Do You Have What It Takes?

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Whether you work for an agency, corporation or nonprofit institution, public relations work is anything but dull. There is always plenty of work to keep you busy from nine to five, and it's not uncommon to put in many hours of overtime as well.

Unlike most jobs, PR work rarely adheres to a structured day. Each day is different, offering surprises and new problems to be resolved. We'll be zooming in on a few PR workers who work for different types of organizations. They're all involved in PR work, yet their jobs are different. Each job presents its unique pressures and obstacles. Now, let's harness our imaginations once again.

If you work for a PR agency specializing in industrial accounts, for example, you can expect to be doing many different things within the course of a week. Let's say you are the account executive for two major accounts, a cosmetics company and a food company. One part of your day will be spent working closely with your contacts at the food company and the rest of the time you'll be involved in designing promotional campaigns for the cosmetics firm.



Each function is nearly a full-time job in itself. And until your company hires another account executive to take one of the accounts off your hands, you have little choice but to wear two hats.

Most of the time the pace is hectic. As one account executive employed by a large Chicago PR agency put it: "PR work is exciting and hectic enough when everything goes according to plans. However, schedules are not always met and plans don't always proceed as outlined. Inevitably, emergencies crop up when important decisions have to be made immediately."

Most seasoned PR workers are primed for the unexpected. Imagine the chaos and confusion of having to resolve pressing problems from two clients at the same time. It sounds like a nightmare, but it's a common enough occurrence in the workday of a busy PR representative.

Picture this: All of a sudden the president of the cosmetics company comes down with the flu and has to cancel a planned ten-city promotional tour. If that's not bad enough, an hour later you receive a frantic call from the product manager of the food company telling you that the promotional campaign that was about to get under way on two new products will have to be postponed because of production problems.

What do you do? The one thing you don't do is panic. No matter what happens, a PR representative must remain calm, in control and objective. As you can imagine, this is not always easy, especially if you have to deal with problems such as those outlined above.

The first thing that runs through your mind is whether you'll be able to resolve all the problems. But having been in similar situations before, you've learned that panicking is fruitless and the only effective way to resolve situations like this is to keep a clear head and try to come up with workable solutions.

Fifteen minutes of careful reflection is all you need to think of temporary solutions. Instead of cancelling the planned promotional tour for the head of the cosmetics company, you suggest that the executive vice-president, along with a key member of your PR staff, go instead. That way everything can proceed on schedule.

And to give your food company more time to straighten out its production problems, you discover that you're able to halt the promotional machinery just before press releases and product kits are mailed out to the media. Quick, calm, deliberate thinking helps you to ward off two potential crisis situations. Things looked mighty bleak for a few unnerving moments until you were able to find ways out of the dilemmas.

Personal Qualifications

Not everyone can work in tense situations like the one just described. Some of us prefer stable work situations where job routines vary little from day to day. The preceding situations are not uncommon in public relations work. Remember: As a public relations person, your first obligation is to your client. If a crisis arises your responsibility is to solve it. And more often than not, accommodating your client means putting in bizarre hours.

Another dramatic situation comes to mind where public relations workers had to act fast. A few years ago a plane carrying over 80 passengers exploded while taking off and almost all of the passengers died in the crash. Within minutes of the accident the news swept around the world. The same questions bolted through every one's mind. What happened? Why did a major airline with a faultless track record lose a plane? Whose fault was it? Was it human or mechanical error? Explanations were demanded. The airline's executive board and public relations people were summoned to prepare statements to be released to the media. It was a tense situation. The problem was that no one, not even officials from the airline that lost the plane, could begin to evaluate the situation at that point. Yet answers were demanded and a statement had to be prepared at once. You can just imagine what the tension was like when management and public relations staff members met to decide on a course of action. Telephones rang continuously, while the PR staff, working closely with airline engineers and technical experts, prepared a series of statements that attempted to explain what had happened. They worked around the clock until they were ready to release enough information about the crash.

Thankfully, plane crashes don't happen too often. But when they do, explanations have to be made immediately. Since the public relations staff is the airline's information arm, they are the ones who have to answer to the media and public.
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