20 years managing the reputation of the BBC and big brand PR agency clients is a great foundation for coaching and mentoring PR and comms professionals. Gill Munro, career and mindset coach is no stranger to stressful situations and knows first-hand what it feels like to be under pressure and overwhelmed by an ‘always on’ job in PR and communications.
National Stress Awareness Day in the UK falls on 2nd November, highlighting the ways that stress can affect people and what you can do to manage your stress before it becomes a problem. We took this opportunity to speak to Gill to gain her insights on how to overcome the stressful highs and lows of PR life and how to master a mindset for career success.
Can you give us a brief overview of your career background?
I started in PR working agency-side on accounts such as Pizza Express and Royal Mail, then in-house covering consumer, charity, tech and broadcast PR. Before becoming a coach I spent a decade in various roles at the BBC and have been in the eye of several high profile storms and crises in the corporate press office. When I was in the years of having two small children I took a diversion into digital marketing and mentoring and training women to become social media managers. When I was ready to work full time again I became a career and mindset coach, accredited with the Institute of Leadership & Management.
What has been your best day as a PR person and what has been the worst?
There are lots of ‘bests’, celebrity-based ones and coverage-based ones, but I think my first pinch-myself moment was when I was working on the Pizza Express account. They sponsored an art prize and one of the judges was the legendary British artist Peter Blake. I was dispatched to his studio to get quotes for us to use on the press release. I studied art history at Uni and there I was sitting in his studio trying to look subtly at everything in there while he chatted to me about his career, and designing the Sgt Pepper album cover for The Beatles. He was absolutely lovely and it was a magic moment.
I’ve been involved in a few things that you might describe as ‘the worst’ such as the Jimmy Savile crisis at the BBC. However my personal worst day was when I had secured a double page feature in The Sun about a missing girl. It was part of the PR around BBC Children in Need that year.
I took the journalist to the girl’s home and we spoke to her Mum and brother. It was spiked when the former footballer and Question of Sport presenter Emlyn Hughes died. He got the double page instead. I had to call the family and let them know that The Sun could not be persuaded to run the piece on any other day. The worst part was she wasn’t surprised. She was so used to being let down and disappointed my phone call was just another one to add to the list. Awful.
It’s clear you have experienced the highs and lows of typical PR life. How did this lead to you becoming a PR and Comms coach?
I became a coach because I recognised that I had successfully conquered the behaviours that had initially been the secret of my success in my PR career, but ultimately held me back. For example, people-pleasing, putting my needs below those of others.
There are legions of us working in PR who rise up the ranks because alongside creativity we excel at getting people to see us as a safe pair of hands. Viewed another way that can actually mean we will stop at nothing rather than be seen to fail. Often at some cost to ourselves. We are also extremely sophisticated at telling stories and persuasion. That’s a great skill when we want to place a feature about a client, but extremely detrimental when we are using it to persuade ourselves and those around us that we are completely on top of everything at all times.
I chose to move out of PR for a few different reasons but my complete exhaustion at being always alert, always ready with a story, or the line or the rebuttal was top of the list. This might seem a strange thing to say in an interview with a PR executive search consultant, but I actually don’t care if people stay in PR at all. What I do care about deeply is that they look at what it is about their behaviour that has served them in the past but isn’t serving them now. Those are the things that give us a lack of confidence and make it very hard to see if the next step we want to take is the best way forward.
What I have found is that when people do have my support and transform their thinking, they become able to move upward to a new level of seniority or to a new employer with peace of mind and an ease and confidence that they previously lacked.
What advice would you give to those people that might have been through something similar, or just feel the effects of being “always alert”?
Well, I don’t do top tips, this is deeper than that. Too often we hope that if we just think about the tips, or the pointers, or the motivational words, that it will be enough to make us feel better. It isn’t. You have to take it to the next level.
Your clarity will come from engagement with the issues, not simply thinking about them. You have to look inwards and engage with the beliefs and behaviours that are limiting or undermining you. When you understand those you can truly move onwards with confidence in full knowledge that you are on the right path for you.
These are the top three areas where PR pros need to go deeper so they can step up to the next level with confidence and integrity. Do any of them ring a bell?
1. Perfectionism: Having high standards is a great asset and will have been part of your career success. But when does it tip into unhelpful perfectionism?
It can encourage procrastination, stress and can make it difficult for you to delegate appropriately.
2. People-pleasing: This is the big one when it comes to a behaviour that helps you all the way through your career, then all of a sudden, it doesn’t. It is very easy to tell yourself this is a good thing because as a PR person you are there to serve the story/the client/the boss/the team.
But over time this depletes you because your needs are never served. When things change, if your family grows, you have health challenges or caring responsibilities and you also want to grow your career and your earnings, pleasing people becomes your number one enemy.
It is a form of control, and you are trying to control people’s opinion of you because you fear their judgement. Add that to the more “grown-up” situation you now live with it all becomes too much to bear. You can’t be a people-pleasing employee/parent/spouse/carer/sibling/child. You will burn-out and then you will be a help to no one.
If you can understand why you have this tendency and understand it then you can still serve others as you want and need to, but in an appropriate way that supports your peace, happiness and wellbeing.
3. Boundaries & self-worth: Has a colleague or boss ever called you a “safe pair of hands” or are you seen as the reliable one who will just “sort it out”. How much of this reputation, greatly valued by your colleagues do you feel is merited?
When they say “safe pair of hands” do you feel like you are just getting away with it? Does living up to that reputation mean that you stayed mentally connected to work 24/7?
What is that mental overserving robbing you of? A calm temperament, peace of mind, true relaxation, being present with your nearest and dearest?
You need to learn to see and accept that you are enough just as you are. You need to take a hard look at the consequences of your own role in the dynamic so that you can change it forever.
When you look into these three areas and get a clearer understanding of why you have these behaviours you can re-evaluate how they are working for you now. I give you the tools to make the behavioural changes that will help you take the next step, whether that is experiencing less anxiety at work, stepping into a more senior role or simply accepting that you are worth a bigger salary without working yourself into the ground.
Thank you, Gill.
Gill Munro is a career and mindset coach to comms and PR professionals who want to move up in their careers. Her mission is to help them feel confident about their career moves and become a higher earner without burning out.
If you’d like regular tips and ideas from Gill you can join the waiting list for her new self-study Mindset course exclusively for PR & Comms Professionals. Or book a free call with her to find out about 1:1 coaching.
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