A Mess of Stress

Quick, think of the most stressful job you could have.  Firefighter.  Surgeon.  Police Officer.  Yup.  Check, check and check.

But according to ThomasNet NewsIndustry Market Trends, two of the top 10 most stressful jobs are, get this:

Public relations officer and

Advertising account executive.

No wonder I’m a mess.  I’ve been doing both those jobs for most of my career.  And yes, they can be stressful, but typically I haven’t had to face life and death decisions on a daily basis like, say, a surgeon does.

But I do recall one spectacularly stressful morning when I walked into my office and the phone was ringing.  I hadn’t had my cup of tea yet when I answered and heard, “Hello, this is John Q. Reporter from CBS.  You’re live and on the air.  There are 28 people dead at your Good Hope facility.  What do you have to say about this?”

Well, my immediate desire was to say, “No speak English.”  But instead I had to say that I knew nothing about it.  It was a little after 8 a.m. and none of my colleagues was in the office yet.  I told the reporter I’d get back to him, asked him his deadline, and promised to call by then, whether I had all the info he needed or not.

Then I had to try and figure out what happened, which was a bit tricky because I worked for a Fortune 500 company with multiple subsidiaries, about three of which could have been involved in this tragedy.  As it happened, the 28 people who died were on a ship that crashed into a dock at our Good Hope facility.  And while we owned ships and barges, this particular ship was not ours.

Once I had the facts straightened out, I was able to prepare a statement for the press.  But then I had to get the approval of someone—anyone—above me in the chain of command.  And there was only one guy available who said, call the PR consultants in NYC and do whatever they tell you.

And here’s where the stress came in.  The yahoo at the PR firm (well, I won’t name it, but it was famous at the time) said, “Tell the press that the damage to our dock is minimal.”

What about the loss of human life?  Not our concern.  Tell reporters our assets remain intact. Or some such rot.  Really.

So I ignored our PR pros who were paid a kingly retainer fee, and by doing so I ignored the exec who was several notches above me in the pecking order.  Instead, I went with common sense.  Which was to deliver a statement to the press:  While the ship does not belong to our company, we deeply regret the loss of human life near our facility.

And our company’s name never appeared anywhere in the press.  Which is sometimes the greatest achievement you can have as a PR person—NOT getting mentioned.

And yes, it was stressful, but still nothing like being a cop on the beat.

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7 Responses to “A Mess of Stress”

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