Public relations is a high-stress occupation, and maintaining health and wellness as an independent practitioner can be especially challenging. On top of keeping up with emails, talking to collaborators and clients, and working long days to meet client deadlines, independent practitioners must also be concerned with marketing and growing their business. And on top of that, they need to fit in ways to maintain their health and wellbeing.
I recently spoke with a few Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Independent Practitioners Alliance (IPA) members—Jennifer Heinly, Jamie Meredith, and Mark Mohammadpour, APR—about how they tackle health and wellbeing challenges.
By way of introduction:
- Jennifer Heinly is winding down a 35-year stint as an independent practitioner at J&J Consulting, a national, virtual strategic public relations and marketing consulting firm. She is transitioning to a new career as a public relations professor, which she explains is her way of giving back to the public relations profession. She lives in Orange County, California.
- Jamie Meredith started her company, The Meredith Group, Inc., in 2005. The company provides consulting services to corporate and non-profit clients globally. She has done public relations and marketing with higher education institutions and health care and technology companies. She has recently relocated to the greater Boston area.
- Mark Mohammadpour, APR, launched his company, Chasing the Sun Fitness, as a full-time business in 2019 after working for Edelman and Weber Shandwick during his public relations career. He served on the PRSA Portland Metro Chapter board from 2014-2017 and as its president in 2016. He became an American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certified Personal Trainer In 2017 and an ACE Certified Health Coach in 2018. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Each of these three public relations professionals has spent many years working solo from a home office. Each of them has also developed unique strategies to keep them on the right track to health and wellness. For Heinly, the top strategies for health and wellness are exercise, meditation, keeping a gratitude journal, and limiting the number of hours she works. Meredith focuses on work-life balance. For Mohammadpour, the guiding principle is building new healthy habits around the things he can control.
Despite slightly different foci, exercise and work-life balance bubbled to the top as critical components of solo practitioners’ strategies for maintaining health and wellness.
About three years ago, Meredith put the finishing touches on her master plan for work-life balance. "My work-life balance has evolved, getting a little bit better over time," she explains. "The thing that I have found to work for me is trying to divide my time into 'buckets.' I asked myself, "What are the main things that I want to achieve for my day?' And then I split up my time accordingly. The 'buckets' she came up with are: exercise time, work time, volunteer time, family time, partner time, friend time, ‘take care of me’ time, and networking time.
In reality, admits Meredith, she doesn't always stick to her optimal plan. "But," she says, "it helps me break up my day and divide my time. It's different every week, but I try to follow my plan in general. If I can find balance in these different areas, it does make me feel good and allows me to handle more."
One strategy that Heinly and Meredith use to maintain life balance is to outsource work so that their workload does not become overwhelming. Much of Meredith's outsourcing is for household chores: she has her groceries delivered, uses Amazon Prime for shopping, uses a housecleaning service, and hires babysitters. "I thought about how many billable hours some of these activities would take me, and I found it was more cost-effective to outsource, especially the shopping and cleaning," explains Meredith.
Heinly maintains a life-work balance by relying on the time-saving value of partnerships. "I'm a big believer in subcontracting and building teams, either sharing the business or subcontracting." Heinly adds that having partnerships means that each business owner doesn't have to spend as much time looking for new business, because team members are likely to include known team members in other business projects that they procure.
After years of working in public relations agencies, losing 150 pounds, and getting certified as a personal trainer and health coach, Mohammadpour has built a business as a diet and exercise coach for public relations professionals. His philosophy is that anyone, even busy independent public relations practitioners, has some control over things they can change to improve their diet and exercise.
Mohammadpour’s approach is very personalized. There is no magic formula, like going for a 60-minute run between 10 and 11 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. "Each of my clients live different lives and so there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to our personal health and wellness," he explains. "People are trying to manage a lot of stuff, and there's a lot of pressure. But I want people to realize that they don't have to sacrifice their career or family to be active."
Mohammadpour has incorporated activity into his working routine. For example, he spends as little time sitting at his desk as possible. "I am standing while you and I are talking on the phone," he said to me when I interviewed him. "I'm standing because I know I burn more calories by standing and pacing and walking while we're having a chat." He also has a spin bike in his office. "I can put my tablet or my iPad on this bike. I can spin while I'm watching a webinar." He says that, over time, he has retrained his brain to think about how he can make my health and wellness a priority.
In a perfect world, Heinly would exercise two-three hours a day. “Even when I’m busy,” she says, “I always made sure that I exercise for at least an hour a day.” Heinly gets her exercise playing tennis and pickleball, walking, and doing yoga and Pilates.
One of Meredith's life-balance 'buckets' is exercise. Describing how she manages to find the time, she describes a hectic (pre-COVID) schedule of squeezing exercise between dropping her children off at school and making her first-morning business phone call. "I would wear my workout clothes, drop off my kids at school, and then come home or try to do a quick gym class. I would get my workout done in the morning." But even when business interferes with her pre-laid plan, she squeezes in 15 minutes of exercise between phone calls to get her body moving.
Learn more from these IPA members
All three of these IPA members regularly share their health and wellness insights with PRSA members.
Heinly and Meredith (along with their USPR colleague Jennie Whitaker) presented on health and wellness at last year's PRSA International Conference. Their presentation, “Finding a Work-Life Balance Spanning Generations and Workplaces” at ICON 2019 is available by request. Contact Heinly at firstname.lastname@example.org or Meredith at email@example.com.
Mohammadpour recently presented a webinar on the topic for IPA and is a monthly Workplace Wellness columnist for PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics. To find out more about his health and wellness coaching, visit chasingthesunpdx.com.