Friday 13th – why luck and hard work are not correlated in PR

peppie-thumb.jpgAccording to superstition, Friday 13th is an unlucky day. This suggests that luck is something that is outside our control – a deterministic force that sets out our destiny or fate. Luck can also be seen as the result of chance, with a feeling that some people are more likely than others to achieve fortunate outcomes in life.

In contrast, there’s the statement (attributed to various people in different forms) that the harder you work the luckier you get. Here, luck is seen as directly in our control with good fortune correlated to the effort we put into achieving our goals.

In public relations, working hard often equates to a long-hours culture; where again the ethos is that effectiveness is related to time served rather than outcomes achieved. This seems a good time of year – within my 12 Days of Christmas series of short posts – to consider working hard and good fortune in PR. At the end of 2013, more and more PR practitioners appear to me (anecdotally at least) to be clocking up more and more hours. If true, this may be the result of social media extending the working day, cutbacks in resources, greater expectations on what PR can achieve, fear of being seen not to be chained to the desk or, as lifehacker considered, one-upping over being busy/slammed/buried by work.

So are PR practitioners luckier as a result of their increasing workload? Is the strategy of trying to do more and more in the fixed time we have available (we can only stretch as far as 24 hours in any day or 7 days a week) paying dividends?

I am not convinced it is. What is likely to happen is that stretching ourselves in this way is counter-productive (something that Sheryl Sandberg notes in her excellent Lean-In book – as recommended to me by Judy Gombita). Another lifehacker piece discussed the Cult of Busy and how complaining about our stressful working lives doesn’t change anything. Indeed, as the article notes, one consequence of being ultra-busy is that time spent with such people feels unsatisfying. I support the advice offered in terms of “press pause” and “do less and feel more joy”.

Also, there are certainly technologies and other tactics you can employ that may help you become more organised and achieve more in the time available. But this is a short-term fix, especially if you fill the time gained with additional responsibilities.

The cumulative effect of so many individual PR practitioners reporting being busy is likewise not a resolution – or indeed, better luck. In fact, it may be the opposite as we devalue what we do achieve by rushing to squeeze more into our busy schedules.  Our bosses just see PR practitioners rushing round rather than focusing on what we achieve.  How can we make the argument for greater resources and strategic responsibilities when we appear to be rushed off our feet with what we are doing?  Or if we simply absorb the additional demands and make everything look really easy, why would they bother to spend more money within the PR function?

What we do is worth taking time over, doing right and doing well. It doesn’t need to be perfect (so we can save time there) but it shouldn’t be rushed so that its value is, well, devalued. In PR much of our work is charged for by the hour in one way or another – shouldn’t we instead be measured by what we achieve or the value we bring to our organisations and clients rather than how long, or how little time, we spend on that work?

In the same way that taking a superstitious approach to hoping for good luck is unlikely to be successful, we are not really likely to get luckier just by working harder, nor by working smarter. If you wish to improve your fortune (however that may be determined), you need to consider the best approaches to achieve that aim. Chances are, it doesn’t involve black cats, friggatriskaidekaphobia, or extensive working hours.

Perhaps it’s time to break the worst superstitions of all in PR – that what we do is ‘free‘ and anyone can do it (compared to colleagues in other functions who make rational arguments for more resources before taking on more work), or that everything is achieved, and billed for, by hours spent. To get lucky in PR, we need to show the value of the work we can do in the time that is paid for – anything more isn’t down to luck.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

2 thoughts on “Friday 13th – why luck and hard work are not correlated in PR”

  1. Heart this 12 Days blogging concept, Heather, as indeed I first got to know you via your (fairly) frequent blogging back in the “early days.”

    I’m glad you enjoyed Lean In. Regarding the over-busy concept, I’m going to (shamelessly) cut-and-paste from this Convince and Convert post the part about “Humblebragging”: http://www.convinceandconvert.com/content-marketing-2/5-bad-marketing-habits-made-worse-by-the-internet/

    (I think I tried to share it a few weeks ago via Twitter, but somehow it got messed up and didn’t take.)

    2. Humblebragging

    It’s not just attention-hungry teenagers who slip up and brag about how humble they are, who complain about awesome situations they are in, or otherwise disguise their narcissism.

    The phenomenon has picked up its own Twitter handle: #humblebrag, a hashtag that has itself gone viral. And it’s easy to see why when you look at tweets like this from people like Donald Trump:

    “People ask me every day to pose for pictures but the camera never works the first time–they are never prepared or maybe just very nervous!”

    But celebrities aren’t the only ones who find themselves humblebragging. Businesses find themselves struggling with the need to seem important and the need to come across as humble. The humblebrag is the inevitable result of this.

    According to Mitch Joel, President of a marketing agency called Twist Image, there are two kinds of humblebragging, and it can be good or bad:

    I think there’s part of it where we’re publishing things in the hopes that people will think our lives are more interesting than theirs and I think that’s the sort of negative one.

    I think the positive one is where we’re publishing things in the hopes that people will connect and find value in the things we’re creating.

    In my opinion, the easiest way to get past this issue is to remember that it’s all about the audience. In the past, we haven’t restrained from calling some of our posts “The Ultimate Guide,” whether or not that kind of hyperbole may be going a bit overboard.

    When you make it about the reader, it doesn’t get interpreted as, “yeah, that’s right, look how awesome our post is.” It gets interpreted as an opportunity for our readers to enrich themselves.

    So long as you’re being useful, the awkwardness seems to take care of itself.

  2. Couple of thoughts from the humblebragging concept. It reminds me of that US tradition of the Christmas Round Robin letter – which of course, preceded social media (and indeed, SM may have led to a bit of its demise). Second, it links into the word of 2013: selfie. Isn’t it worrying how, despite people being busy (apparently), there is more and more focus on self-promotion and me-me-me.

    As you indicate, communication should involve others and making connections, being helpful, etc. I think there is a place for self-reflection and story-telling/sharing in communication but if it’s all about YOU – and not even entertaining with it, then that seems to me to be very sad.

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