How to banish the new year blues

As casualties of the holiday season stumble back into work, Maja Pawinska Sims asks how PROs can make the new year a more manageable proposition

Be honest. How many of you were genuinely beating a path to your office this week? Are you buzzing with enthusiasm, full of energy, and raring to kick off the next 12 months of PR projects, or are you feeling just a little bit deflated at the thought of the new year stretching ahead? If your attitude is not wholly positive, you are not alone: January can be a tough month psychologically.

A research project from Cardiff University last year received widespread press coverage when it identified 24 January as the 'most miserable' day of the year. Its conclusion was based on an equation that combined cold weather, dark evenings, debt, fading Christmas memories, failed new year's resolutions, and lack of motivation. While the news might have been a bit of fun, the serious message was that getting back into the groove is a struggle for many workers.

So what can PR professionals do to make sure they – and their teams – are on track for a productive and rewarding 2006? PRCA
director Patrick Barrow says it is important to give staff immediate deadlines to navigate around so they do not feel they are drifting.
'Most people find the beginning of the year difficult, as it can seem directionless,' he argues. 'But it should be seen as an opportunity to make a clean start.'

According to Barrow, client enquiries to its consultancy referral service, PReview, shoot up in January, which means agencies have the instant challenge of new business opportunities on which to focus. 'Managers can freshen up their job specs and make sure everyone is clear about what is expected of them,' he counsels. 'This is also a time to tie this into performance benchmarks and bonuses to reward staff.'

Holistic approach
At a more holistic level, life coach Lee Chalmers, who runs the Authentic Living consultancy, says January is a good time to
review the personal and professional progress made in 2005, as a basis for how to move forward in the year ahead. 'I usually do a "wheel of life" exercise where I look at my achievements in the previous year and the highs and lows,' she explains. 'I then create a vision of what I want the year to look like, broken into periods of three to six months.'

There is consensus among work/life gurus that you cannot set goals in one area of your life without looking at their impact in other areas – whether you want to change job, stay where you are, or review how you want to progress in your current company.

Joanne Mallon, a life and career coach who works with media professionals, adds some more suggestions for reviewing and goal setting. 'Be honest about which client and projects you really loved working with, what hasn't felt right, and what you want more of this year,' she says. 'It's also a good opportunity to take responsibility for your own experience of the year ahead. If you want something different, what do you intend to do differently? Imagine yourself on 1 January 2007 – what do you want things to look like then?'

If the prospect of thinking about where you will be in 2007 feels onerous, Mallon also suggests thinking about what your perfect working week and perfect client would be. She says: 'Write your vision down, or draw a picture of it. This bypasses the logical side of the brain and takes the limits off your imagination.'

Some PROs, however, present a more hard-headed case, noting that the new year is just a date and should be given no extra significance. Ailana Kamelmacher, head of PR at smoothie maker Innocent, says January is simply part of the flow of the PR team's year, and inspiration needs to come year-round. 'New year is a big time for us because healthy drinks fit into people's resolutions. But we don't have a major PR planning drive at the start of the year. We try to keep standards consistent throughout.'

Prior planning
Sara Tye, director of Redhead PR, says January motivation needs to start before the party season even gets into swing. 'Christmas is a bad time for work and you can end up effectively knocking a month of productivity out with all the celebrations,' she warns. 'I make sure everyone is thinking about long lead time work in advance of the break, so they hit the ground running.' This advice might be a bit late for 2006, but the message is clear – we should view the new year with positivity.

Indeed, there is much to look forward to. This is a good time to develop professional relationships. Back at the PRCA, Barrow confirms that being part of a bigger community can add a new dimension to your working life: 'We hear particularly from our younger FrontLine members that people take a great deal of comfort and inspiration from sharing their experiences and contributing to the bigger picture of the industry.'

And January is for many the start of their next holiday allocation. Similar to the life coaches' suggestions for planning the year ahead, you can break your work schedule into more manageable chunks by booking your next trips away now.

This, on balance, is the most recurrent theme from our new year gurus – that after the dizzy excesses of the holiday season, a schedule of small, identifiable goals can help you to focus on the bigger picture. At least until next year...

Maja Pawinska Sims is the director of coaching and creativity consultancy Besparkle

How will you get 2006 off to the best possible start?
Janice O'Reilly, deputy director, PR and sponsorship, Central Office of Information
'January to March is one of the busiest times for COI, so we don't have time to get depressed. Activity for 2006 in fact began in 2005. The PR team has regular away days and in December we took half a day out to take stock and agree the focus for the coming year. People are our greatest asset, so acknowledging individual achievements early in the year and providing development opportunities throughout the year are important to keeping people motivated.'

Jonathan Shore, CEO, GCI and Cohn & Wolfe
'I'll start the new year by buying at least five mobile phone chargers as I lose two a month. I will also be making a resolution to reduce time spent in internal agency meetings, perhaps by carrying an egg timer. Finally, as I always end up doing the reverse of every resolution I will vow to spend more time in bars, be grouchier to my colleagues and to only write presentations in PowerPoint.'
Alan Townsend, managing director, online recruitment firm Monster
'The days after new year can be some of the busiest for Monster and the PR team as this is when people think about change. Internally people can be weary in any marketing environment, so to perk them up we take the team away for a couple of days and get them motivated. It also enables us to share our plans for the rest of the year. Then
no one should come back after the break not knowing what they are doing. You can't spend the first week of a new year settling in because marketing and PR need continuity.'
Sally Davis, director, The PR Department, and chair of the Association of Christians in PR
'The new year is time to take stock of what I have achieved over the year. I integrate pro bono projects into my working week, and I would encourage PR practitioners to think about how they can use their skills to put something back into their local area. Helping others to flourish gives an enormous sense of fulfilment.'

SIX Steps towards a better 2006
Richard Baines, managing director of public relations HR specialist Argyll HR
1 Break your routine every month. Even apparently small changes such as changing your route to work or what you do at lunchtime can lead to new experiences and help to inspire you to greater creativity at work.

2 Think about and write down your core values. Assess your current life and work against those values. Commit to doing something each month that moves you closer to these values. By the end of the year you will have made some significant changes and enhanced your outlook.

3 Find a coach or mentor who can help you define and achieve your goals. Start in January and develop a programme that allows you to review your progress at regular intervals throughout the year.

4 Identify one professional goal and one personal goal. Visualise what both will look like if you achieve them and create an action plan for doing so, breaking each down into achievable steps.

5 Pick one person within the PR industry or on the periphery who inspires you and arrange a meeting with him or her. Ask them how they reached their goals, what inspires them and what piece of advice they would give to you for a successful and fulfilling career.

6 Commit to doing something fun and non-work orientated that you have always wanted to do during the first two months of the year. If nothing else, this gives you something to look forward to during the dark days of January.

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