In any contemporary study or research on the world’s most stressful jobs, a Public Relations (PR) professional’s job is sure to feature among the top 10 stressful jobs … maybe even among the top 5. Even in India, we see a lot of perpetual stress in client – consultancy relationships and within a firm, in subordinate – superior relationships. On the surface, it all looks calm and cool … there are smiles and handshakes all around. But beneath the pleasantries, there lies that permanent ‘this wasn’t delivered’ feeling.
Why does it happen?
In India, whether we agree or not, PR is still largely media centric. How does that make it stressful? Let’s take PR on one side and its counterpart Advertising on the other, vis-à-vis the print media. For the same product/service, the PR firm prepares a Press Release; and the advertising agency prepares a print ad. There’s a lot of back and forth between the client and the advertising agency on the ad campaign…and finally the ad is approved by the client. And once the ad is approved, the advertising agency heaves a sigh of relief and breathes easy on it. Now the Press Release…even this sees some back and forth between the client and the PR consultancy, after which it’s approved by the client. Once it’s approved is when the real pressure and tension starts building up for the PR firm and its representatives.
An ad can be a good one, average one or a bad one … and so can a press release. But irrespective of whether it’s good, average or bad, an ad will definitely make it to the media spaces that have been paid for it, unless of course there is some derogatory or immoral content in it. But it’s not so for a Press Release. Many a time a well-written and customised Press Release makes it to a good media as a small snippet, or doesn’t make it at all.
And then starts the bitterness in the client – consultancy and subordinate – superior relationships. It’s stressful till the next job comes up, which marks the beginning of the next stress cycle. In a nutshell, stress becomes a way of life.
Lighter moments @ work
In spite of all the stress, every PR personnel comes across those humorous moments that relieves all the stress for a while and makes the job a little more worthwhile and interesting. Even I’ve had my share of such moments, few of which I encapsulate below.
The ‘Delivery’ man
My first press conference was for a multinational courier delivery services company at a five star hotel in South Bombay. Needless to say, I was nervous. The nervousness was on two counts … it was my first press conference; and the only thing I knew about five star hotels was that they were unapologetically expensive. I was supposed to carry two cartons containing the press kits to the venue. I took a kaali-peeli from our office (our office boy loaded the two cartons into the dikki) and headed to the hotel. When I reached the hotel, I was too scared to ask for help from the hotel staff, lest they charge me heavily for it (I was carrying cash, but not the ‘five star’ kind of cash). I didn’t ask … and so none of the staff came forward to help. So I trudged my way through the lobby towards the elevator, pulling the two cartons.
A tall gentleman (a formally-dressed foreigner) sitting in the lobby saw my plight with the two branded cartons. His personality was such that anyone would notice him in a crowd or if he walked into a room. He came up to me and offered to hold one carton. I thanked him and said that I’ll manage. He insisted and picked up one of the cartons. In my mind, I was happy about getting help, but then I thought ‘not this guy … he is too sophisticated’. Still I didn’t want to let go of the help. As we walked (each of us holding one carton), I thanked him profusely, to which he said, “You don’t need to thank me…it’s my job…this is what I do for a living…delivering things from one place to another.” I didn’t quite understand what he meant … I was just too happy to get some help. We reached the press conference venue. And that’s when I realised what he meant … as the Country Head of the multinational courier delivery services company, he was the key spokesperson at the press conference. My thankfulness turned into an apology … but he kept the humour alive with a laugh. It’s an incident which I’ll cherish forever … for the humour and the humanity which the gentleman displayed.
When negotiations get tough
This happened during my tenure with a consultancy in Calcutta. I had pitched and presented to a prospect, and we were in the final negotiation stages before closure. The prospect bargained really hard. It went to such levels that I had to escalate it to our CEO. The CEO was aware of the fact that we hadn’t quoted very high. He was fine with us coming down by a few thousands, but definitely not to what the prospect expected. When it went on for too long, he started getting exasperated … he (or I) hadn’t expected the prospect to take the negotiations to such levels. In one of my several calls to him on the matter, he frustratingly said, “Pick it up. Just ensure that it doesn’t go to a level where we have to pay them for servicing them.” I burst out laughing.
But we don’t have deep pockets
This has happened with me on several occasions. Am sure many will relate to this.
We go to meet a prospective client, and the prospect’s core messages are…
“We are a xx year old company…we have a great legacy to keep up with;
We are doing xx-cr this year;
We’ll be at yyy-cr by the end of this fiscal; and at zzz-cr in two years;
We’ve bagged these two large contracts this year;
We don’t have deep pockets; so this year let’s keep the fee at INR xx … next year, when my budgets open up, we could look at a good hike…and working with us will get you connected to a lot of our associates.”
I’ve always found the above to be a humourous trap.
The ‘Yes’ journo
This was quite sometime back, when unlike nowadays, Press Releases used to be faxed to journalists. There was this one journalist from one of the key mainlines, who whenever I called to follow-up on a Press Release, would say, “Yes I got it…I’ll take care of it.” These used to be his exact words. He actually ‘took care’ of only one in ten releases that I sent, i.e. only one out of ten releases would get carried. I also knew and understood that journalists have their limitations when it comes to space. And this gentleman was never unfriendly … nor was he very friendly. He was always civil and cordial.
Nevertheless, one day I thought of pulling a fast one on him. I followed-up on a press release. And as usual, he said, “Yes I got it…I’ll take care of it.” I immediately quipped, “But Sir, I haven’t even sent it to you yet.” Both of us burst out laughing.
Tales from Chennai
In Chennai, a press conference is generally considered to be incomplete if there’s no representation from The Hindu. It’s always been like that and it continues to be so. There’s also an Urdu daily called Musalman, which gets published from Chennai. So there was this press conference that was going to begin. And like it happens many a time, two of the client’s representatives (mid and junior levels) were hovering around the registration table, taking stock of who has come and who has not. The Hindu journalist wasn’t in yet. One of them asked us, “Has Hindu come?” A journalist from Musalman, who was at the lobby, overheard it. Before we could tell the client’s representatives that the journalist is on her way, he said comically, “No Sir … Hindu has not come yet, but Musalman is here.” And we all had a good laugh.
In another instance, just before a press conference started, a client representative asked, “Has Times come?” By ‘Times’ she meant The Times of India. A colleague of mine confidently told her, “Yes…Times is in.” After she went in, I looked through the registration sheet … there was no entry from The Times of India. I questioned my colleague, to which he said, “Technically I am right…Times is in.” It took me a few seconds to understand what he meant. There are lot of these neighbourhood publications in Chennai that have ‘Times’ suffixed to their names…two to three such ‘Times’ were already in by then. A short while later, a journalist from The Times of India came in … and our ‘wrong right’ became ‘right right’.
In a nutshell…
Needless to say, such light moments do definitely bring in the much needed relief to the stressed-up lives of PR professionals, and makes work life a little more fun for them. I rest my case with a dash of PR humour!
What’s the similarity between Sholay and our press conferences?
That one million dollar question…KITNAY AADMI THHEY!!!
The views expressed here are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Reputation Today.