The Public Relations Strategist

Are We Really Effective PR People or Just Busy?

October 16, 2014

[klaus tiedge/blend images/corbis
[klaus tiedge/blend images/corbis

PR people love to be busy. More important, we love saying how busy we are: “I’m crazed!” “I just can’t, I’m drowning!” “I’m up to my neck in meetings!” These sayings are so common, to the point of cliche. And while we claim frustration, I’d argue we say them with a degree of pride. Why? Because being busy means we’re needed and important.

But article after article now says that being busy is more of a state of mind. In her regular column in The Washington Post earlier this year, Bridgid Schulte summarizes this fact: “People compete over being busy; it’s about showing status. Taking time for yourself is tantamount to weakness.”

She adds: “[And yet] neuroscience is beginning to show that at our most idle, our brains are most open to inspiration and creativity — and history proves that great works of art, philosophy and invention were created during leisure time. We resist taking time off.”

So, if this is true, if we are our most creative and do our best PR work while idle or “less busy,” then what’s keeping us from choosing to build in time to think or recharge our minds?

Riding the technology hamster wheel

Famed social/digital guru and Fast Company columnist Baratunde Thurston wrote on this subject as a follow-up to his 2013 journaling of a 25-day “digital unplug,” which was pored over by thousands trying to learn his tricks and tips. “Now that I’ve proved to myself that I can unplug,” he wrote, “I’ve become a little less dependent on taking vacations to restore balance [and] I’m filling my calendar a little less and taking more deep breaths on a regular basis, though achieving a consistent and true state of peace requires more meditation and kale than I’ve budgeted for.”

No doubt, it’s tough to unplug. I think we’d all agree we’ve become slaves to our smartphones, computers and iPads, our meeting calendars and standing appointments. But the way we use them is a choice — one that needs revisiting.

Choosing un-busyness

The best PR people I know — frankly, the best businesspeople I know — never make you feel as if they’re busy. Ever realize that? After an enlightening meeting with a prominent PR person here in Dallas, I had a lightbulb moment: “This man is probably one of the busiest people in the business, and yet not for a single moment during our lunch did I sense ‘busyness’ — he was laser-focused on our conversation, on the clients we discussed and on me as a person. Not once did he pick up his phone.”

It dawned on me that he chose to be un-busy and in the moment as his path to success. He could have shoved our lunch in between meetings — I knew people clamored for his time — but he didn’t. He set aside an hour and a half to have a meaningful conversation. And at the end, we’d come up with two or three new business ideas that had serious potential.

Making the time

So often you hear someone say, “I wish I had the time for lunch” or “I never get the time to just think.” What if instead of just wishing for or wanting time, you acted and made the time?

I’m not saying it’s easy, but it gets easier with practice. Watch the PR people you admire the most. They’ve turned “un-busyness” into an art form. Common traits I’ve seen include:

• Putting people first: Calendars, meetings and all-things-busy come second. Period. Everyone has client meetings and booked schedules; they simply make time for lunch with colleagues and staffers. One great line from my former boss as he walked out of the office with a colleague to catch up: “We need to connect. The email will still be there when I get back.”

• Keeping technology off the table: This is a tough one — for friends, coworkers, bosses, everyone — but you’ll notice the uninterrupted, flowing conversation that happens when that smartphone is tucked in your purse or bag. It changes the dynamic of the conversation, and it also keeps the sound of “busyness” at a dull roar.

• Building in time to think and create: They’re not just doers; they’re thinkers. Rather than stare at their screen robotically answering emails, they choose time (even if it’s just 30 minutes) to collaborate with other professionals, discuss a fascinating article, mentor a student or brainstorm something that’s been rolling around in their mind.

• Celebrating time off as much as time “on”: Actually using vacation days is lauded and encouraged. No guilt. No negotiating. No “please keep your phone on.” Beyond that, they themselves take vacations and talk about coming back energized and excited to work.

• Priding the written word: Sure, thank-you notes by mail seem antiquated to many, so send an email, then a clever letter or note as well. Heartfelt emails just aren’t the same as heartfelt written letters when it comes to building relationships — and isn’t that what PR is all about?

Just think of what our days would look and feel like if we un-busied them in even one of these five ways and focused on meaningful, effective relationships and work. It’s time, PR practitioner colleagues and friends.

As Jessica Stillman, an Inc. business reporter, asks her readers in a recent column: “Do you need to take that first step to recovery by standing up and saying, ‘Hello, my name is X, and I am a busyness addict’?”

Melissa K. Flynn, APR
Melissa K. Flynn, APR, is principal at Melissa Flynn Public Relations & Marketing, and a binge-watcher/listener of reality crime series, with nearly two decades of experience at some of the country’s top PR and ad agencies. Reach her at melissa@melissaflynnpr.com and @melflynn0 on Twitter.

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