Embrace the unpredictability PR brings

We are in a stressful industry that doesn't necessarily come with a manual for every situation. However, if you enjoy a challenge, PR is a terrific career. The more you learn, the more you can handle.

Seventy-three percent of workers are stressed out at their jobs, according to a work-stress study done by Harris Interactive for Everest College (CNBC, January 3, 2013). Career Cast listed the most stressful jobs for 2013 and PR executives are included in the top five.

Those in PR know what it takes to do our jobs well and what a bad day looks and feels like. Sometimes we do our best work when we've averted a disaster and nothing appears in the news, but often without the knowledge of others. According to the study, PR executives are behind enlisted military personnel, military generals, firefighters, and commercial airline pilots. Personally, I'm grateful for numbers one through four. 

At the Cleveland Clinic, we've had more than our share of incidents that have caused our team some anxiety. Some examples include: three hospital shootings, a fire that required evacuating patients at night, bomb threats and gas leaks, closing a hospital, lawsuits of all kinds, patient privacy breaches, and a number of other issues. These are ongoing happenings in healthcare PR that affect not only the organization, but the individuals involved. Cleveland Clinic is also frequently under the spotlight with medical miracles and major breakthroughs that often receive national and international attention. Although good news, those events can also become a source of stress and anxiety.    

PR requires impeccable judgment and strategic thinking, good instinct, solid experience, calm under pressure, attention to detail, and an ability to act quickly to manage the best outcome of any PR situation, good or bad. It also is imperative to have credibility with your leadership, a seat at the table, and their support to help you do your best work. In a large hospital system, multiple challenges occur daily that require immediate response and strong communication without much time to plan and execute.

It's so important to hire the right people who have the skills you need for your organization. If you have challenging issues, hire someone who has great crisis experience. If PR is a primary source of awareness and a high priority, hire the talent to get your stories out. In a fast-paced environment, you don't want to bring on someone who has to learn too much on the job. On the other hand, grooming and growing talent has its place in many organizations. Be fair to the individual and to your own team.

Yes, we are in a stressful industry that doesn't necessarily come with a manual for every situation. Issues arise that are unlike the previous one. However, if you enjoy a challenge, developing strategies, and managing and putting out fires, PR is a terrific career. The more you learn, the more you can handle.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's top nonprofit academic medical centers. Her column will focus on the myriad challenges of healthcare PR and topics related to the management of the comms function. Sheil can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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