Living a double life is healthy for PR pros

Whether it's writing, acting, or fixing houses, embracing one's passions on the side often has professional benefits for communicators.

For 26 years, I’ve lived a double life. By day, I’ve practiced public relations. By night, I’ve plied my trade as a writer. There’s nothing sinister about that. I’ve done it right out in the open.

Of course, I’m hardly the only PR professional with some action going on the side, whether a second job, pastime, or hobby. Others in our field play in bands, chase butterflies, act in regional theater, volunteer in nursing homes, or watch the stars at night.

Why do we moonlight? How, with all of our responsibilities and commitments in PR, pushing every day as we do to keep our clients and colleagues reasonably happy, do we manage the time, summon the will, and muster the energy to go the extra mile? Does maintaining a dual existence do us any good, or is it an occupational hazard?

I know only what’s true for me: I started my career as a writer and never wanted to do anything else.

My first job was with a weekly community newspaper in Manhattan, my second with a national monthly magazine for pharmacists. I then freelanced full-time for 10 years, contributing mainly to magazines but also to corporations and nonprofit organizations. My byline appeared everywhere from Esquire and Glamour to Flooring magazine and a newsletter called Tube Topics.

Then, with a son and a daughter along for the ride, I needed the stability that comes from being gainfully employed and started a career in public relations.

I kept writing. I wrote on the subway heading into the office in the morning, on weekends, and during holidays and vacations. I turned out articles for Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan and a book about athletes who survived cancer to compete again. I tried my hand at a novel, perhaps mercifully never published, and about 12 years ago, turned entirely to personal essays, occasionally for The New York Times and The Atlantic, including many I recently adapted for a memoir.

Why would I opt to put myself through all that? All day in PR, I pursued results for clients. Sometimes I would wake up in the dead of night sweating blood trying to puzzle out how best to pitch an account and deliver a hit. Why then devote so many hours of my days and nights to submitting pieces I wrote to editors who never expected me to do so, much less asked – and then frequently said no?

Why such random acts of masochism? Why play both ends against the middle and risk branding myself a two-timer? Because I had to, that’s why. Because I have no choice, and writing is an itch I have to scratch. It never goes away, that itch, so I’ve never stopped scratching it.

That’s probably true for many of us in public relations. After all, making a living doing PR is more what we do than who we are per se. We have more than a single identity to express. As Walt Whitman said, we contain multitudes.

Luckily for me, these dual disciplines have yielded umpteen synergies. I’m better at PR because I write as a sideline and better at writing because I work in PR. Switching gears refreshes the creative engine.

Make no mistake: I love writing to promote clients. An op-ed about an issue, for example, is often an opportunity to advocate for an important cause. But telling my own story—about my family, my friends, or my neighborhood—taps into an impulse that comes straight from the heart and has nothing to do with making a living.

All in all, I’m a happier, more satisfied employee because I get the opportunity to do both. This dynamic may apply equally to PR pros who also remodel apartments, teach yoga, or sing opera.

All of us need to live our lives with some measure of freedom and independence, particularly if we are to find fulfillment and flourish. So if you’re hungry to explore other pursuits, you should. If you’re really meant to, if that’s your destiny, you will. In the long run, at least in most cases, your clients and colleagues will likely benefit as much as you do.

Bob Brody is an earned media strategist and editorial specialist at Powell Tate, a division of Weber Shandwick. He is the author of the new memoir, "Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age."

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