For many public relations professionals, finding balance in our business is like finding the Holy Grail. The nature of this industry requires that we be "on" all the time, even when we’re technically supposed to be "off," and if we don’t set boundaries, it’s very easy for our work to indeed become our life.
My choice to proactively set those boundaries—as a measure to preserve my staff, and my own sanity—came several years ago, after we had been working with a now former client who thought it was completely acceptable to send urgent e-mails late into the evening, and sometimes in the middle of the night. It didn’t help that he was on a different time zone, and so our dinner time was his “go time.”
As a young professional proving my worth, I jumped at every e-mail he sent, interrupting family dinners, movie nights, workouts and even holidays. As I was describing my work on this project with a colleague, it quickly became clear how unreasonable this client was being, and how in just about every case, the urgent requests were hardly urgent. What was even worse was that his approach to communications was rubbing off on me, and in turn, I was transferring this unhealthy approach to PR to my staff.
I understand as well as anyone in this field that every PR professional is going to have their fair share of client emergencies. News doesn’t always break during the course of a normal workday and crises are anything by convenient. But, there are steps that we at C.Fox Communications have taken to protect and preserve our lives outside of business that have indeed made us better professionals in the process:
Think Before you Hit Send: Just as we don’t like the feeling of receiving an urgent client text in the middle of the night, our clients don’t like it either. We respect our clients’ and colleagues’ time, and if they are on vacation or out of the office, we communicate with them only when absolutely necessary.
Be Accessible, But Respect Office Hours: The dream of a 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. job in public relations is just that—a dream. We are an accessible bunch, making ourselves always available to reporters, producers, clients and partners as needed. But, that doesn’t mean that some general guidelines can’t be set to improve the odds of preserving nights and weekends. For instance, no member of my team will ever get an e-mail from me after 7 p.m., or before 7 a.m. unless it requires immediate action. Not only does that allow for the truly urgent e-mails or phone calls to stand out, but it gives our team a much needed reprieve after each day’s work.
When You’re Gone, You’re Gone: A great mentor once told me that vacation isn’t just for the person who is out of the office, it’s for everyone left in the office, too. When one member of our team leaves for any amount of time—a day or a week—the remaining team, especially junior members, are given an opportunity to rise up to ensure that nothing is dropped in his or her absence. This culture of support has allowed our team members to know that when they’re out of the office, while they may still check in periodically, there’s always someone watching their back. And, when they’re back in the office, they appreciate and recognize the need to do the same when others need a break.
Put the Phone Down: With access to technology in even the most remote locations, the ability to always be connected is truer than ever. And while that is a great blessing, allowing PR professionals to dial in to interviews from overseas, or manage a staff call while on a family trip across the country, the level of access can be detrimental too, impeding our ability to live "in the moment." Checking the phone during client meetings, over family dinners or at a baby’s bedtime is just bad practice, and the sooner you can kick the habit, the better you’ll be in the long run. Even a 10-minute break from technology a few times a day is a good thing for balance.
Remember the Bigger Picture: One of my favorite mantras comes from my Uncle Abe, a fascinating individual and highly successful businessman. When I graduated from college, he said “Make life 90% about who you are, and 10% about what you do.” And I agree. Although I live and breathe public relations, even more important than what I do is who I am, in and out of the office. My life as a wife and a mom outside of public relations is what truly drives me and keeps me grounded. It not only keeps me refreshed and excited about returning to work each Monday—it inspires me and I believe helps me do a better job for my clients.
And that’s what finding a true balance really all is about.
Carrie Fox is the founder and president of C.Fox Communications, a small communications agency committed to telling the stories of its mission-driven clients in ways that make people stop, listen and care. Carrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her and the agency at @carriefox and @cfoxcomm, respectively.