outfit is just not efficient nor productive.

“A lot of fluffy PR-bunnies (male and female) mistake constant inane chatter for creative buzz, but they should try having a quiet concentrated moment, which just might lead to a focused and productive conversation with a journalist instead."

The problem is creating an office with the right balance. One that doesn’t disturb those trying to think, but which doesn’t inhibit PROs from picking up the phone. And when people are talking, it should be the right type of talk. As Rich Leigh, account director at PR agency 10 Yetis puts it: “A loud office isn’t necessarily a busy one – but a busy one should definitely be a loud one.”

Leigh believes that as communication professionals, PR people should be chatty. “I hate the thought of working with our heads ducked behind monitors, too scared to pick up a phone to talk to an actual person for fear of breaking the silence. If you want a career where you can duck behind a monitor, Tweeting strangers all day long and leave the office having not said a sentence out loud – develop a tolerance for high-sugar drinks and microwaveable burgers and work in IT. I have known PROs who would sooner email somebody across the room than get up and talk – because they’re ‘too busy’. If we can’t communicate with each other, there’s no way we can hope to do it on behalf of clients.”

Katharina Winkler, freelance PR consultant, also believes in the value of the right type of buzz: "Over-reliance on electronic communication tools, large-scale open-plan office arrangements and tighter work loads, have generally led to some near-silent work places. Yet interpersonal communication is vital for a creative and happy office, which in turn affects team performance and individual job satisfaction.”

Winkler points out that good journalist and client contacts can’t be built up by relying on email: “The telephone is still the best means to sell a story. Speaking to a journalist directly allows you to honestly assess how likely a story is to run. In my experience, agencies that frequently use the phone tend to generate higher volume of client coverage."


Caroline Kinsey, CEO of PR agency Cirkle: "Only ten years ago Facebook, Twitter, Youtube et al didn't exist. This seismic technological shift in online communications has meant that we risk losing the art of open dialogue. Those agencies who do not prioritise the phone and face-to-face meetings do so at their peril. A buzz in the office is contagious and provides a positive environment to encourage creativity and teamwork."

Jim Hawker, co-founder of agency Threepipe: “Offices which are buzzy, foster teamwork and a culture which gives staff the confidence to express their ideas and opinions. It can create a real positive energy and allows you to hit those short deadlines that we all face day to day. Time to think is key though and agencies should offer a way for people to do this when needed.”

And reckons, that if it's really that bad, you can always look for a new PR job!

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.

Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.

PRmoment Awards 2024 ESG Awards Media Point PRCA CIPR Creative Moment