I got a note from a friend a few weeks ago. It was a story I’ve heard before.
“I’m burned out on my agency job.”
This friend went on to talk about how she has been putting in long hours (50-60/week plus travel), which was putting significant pressure on her family, and taking a toll on her health.
This particular friend also said she’s not spending enough time with her young children since accepting this agency job.
In other words: The agency job is stretching her to her absolute limit.
Like I said, it’s a story I’ve heard before. Heck, it’s a story I’ve LIVED before.
During my time at a small agency in St. Paul 7-8 years back, I had a similar experience.
I took an agency job–my first real PR agency job–and couldn’t be more excited. The work was fun. The people were fun. Everything was great.
Then we had our second kid.
A daughter. She rocked our worlds in more ways than one.
But, more than anything, I was just required at home more. For my wife. For my kids. And, to be honest, for me.
I wanted to be the kind of Dad who was around. You know, REALLY around. I wanted to walk the kids to school (we live a block from our grade school). I wanted to eat breakfast AND dinner with them every day. I wanted to coach their basketball teams. I wanted to read books before bedtime. I wanted it all.
And why shouldn’t I? I mean, they’re my kids. I only get one shot at this.
But that didn’t exactly jive well for me and work. Now, the hours weren’t all that crazy. They really weren’t. But the demands were. I was stressed. And as a result, I was missing out on stuff at home. I was just out of whack.
Something needed to change–and that something was my job. So, I quit. And took another (less stressful) job.
Fast forward 7 years, and I’ve figured some things out. I figured out how to manage my schedule better. I figured out how to manage clients and colleagues better. I figured out a lot of things.
But, the schedule demands are still insane.
My kids still have soccer starting at 6 p.m. each night.
My kids are still at school/daycare for more than 9 hours a day (on a good day).
My kids still have doctors appointments and other things they need to do during the day.
In short, the schedule just changes as the kids get older–it doesn’t get any easier.
Meanwhile, the schedule demands of agency life don’t change either.
Clients still have (sometimes) unreasonable deadlines.
New business pitches often require you to work well into the evening.
Client travel sometimes has you spending days away from your kids.
This combo platter of insane kid/family demands at home and similarly insane demands by agencies and their clients puts new and young parents in a precarious position.
Buck up and figure it out.
Or, find a less stressful corporate job.
I’ve seen plenty of people buck up and figure it out. These are the people I admire–they found a way to figure it out. They’re smarter than me, I’ll say that much. But I’m still not sure I know how they do it. I’ve figured out how to do it on my own, but I tend to think that’s a bit different than working for someone else on the agency side. Who knows–I do know I’m FAR better equipped to handle the pace and stresses of agency life than I was 7 years ago when my daughter was born.
I’ve seen some people quit. Stay home with the kids. Just take a break. Certainly no shame in that. None.
And, I’ve seen plenty go the corporate route, hoping for a less crazy pace. Hoping for less business travel. Hoping they can somehow make it home by 5:30-6 each night to eat with their kids.
But, in the end, these folks are in a tough spot, too as corporate jobs come with their own set of challenges.
I don’t say this to rail against agencies. It’s just an observation after seeing so many friends go through this situation.
I’m not sure what the solution is–I’m not an agency owner, nor do I pretend to be one.
But, I’d love to hear from agency owners about how they feel about this. What ARE the solutions? What’s been working, and what hasn’t?
I’ve been out of the corporate/agency lifestyle now for four-plus years. Technically, I work for myself. I am my own boss.
But, I still have to manage up.
Every day I am managing client expectations and “managing up”. So, even though I’m not longer an “employee”, I still have a boss. Multiple bosses in fact–they are my clients.
So, managing up is a skill I’m constantly working to hone. In fact, I’ve been working to hone it now for almost 20 years.
While I can certainly always improve in this area, I thought I’d share some tips and advice that have been “politely” shared with me over the years–or tips and advice I’ve seen work effectively first-hand.
Help your boss relieve pain points
When you’re part of a corporation or agency, one of your chief un-stated goals is always quite simple: Help make your boss’ life easier. In other words, help make what’s bothering them go away. Is your boss’ boss all up in her face? What can you do to take work off her plate so she can deal with that a bit more. Is your boss dealing with stress at home? Maybe there’s a project you can help a bit more with that would free him up a bit more to spend more evenings off the computer. Is your boss looking bad in meetings because she doesn’t know enough about digital marketing? Maybe you can help educate her a bit, in private, so she gets smarter–with no one else being the wiser. Find out what’s really bothering your boss–and work to help them get rid of it. Those pain points will quickly turn into gold stars in that upcoming review (people still give out gold stars, right?).
Be hyper-cognizant of your boss’ time
When I sat in for a client on maternity leave a few years ago, I had weekly hour-long meetings on the schedule with her boss (and one of my primary clients). I remember spending time prepping for those meetings and organizing my thoughts for each one. Making sure I had a crisp agenda. Organizing any content or plans that needed her approval–and making sure I had hard copies I could throw in front of her at a moment’s notice. I treated those meetings as they should: A precious opportunity for me to spend an hour with someone who’s locked away in meetings all day. I knew I had to spend that hour getting her approvals on urgent items, getting her input on strategic initatives, and figuring out other ways I could help relieve her pain points (see bullet #1 above). Use your boss’ time wisely–it’s precious. To them, and you.
A little bit of ass-kissing never hurt anybody
Managing up doesn’t come without a little ass-kissing. Sure, that comes in different forms. I tend not to be the guy who’s going to fawn all over his boss in hopes of a quick promotion. But, the fact remains: Bosses are human beings. They have egos, just like you. They want to feel loved. They want to be respected for their work. And they want that work to be recognized by their peers and bosses. So, would it really kill you to compliment your boss every once in a while? “Great work on that media campaign.” Or, “I really thought that memo you wrote from our CEO was spot on.” I mean, this isn’t that hard. And, it doesn’t have to come off like some sort of corporate suck-up. Really, it doesn’t. But the fact remains: stroking your boss’ ego is always a good idea.
Create and maintain a “Arik is Awesome” folder
Picked this one up from a good friend, actually. She said for any job she’s had, she always starts an email folder that’s dubbed “Amy is Awesome.” In this folder she catalogues all emails from internal partners, customers and vendors that laud her good efforts. Then, at the end of the year, when it comes to review time, she has a healthy does of emails singing her praises to show her boss. What better third-party validation of your work? Instead of YOU saying you’re awesome–your colleagues and partners are doing it for you!
Do great work–and work independently
Want to really manage up well? There’s really just one thing you need to do really well: Do great work. Consistently. And work independently. Most people who manage people want to hire great people who do great work. If that happens, everyone wins. The employee looks good because she’s doing great work. Your boss looks good because her employee is doing great work. And the company looks good because the employee is doing great work. Sometimes, the best “managing up” you can do has nothing to do with “managing”–it’s all about keeping your focus on the work at hand.
Know your boss’ hot buttons
Sometimes managing up has more to do with avoiding the hot buttons than it does relieving the pain points. Case in point. I once had a boss who employed what I would call more of an “authoritarian” management style. Needless to say, this particular boss was a top-down manager. So, chain of command was important. Unfortunately, this was many moons ago and I was much “greener” than I am today. I had run into an issue with my boss and we didn’t see eye to eye. So, I thought it would be a good idea to approach my boss’ boss and see what he thought. Once my boss found out I had gone directly to her boss, she didn’t like that so much. I got a severe slap on the wrist, and I looked bad in front of both my boss–and her boss. The lesson I learned? Know and understand your boss’ hot buttons and DO NOT push them. Unless you really want to get fired.
A lot of people ask me: What do you wear when you work from home during the day?
I gotta tell you, this part of the job does not suck. I frequently wear shorts or sweat pants for the majority of my time working at home (cue the Seinfeld music–Costanza!!!).
But, I will also tell you I have a very specific strategy when it comes to my dress code OUTSIDE my home office. Basically, any time I go out in public that doesn’t involve the gym or the grocery store 🙂
* Client visits
* Speaking gigs
* Coffees with colleagues
* New business meetings
* And again, pretty much anything else that takes place outside my home during the workweek
So, what’s my strategy? There’s a handful of key elements:
Try to be “on trend”
As ridiculous as this sounds for me (for anyone who really knows me, you know I am far from a style expert), I know I have to stay “on trend” as the consultant. I learned this one from my lady friends at Beehive PR back in the day, who were ALWAYS on trend. If you’re the consultant, you’re the idea person. The cool person. The stylish person. In many ways, you need to play the role. The consultant is hip. Stylish. Cool. Remember though, I said “try”…
When in doubt, ALWAYS over-dress
This one comes into play mainly on new business presentations. If I’m ever questioning what I should wear, I usually go suit, or at the very least khakis and a jacket. I will rarely go with my standard jeans-and-a-jacket approach. Those first impressions count for an awful lot, remember.
Know your audience
For my buttoned-up corporate clients, I rarely bring out the blue suede or bright red PUMA shoes. I know I can’t pull it off. And it doesn’t look that great for them, either. But, for my speaking gigs and the times when I speak before students? That’s another story. My stiffer, corporate look would be a dead giveaway. So, I try to soften it up a bit. I’ll go jeans and a jacket, but I’ll soften it with the PUMAs. I may even just go t-shirt underneath the jacket. Know thy audience when dressing the part.
Accessories are absolutely key
Oh yeah, I said it. And I’m a male. But, it’s true. This one doesn’t just apply to women. Sure, the perfect belt or jewelry may make all the difference for you ladies. But for us guys, it just means different accessories. Like my Etch-a-Sketch iPhone cover. I get more damn compliments on that thing than anything I own (save my kids, not that I own them or anything :). I have a few hats I’ll wear on occasion–same thing. Lots of compliments. Those blue suede PUMA shoes? Same thing. The accessories make all the difference. So, don’t ignore them. (my next must-have accessory: My Kreyos smartwatch in 2014!)
OK, so those are my keys. What about you? What are your dress code tips? Especially you ladies–I want to hear from you!
I can’t remember how or when I first really “met” Richie Escovedo, but I do know he seems like someone I’d be good friends with if we lived in the same town. We share a love of sports (unfortunately his favorite teams include the names “Cowboys” and “Rangers”), we both have young families, and we both share a love of our industry. A love that led Richie to donate his valuable time as one of the first HAPPO champs a few years ago (Richie’s still a champ for the DFW area). I’ve always really admired Richie–not only for his commitment to the industry and his involvement with PRSA, but for the fact that he works in the education industry, supporting our teachers. Let’s hear what Richie has to say about working in that industry, blogging as a busy young professional/father and his other interests.
You’ve spent your entire 12-plus-year career in the education industry–how has that shaped the communicator you are today?
I believe education is one of the most significant contributions to society. Education has a special place in my heart because I come from a family with half a dozen members who are (or have been) teachers or school administrators. I have a passion for education and recognize that so much misinformation and confusion exists surrounding what truly happens in schools. It’s important for stories to be told to solidify or in some cases mold public trust in an educational institution.
How did you choose the education industry? Or, did it choose you?
I got in school PR a little by accident. My wife worked in the field first. I started going with her to state school PR conferences (TSPRA) and meeting pros from across Texas. Honestly, at the time I didn’t know there was such a thing as school public relations. I came across an open PR position at a private high school in Ft. Worth and the rest is history.
What are the unique challenges you face as director of communications for a school district in a major metropolitan area?
In Texas, school district boundaries don’t follow city or county lines. Our district covers 94.5 square miles and includes the city of Mansfield as well as portions of south Arlington, Grand Prairie, and other smaller areas. This doesn’t seem like a big deal except when it comes to zoning and local property taxes which is part of how districts are funded. The school districts in the Dallas/Ft. Worth market are all dwarfed by the urban districts of those same two cities. The DFW media market primarily focuses their attention on the big two, but thankfully the market is rich in opportunities to work with great journalists. Share of voice gets to be interesting in the market with so many competing interests in k12 education along with solid institutions of higher education. Like anything else these days, school communicators in major metro areas better be adept at being there own newsrooms.
What would you tell individuals considering a PR/communications role similar to yours with the Mansfield Independent School District?
Anyone interested in school PR/comms need to think and prepare beyond typical community outreach strategy. You must become adept at understanding (and being able to explain) school funding, curriculum and testing, and with the realities of recent events, campus safety and student/staff security.
Is there anything unique you’re doing at Mansfield with social media that you just haven’t seen anywhere else within education?
At one time MISD was on the forefront of social media and digital comms and our team was among the earliest adopters of tools for school communication. I’m pleased that so many others have continued the drive for fully integrating tools of the social web with the rest of the communication channels at their disposal. I can tell you that our district has a focus on innovation and we are now among the top 100 enterprise and school iPad rollouts (#12 on the list). Last fall, Mansfield launched a 1 to 1 iPad program for all of our high school students and professional staff using 10, 720 iPad 2 devices.) The district is looking to expend that down to the middle schools next as e-books become more pervasive. So I guess the innovation is being pushed along through the curriculum side of the house. I’m good with that.
You’re also a blogger. Been blogging since 2008 (congrats, by the way). How and why do you keep that going with all the responsibilities you have between work and home?
Good question, sometimes I ask myself the same thing 🙂 Actually, blogging is a way for me to continue to work on my writing in addition to exploring tools, trends and sharing lessons-learned in the practice of PR, school communications. I enjoy hearing from other pros who comment or email responses and tell me they’ve learned something or appreciate my candor in sharing when things have gone awry.
You’re a big PRSA advocate. You’re active within your chapter–and you’ve been a HAPPO champ since the very beginning. As professional organizations like PRSA have taken a bit of a hit with younger folks of late, what would you tell those people about the value of your PRSA experience to date? Why should young people become MORE involved in organizations like PRSA instead of withdrawing from them?
I’ve been a proud member of PRSA since 2001. PRSA National and our local chapter (Ft. Worth PRSA) has been a major source assistance, professional development, networking and friendships. Other PR people get it. In my experience with PRSA as well as the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA), having colleagues to bounce ideas off of or go to when you need a specific parent/staff communication is invaluable. More often than not, I’ll find a PR pro that’s had a similar issue and can be a guide. At this stage in my career the tables have turned a bit and I enjoy being among the resources for others. I plan to continue to assist other PR pros (or those looking to get into the field). Others did it for me and I’m happy to serve. Young communication pros should seek out professional development opportunities and organizations to help get off on the right foot.
Finally, we have a lot in common. We’re both huge sports fans (although our allegiances are quite different). We’re fathers to small families. We both blog. I’m sure it’s how we met a number of years ago. As such, I’m wondering if we also share an interest to pursue many different interests. For example, I firmly believe PR will not be my only career. I hope to pursue my interests in teaching and coaching at some point in my life. My question for you: Do you ever see a career for yourself outside the world of PR?
I’ve been playing the saxophone for about 25 years (yes, I was a band geek but it’s cool because I married a band geek). I love music. I played sax for the Latin Express for a short time in college. If I was going to pursue something outside of PR, I think it would be as a professional musician. Although, the hours wouldn’t be as desirable. My only other viable option would be to draw on my experience as a bartender. Fun times. But that’s another story.