As a PR professional, every hour of every day is different. What’s more, every hour of our day matters as we multi-task to stay on top of the news cycle and trend spot, navigate spur-of-the-moment client requests, meet multiple reporter demands, deflect sticky media situations, plan or pivot a client’s long-term strategy, attend multiple client or team meetings, and make time for professional training and learning courses.
There is never a dull day in PR, and if we’re really being honest, most of us would probably admit that the fast-paced, borderline chaotic days and high pressure to “stay on our A game” all day is actually quite thrilling. It’s what keeps us coming back thirsty for every new day.
When I look back at what it takes to truly thrive in this high-intensity agency environment, it comes down to smart time management, plain and simple. Over the years managing various teams, I’ve noticed this is one of the biggest issues PR pros struggle with, especially junior staff members looking to move up the ladder to AE or SAE. Mastering the ability to own your day, stay agile and make independent decisions on the fly takes time, but is the most important element to succeeding in this profession.
If you find yourself struggling to get through all the tasks on your daily to do list, falling behind on foundational tasks you’re charged with, feeling sloppy about the quality of work you’re producing or constantly questioning others about what you should be working on — here are a few tips to help you start being the boss of your time.
Ditch the page-long list of to-dos
Now, I don’t suggest that you stop organizing your work. I mean stop creating meaningless to-do lists with irrelevant tasks. Things like, “reply to a client email,” “conduct media follow ups,” “scan for client coverage,” and other “no brainer” tasks, should organically become a part of your day, and have no place on your daily to-do list. I would imagine it’s really stressing you out to see so many things on your to-do list. Because I can tell you as a manager, it stresses us out to see team members so focused on simple tasks instead of long-term strategic work, such as spending time pitching a strategic angle for top-tier press or coming up with a new campaign idea that would help you reach your top-tier press metrics.
On any given day, I suggest you have no more than four big ticket items on your to-do list — and a good threshold for deciding if the task should be on your list can be summed up in two questions, will it get my client coverage today and does this map back to the long-term goals and focus of my client? If the answer is no, don’t put it on your to do list because it is not a priority that should consume a massive amount of your time that day.
Define your day by 9:30 a.m.
Ok, the timing on this is flexible depending on what time you get into work. Being that our day starts at 8:30 a.m., within the first hour of your day (by 9:30 a.m.), you will have set the pace for your day and can pretty much determine how successful you’ll be for your client for the rest of the day. The first hour of your day is the most critical time for you to be selfish and prioritize media relations ahead of everything. As PR professionals, clients entrust their budget and build their business objectives on the success of our ability to secure media hits — which means this should be the most time-consuming focus of your day.
Within the first hour of every day, you should either be pitching proactive angles you’ve drafted the day before or jumping on rapid response opportunities to get your clients instant ink. Anything else that gets in the way is bad time management and ultimately a waste of the client’s money. Stay focused within the first hour to set the pace for a strong day of media relations!
Keeping a successful pace for the day and prioritizing your day around a handful of very strategic priorities should take larger chunks of your time. There are eight hours in the workday and to manage your time smartly, I encourage you to structure your day in four, two-hour chunks. Within those two-hour chunks of time, there will be smaller tasks that you organically tackle, like responding to client emails or building a media list. However, focus on getting those done efficiently — for example, repurposing a media list from another team instead of starting from scratch to save time. The goal in efficiently completing those “no brainer” tasks is that you leave yourself larger chunks of time for completing those big, hairy tasks that map back to those two key questions, will it get my client coverage today and does this map back to the long-term goals and focus of my client?
A few other tips on how to focus your chunks of time each week:
- Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday should be the heaviest pitch days. If you’re spending time “digging out of emails from the weekend,” “responding to client requests that come up,” and the list goes on of excuses of what we allow deplete our time, odds are you’re not meeting your metrics and holding the team back from achieving a client’s long-term goals.
- Save the last hour in the afternoon for more administrative work or writing. I cannot stress enough how important it is to focus all of your time in the morning, especially the first part of the week, on pitching and reacting to news. All other tasks should be chunked into the late afternoon bucket and completed once all quality pitching has been done.
- Reflect each day on what prevented you from completing your big, hairy goals for the day. Most likely, you’ll realize that small, admin tasks, like organizing or over formatting an email or database, took over a big chunk of your time. Even if you lost 15 minutes of your time to that task, if you keep that up each day throughout the week, that’s an hour and 15 minutes of pitching time that you’ve lost for the client.
Don’t be a robot
PR is not black and white — it’s so many (more than 50) shades of gray. While we all have some routine parts of every day, such as checking the news to find rapid response opportunities or monitoring for client coverage, we should not be robots to a daily routine. You will have people give you advice on how to “structure your day,” and my advice is to take that lightly, but not too literally. Great PR is not rigidly structured. It’s organic, responsive and thoughtfully reactive — so your day should be just as fluid. Smart time management requires nimble agility to multi-task, reprioritize and re-align your work for the day as needed.