Signing Off in a World That’s Always On

London, United Kingdom - July 17, 2011: A close up of an Apple iPhone 4th generation screen showing various apps and settings. The phone was announced by the Apple inc Company on the 7th June 2010.

By Lyndsey Besser

We’ve heard it all before, it’s important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Without it, you’ll burn out and be of no use to yourself, your employer or your clients. But what does that actually look like in a 24/7 news-driven industry like public relations? How do you make sure you sign off and get the down time you deserve?

First, stop considering it a privilege. I’ll never forget the words my mother told my 15-year-old self over and over, “Having a driver’s license is a privilege, not a right!” In this case, it’s the exact opposite. Having time to yourself, devoid of work and work-related stress is a RIGHT, not privilege. Understanding that is half the battle. I’m my own worst enabler and without a solid understanding of this, I continued refreshing my inbox at all hours of the night. And don’t just take my word for it, the entire country of France agrees!

Second, set clear and realistic expectations early on. Realistic is they key word here. Would it be great to stroll in at 10, take a long lunch and sign off by 5? Sure. Is it realistic? No. At Double Forte, we’ve got a few rules that we live by whenever possible. Our “general work hours” are 7am-7pm meaning they’re “reasonable” times to be working. My favorite rule, no emails after 7pm. Is it a steadfast rule that’s never broken? No, things happen and there are emergencies. When something does happen, I feel honored that our clients know the value of our counsel and insist we’re one of their first emergency contacts. But let’s be honest, every email, call, text and ping occurring after 7pm is NOT an emergency. Discuss this with clients and co-workers early on so there are no surprises. Everyone should be clear on what gets responded to and when.

Third, know that media will often have immunity. This is a tricky one. It’s no surprise that there’s a delicate relationship between PR professionals and the media. But a mutual respect for each other will go a long way. It’s important to take into account that these professionals also work VERY long hours, have VERY tight deadlines and simply can’t (and shouldn’t) cover every single thing you pitch them on. Working in the media often means they have to completely ignore the second rule I just mentioned. They don’t have the ability to set expectations with every person out there making the news. So, when they do reach out with a question, get them what they need, in a timely manner. They may reach out after hours, or over the weekend, simply because it’s the first time they’ve been able to come up for air and focus on your client or story. I like to ask myself a few simple questions:

  • Would my responding right now greatly impact my [night / weekend] in a negative way?
  • Would my NOT responding right now greatly change the likelihood that they cover this news?

Odds are, you can answer those two questions in a matter of seconds. From there, you should know what to do. If it’s a quick response, do it. If it’s a lengthier ask and waiting until the next morning or Monday isn’t going to change the outcome of whether they write, then wait.

Plan ahead for vacations (because you deserve them). Work during the week, while stressful, is simply part of the territory in PR. And as such, no one deserves a vacation quite like we do. So plan ahead! You do it daily when prepping clients for product launches and corporate announcements so do yourself the same courtesy. If you fail to do a bit of forward thinking, and something slips through the cracks, you’re going to get a frantic call while you’re on vacation and that’s no fun for anyone involved. Send OOO reminders early and often. Provide detailed, specific handoffs and owners for everything you’re working on. And make sure clients have one, central point person to turn to while you’re out.

At the end of the day, there’s no controlling the news cycle, so find a process to help you manage it as best as possible. The more respectful you are of your clients and reporters time, the more respectful they’ll be of your time in return. But mastering that self-respect, and setting clear boundaries with yourself is often the hardest, so start there.