The demanding job

In a PR event that I attended a year ago, a question asked by a new young joinee left an impression on me. His question was – ‘How do I avoid getting burnt out? There is so much demand and the demand is for consistent performance. How do I cope?’

I admit to being shocked. How can a fresher experience burn out? What did he mean then exactly?

Maybe it is time to dig a little deeper into the work environment and the challenges that people involved with PR agencies and those in communications struggle with.

Here is one role that many times demands your presence 24x7x365.

The crisis situation

If a crisis is to occur, the first message has to be framed by the communications team who in turn, works in tandem with the PR consultancy to ensure speed and correctness of the response.

I remember a situation when we had to deal with an unexpected death of an external participant during an outdoor training program. The cause of death was heart attack. Suddenly the atmosphere was charged. There were questions flowing everywhere. The debate ranged from issues of compensation to what might have gone wrong, what to do next, how to manage the response, the timing of the response, etc.

Compensation questions are really not simple. They come with their own complexities, and it is often the collaborative brainstorming of PR consultancy, communications, legal and business that paves the way towards a better understanding of the situation and thereby, the appropriate measures to be undertaken.

In the above situation we had to wait for the police and autopsy report to rule out any incident of unnatural cause before beginning the next level of dialogue. This took time and was very stressful for all the stakeholders. It stayed on the conscience of everyone, and one kept oscillating between immediate support and staggered support based on facts. There is never an easy and right answer during a crisis. The team has to be around to figure this one.

The sweet spot

Imagine a situation wherein the company is going through a reputation crisis and seeks to build a new narrative. This demands a lot of work and coordination with numerous internal stakeholders. The pressure to get the messaging proper can be very intense and there could be many hours of deliberations before a consensus is arrived at.

Often, what the communications and PR team wants to say is negated by the legal team. Then there is the question of fall out, the worse case scenario. How does one tackle that? I recall the tussle that ensued when we were hit with a legal battle. There was this big debate between sending out the right message and/or the most appropriate one. The company responded taking into consideration the larger picture and at times, not sharing everything. The quick response helped strengthen the trust with the media and external stakeholders and also gave time to build in second level of detailed responses.

As communicators, we need to understand that a ‘No comment’ is in fact a very telling comment on how the company is responding. And that the timing of the response is most critical. Finding that sweet spot between time and the most suitable response is what communicators have the power to do – shaping the narrative most when it is needed.

The more things change, the more they remain the same

Communicators often get questioned on the routine responses and the stuff that they do. There is this constant push to be creative and innovative with rejoinders, choosing channels of communication and be different. In the midst of all this push, what we would like to change but remains consistent, is the messaging tone of the organisation.

While the communications team and the PR consultancy may be attuned to delivering different stories, the success of pulling it off really lies with the business and the organisation who need to be open to new ideas and at times, even stirring the pot! Consistency here would mean steadfast focus on achieving results and outcome.

The only way this function and team can avoid burnt out is being creative, collaborative, and dare, I say, consistent when it comes to focus in getting the job done on time!

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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