I have decided to quit working in public relations this year and I could not be happier. As a trained journalist, I never had any intention in getting into the public relations field in the first place. I, like many public relations practitioners, simply fell into the industry. Back in 2009, I was a struggling writer who was facing the threat of layoffs at my magazine job. At the time, I made the reasonable decision to make the career leap into public relations, the closest career field to journalism.
In the beginning, the job seemed exciting and overwhelmingly simple. I got to write press releases, blog posts, speeches and publications. I got to travel, have my own office and go to important events and conferences. I loved the work, and best of all, I loved the pay. I did not know any writers in my social circle who made as much money as me (I was making $50,000 per year at age 22, with just a lousy journalism degree). I felt untouchable.
Then, after about one year of putting in long hours at the job to prove my worth, I learned about the dark side to public relations. If you are a woman reading this who is thinking about getting into the field, do not do it unless you can find a part-time job. You do not need the stress this career is going to cost you.
The media industry is crumbling
Once a month, I read a new article about a newsroom buyouts; there’s even a website that is chronicling the end of American journalism. According to the American Society of News Editors, full-time newspaper newsroom staffing shrunk by 30 percent from 2003 through 2012. Here is the state of media in a nutshell: Right now, unless a news story is sensational or involve celebrities (“Emma Watson gets Ebola, we’ve got a helicopter on the scene!”), it does not get on a major television network, such as CNN or Fox. In the print world, if a news story is not an outlandish opinion piece about gender, homosexuality or race, it does not get published in a print publication, such as the NY Times or Time magazine.
Traditional news outlets are trying to compete with goofy online blogs, and it’s hard to watch as a media professional. The Washington Post, for instance, is publishing blog-like opinion pieces on groundbreaking shows like The Bachelor. It’s all about the bottom line in media. Yes, there are a few outlets like Vice and Buzzfeed making a serious profit, but come on, Buzzfeed is now a leader in American media?!
The mainstream media’s downfall is causing tremendous changes in the public relations field. First, more newspaper journalists are moving to the dark side and joining the media relations industry. Second, pitching to press is becoming increasingly more challenging as newsrooms shrink and reporters have to juggle several topics. It’s not uncommon to meet an education reporter who also covers crime and government issues.
The public loses out when the media falls because a lot critical information never gets reported. For example, a Pew report finds that the number of full-time statehouse reporters dropped by 35 percent between 2003 and 2014—a loss of 164 jobs. Overworked reporters can only write so many articles each day. While you’re wasting your time falling for Buzzfeed nostalgia click-bait articles, state corruption activities are going unnoticed.
Our main job in the media relations industry is to get media attention for our clients or employers. Yes, we manage our relationships with other organizations and the general public, but at the end of the day, our main task is to get media attention for our brands. Public relations practitioners are under enormous pressure to perform. While I have earned plenty of media attention for my clients and employers throughout my career, I constantly feel the stress from not getting enough media attention for various projects over the past few years. I have also felt stress from things that are to a certain extent out of my control, such as selling enough books or getting enough attendees to come to company events.
Bad handling of press
Your job is on the line if you conduct a horrible interview with the press. Even if you practice your talking points for hours before a media call, you can still get thrown off by a reporter’s question, especially if a reporter is hostile or critical. I have had quotes taken out of context and I have spoken to accusatory journalists. A good public relations practitioner is one who stays on the talking points without wavering. It seems PR is a very good industry for sociopaths.
Appreciation lasts two seconds
I have placed high-profile stories in major outlets, such as the NY Times, the LA Times and The Washington Post, and every time I am shocked at how quickly my colleagues move on from seeing those placements. Once an article mentioning your firm is published, the attention from that article is here for one moment, then gone forever. As a PR flack, you spend weeks (perhaps months), developing a story, writing the press release, selecting media targets, pitching press and setting up interviews, and the entire project ends once the story is published. An article that you worked hard to place might be shared within the office for one to three days, tops! In that sense, it’s not a very rewarding career.
Meetings and more meetings
You want to publish a story on a new report, so you have a meeting to discuss releasing the publication. Your industry is falling behind like the dinosaur age, so you have a meeting to brainstorm ways to get the public interested again. A reporter wants to do a story on a subject you would rather ignore and you want him to go away. Quick, to the meeting room! An outlet published an op-ed that makes your employer look bad and you want to submit a letter to the editor. We must have a meeting!
(It could be that all office jobs are like this, but it’s rare you have a media relations expert who operates without having numerous meetings all day). It’s all about press prep calls and meetings about more meetings. At the end of the day, it all may boil down to one hour of actual work.
Day-to-day is boring
You spend a lot of time conducting research on media reporters, publications and industry leaders. I can remember days when I spent five straight hours creating media lists. You also spend quite a bit of time consuming media―you read industry articles trying to stay on top of how your employer is profiled. You also spend time trying to compiling earned media reports on published news mentions. The job is incredibly boring―I would guess 95 percent boring, mixed with 5 percent diarrhea-inducing stress.
Dealing with bullshitters
Public relations is full of professionals who double-talk in magic speak. They use lofty language about “capacity building,” “sustained actions” and “dynamic public interest.” An actual sentence said at a recent meeting: “We want to find the essence of our communications foundation and broader-based interest discussions with our brand.” If I hear the word “engagement” one more time I’m going to jump out of a window. Enough with the engagement! If you want to get ahead in public relations, use the loftiest language you can think of. No one will think you are bull-shitting. In fact, you might be the smartest person in the room.
My stint in public relations really should have ended in 2011 when business social media exploded. I was a heavy user of social media when I was in college, but have since decided to protect my privacy online by severely curtailed my social media usage. I just don’t think it matters to the world if I share photos of my lunch online. But just as I was in the middle of shutting down my social media activity, social media suddenly became an important part of my job. I soon became forced to tweet faux happy updates about company activities every day to the social media ether world.
One of my useless colleagues actually saved her job (and got a raise) by convincing my managers that we needed a better social media presence. For one year, she literally tweeted for a living! In the past few years, the social media buzz has died down significantly (Twitter for example is not as popular) and business leaders have realized that social media isn’t going to radically change their businesses or the state of journalism. If anything, social media has just made it easier for people to complain publicly about bad services.
Everyone thinks you are worthless
Public relations is not rocket science, and I do not expect anyone to think that it is extremely challenging. But, when you work in PR, you will find that the majority of your colleagues do not truly understand what it is that you do. Your job is constantly on the chopping block, as media relations professionals are often the first to be terminated during layoffs. Everyone in the office thinks that they can do a better job pitching to media than you.
This year, I’m making the leap out of public relations into a low-stress health field, which means I’ll have more time to dedicate to finding a husband and working on my business ventures.
Have you worked in public relations? Share your story in the comments.
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Author: Lilac Blue
Lilac Blue is writes about femininity, love and family in a world that has been drastically altered by industrialization, secularism, misandry and misogyny.