Setting expectations and maintaining boundaries can be very challenging for public relations professionals. The evolving scenery of client needs, media relationships, crisis management and technology within the communications industry can make boundaries seem impossible. Add to this reality that many public relations professionals work exceptionally long hours and are often on-call for their clients and teams, and you have a recipe for disaster.
In public relations, there are five core groups that present regular opportunities to maintain boundaries and set or adjust expectations:
  • Clients
  • Teammates
  • Supervisors
  • Partners (agency, vendors, etc.)
  • Reporters / Journalists
Each of these groups comes with its own expectations. Whether you have been working with someone for a long period of time or you are just starting a relationship, ensuring you are both on the same page is important.
Here are some common scenarios and tips for how to adjust expectations, avoid pitfalls and maintain boundaries:
1. Manage your time. Here’s a scenario for you: Your new client sends you a quick email note requesting an impromptu phone conversation asking, “Do you have 10 minutes to spare right now?”

Whether you do or don’t have the time, this scenario is the perfect opportunity for expectation setting. If you respond immediately at this early stage in the relationship, you are communicating that you are willing and able to drop everything for that client. This may sound like you're just doing good customer service at first, but it’s setting a standard that will drain you in the long term.

Just as your client doesn’t want their employees coming in asking for 10 minutes of their time on the hour, your client will respect your boundary if you give him or her direction to do so. Consider countering with a 10-minute meeting later in the day or next day.
2. Limit the channels of communication. With so many ways to communicate through social media, email, and text messages, it can be all too easy to expose yourself to contact overload with clients, colleagues and acquaintances. Communicate your preferred method of staying in touch and once you have communicated your preference and set the boundary.

Do not compromise. The next time a team member forgets to use the agreed means of communication and instead asks questions via email, you can simply remind him or her and, moving forward, only respond to people who use that communication channel.
3. Define your expectations. To succeed in the Public Relations industry, it is simply not realistic to be stuck in your inbox all day. Email response time expectations vary from person to person and it is not safe to simply assume that another party shares your expectations or boundaries when it comes to email response time. It’s essential to set your typical response time expectation on the front end to avoid misunderstanding. Let people know that you'll reply to emails within 24 hours or so.
4. Get comfortable with the word “no.” Sometimes, you just have to be direct to say "no."  Not "maybe," not "possibly," not "I'll see what I can do" – just a clear and simple “no.” The opportunity to turn something down is empowering. Allow yourself to get comfortable with the freedom of kindly but decidedly declining an offer or firmly communicating a boundary. But don’t say “no” when in actual sense you can afford to face the task.
5. If unsure, get a second opinion. Communications professionals often encounter (sometimes daily) new opportunities to set, adjust and manage expectations. This is to be expected, but it doesn't always mean you will have an answer or solution right when you need it. If you are unsure of how to set an expectation in a new situation, or doubt whether a boundary is appropriate, too firm or too lenient, bring in a second opinion.

Share the scenario with your supervisor or a seasoned colleague and get their weigh in on possible responses and scenarios based on those responses.
When it comes to expectation setting and boundaries, remember that you can and should maintain the highest level of customer service and client kindness possible. You should be a team player in the pursuit of extraordinary service, but that doesn’t mean you ought to be a pushover.