CareerCast rated public relations executive as the eighth most stressful job on its 2019 Most Stressful Jobs list, behind life-or-death occupations like soldier, police officer, firefighter and airline pilot. The survey reports that 78% of respondents rate their job stress at seven or higher on a ten-point scale, up significantly since 2017 when 69% scored their job stress seven or higher.
PR pros face tight deadlines, unreasonable clients, a constantly changing media landscape, confrontational reporters and a cynical public. The challenge of proving the benefits of PR to clients and corporate manages can also cause anxiety.
“PR is poorly understood, and this leaves a lot of room for confusion and miscommunication,” writes Richard D. Pace at Everything-PR. “Many people assume that public relations will generate something tangible just like advertising or that the results will be exact. This is not the case, and it creates a lot of stress.”
Absences for Mental Health Issues
A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK finds that about a quarter (23%) of PR practitioners said they took a sickness absence from work due to stress, anxiety or depression.
The CIPR’s State of PR research also reports that more than a fifth (21%) of respondents said they had a diagnosed mental health condition. Over half (53%) said work contributed substantially to their diagnosis, with unrealistic deadlines and unsociable hours cited as common causes.
Many line-managers fail to address mental health concerns of employees. Almost a quarter (23%) of respondents who discussed concerns about their mental health with a manager said that nothing happened as a result of those conversations.
Stress is highest at agencies and consultancies and lowest among solo PR pros. Many (73%) of PR pros at agencies and consultancies reported a high level of stress, according to the survey. Only 44% of independent practitioners reported the same level. Those working on a public sector communications team rated their environment as the second-highest for stress (67%) followed by those working in the private sector (64%) and not-for-profit organizations (59%).
Media Relations Getting Harder
A majority (68%) of PR professionals in the JOTW Survey say media relations is getting harder or much harder. That’s up 17% from last year where 51% said media relations was getting harder. Respondents cited reporter turnover, veteran reporters being replaced with junior ones, and “in-your-face-journalism” as contributing causes. Journalists are more confrontational, combative and biased, in the opinion of the responding PR professionals.
“It’s harder to know who is media and who isn’t. And there used to be rules of engagement – behavior, fairness. Now, it’s say whatever you want about whomever you want,” stated one survey participant.
Is the Stress Worth It?
ACH Communications Principal Arik Hanson writing in his Talking Points email newsletter wonders if the higher pay of senior-level PR and communications jobs are worth the stress.
Salaries increase substantially at more senior levels – sometimes 30-50% at the vice president level, according to the 2019 Salary Report from PR Talent. But senior-level agency and corporate jobs are extremely stressful, Hanson notes. They often involve regular travel that stresses family life, work for new businesses that’s often hectic and full of last-minute tasks, and managing large teams, also typically stressful.
“So yeah, you might be pulling down 150K+ as a VP or SVP somewhere, but you’re never home, you’re not healthy and you’re constantly working 60-70 hours a week,” he writes. “Is it worth it?”
That’s a question many communications professionals ponder as they mull their career options.
Bottom Line: Public relations professionals report more job stress than ever. A changing media environment and growing pressure to demonstrate results are likely causes. That job stress may prompt employees to consider working as solo practitioners or to urge employers to accept more flexible work arrangements.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.