So much has changed over the eight (or so!) years that I’ve spent working in PR, an industry that is known for being one of the most stressful to work in. According to PRWeek, the stress of the job was magnified during the pandemic. With the combination of juggling client relationships, deadlines, meetings and all around wanting to do our best work for clients, it’s easy to see why working at a PR agency particularly has a reputation for being a stressful working environment.
However, in the time I’ve worked in the industry, I’ve certainly seen a positive shift in attitudes towards working hours and mental health. In this blog, I reflect on some personal experiences and why the phrase ‘it’s PR not ER’ is one that has stuck with me over the years.
Throwback to 2015
I started working at my first PR agency in 2015 as a fresh-faced and enthusiastic account executive. I’d had a couple of post-grad jobs before that which were great to get me into the world of full-time work, but I consider the first agency I worked at as when my career really began. Although I loved the variety of work, my team, the clients, the B2B element particularly, I was on the road a lot, often not getting back until very late at night after a few days away at a time and getting back into the office again first thing the morning after. At the time, flexible working in that kind of job was unheard of. Taking TOIL (Time Off in Lieu) for sometimes extra-long hours spent working was not the done thing and the stereotypical old-school attitude of eye-rolls by management for the first person to leave the office at 5.30pm was rife.
Back then, working from home for me was not an option, and there was a pressure to always be ‘on’, an attitude that my colleague Jess Pardoe describes perfectly in her blog around mental health awareness in the PR industry. Alongside the travelling, there was a fair amount of alcohol and parties, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of either! However, I recall nights out in London where we weren’t ‘allowed’ to go home until all the clients had done (I’m older and wiser now and I know I’d be more inclined to stick up for myself if I was told at 3am that I wasn’t allowed to go to bed just because a client wanted to stay up and carry-on drinking). Unfortunately, this attitude wasn’t agency specific, this kind outlook working in PR and marketing agencies seemed to be across the board.
However, I’ve seen a shift over the years and thankfully many agencies have begun to recognise that teams don’t want or need a ping pong table or a ball pond in the office, they want flexible working, a fair salary and autonomy over their working day.
Is in-house PR better than agency?
When entering the PR world, one question on many graduate’s lips is what’s the difference between in house PR and working in a PR agency, or what is working at a PR agency like? Naturally, new grads are curious, as was I.
I’d traditionally worked in an agency environment but a lot changed for me during those strange years at the height of the COVID pandemic, and I decided to try something new in my career in a shift to working in-house. I was intrigued to find out what it would be like to be completely focused on one business, rather than juggling multiple clients at once.
There are of course pros and cons of both sides of the spectrum, and every place of work is different, but after a few months I found myself missing the agency life. There’s nothing quite like working across a variety of clients and having a team around you that just GET IT. It’s cliche but in an agency no two days are the same. One day you can be working on a new client pitch, conducting a messaging workshop or helping to organise a large-scale event, and the next you’re visiting a client’s factory dressed head-to-toe in PPE conducting a video shoot, or on the rooftop of a skyscraper building taking in the views and learning about the development.
The future of PR
A wise manager of mine once told me, ‘it’s PR not ER’ and it’s a phrase I’ve never forgotten, because she was absolutely right. As PR professionals, we strive to do the best work we can for our clients, but we can only do this if we aren’t burnt out and allow ourselves to switch off and have down time.
I’m glad to see that new grads, often from Generation Z are looking for more from their place of work and many agencies are now offering flexible and hybrid working, as well as more competitive benefits than were offered in the UK when I first entered the world of work.
As the buoyant job market and fight to recruit the best talent continues, I hope that this can only be a positive thing for employees, meaning businesses will continue to put people’s mental health first.
Source PR’s MD Louis understands the importance of looking after the team’s wellbeing, learn more about Source’s values.