“Every time I open Google Docs, I wanna throw up.”


I’ve heard a sentence like that many times before. I once surveyed PR specialists at a top-20 agency on the emotions they felt during the written content creation process. The top answer?




The act of writing scares people. Or, rather, the expectations behind writing scare people. It’s understandable. So much goes into writing professionally:

  • Generating fresh ideas
  • Researching, drafting, and editing content
  • Getting clients to approve pieces
  • Managing content weekly, monthly, and quarterly

Most PR professionals’ last exposure to the written word is writing essays and papers for collegiate courses. High-stakes, formulaic content on boring topics abound. They worry about getting bad grades or looking dumb in front of their peers.


So they muddle through it, turn it in, get their grade, and move on. Minimal exploration of what worked and what needed improvement. No real process around growth and change. And no real incentive to do so — just get through that part of the class and never think about it again.


When these folks then reach the workforce, they’re suddenly confronted by the critical need for PR specialists to write well. Press releases, thought leadership articles, pitches, blogs, award applications, emails, quarterly plans and reports. So many words, so little practice to fall back on.


Quickly, that blinking Google Docs cursor starts scaring the hell out of them. And it leaves an agency’s leaders staring at timecards chock full of “writing time” with not much to show for it, wondering, “What do I do now?”


The hidden monster: Writing Overwhelm

Managers often think the problem starts and ends on the page itself. “If I can just get my people to quit procrastinating and write faster, they’ll figure it out.”


Yes, the fear partially stems from the act of typing in Google Docs. But it’s amplified by the processes around written content. Swirling in your people’s minds are questions like:

  • Did we get good topics and information from the client?
  • Will I meet my deadline?
  • Will my boss shred my piece in the editing phase? And will they hate me for it?
  • Will my client be happy with the result? Or will I get yelled at on the next call?
  • How many of these do I have to do this week

Many pieces have to fall into place for a functional drafting phase. And each unanswered question offers another door for anxiety and fear to enter your folks’ minds and grow.


Your people managers are in a tough spot, too. When their team members’ anxiety finally reaches critical mass, managers are ill-equipped to guide them through the ensuing panic. They look at the output (what the person wrote) and try to improve it, instead of holistically reviewing the processes leading to that output.


And that’s where Writing Overwhelm lurks. It’s the anxiety of drafting content, plus the fear of failing, of disappointing, of getting fired because their skills are weak. Writing Overwhelm manifests in many ways:

  • Your team member who stares at a blank screen from 9-5, afraid to start writing anything.
  • Your project management tool overflows with backlogged pieces with no deadlines set or real direction forward.
  • The article your client had you rewrite four times, with increasingly lengthy feedback sessions.
  • The Slack note from your boss wondering why nobody’s responded to a piece’s edits from three weeks ago.

Struggling to write great content is the shadow Writing Overwhelm casts from its dark hiding place. And the longer that shadow lingers, the harder it is to fix — and the more it’ll cost you.


How much is this costing me?

Most agency leaders, strapped for time, bandwidth, or ability, either try to force their way through Writing Overwhelm or turn a blind eye to it. Leaders have to extinguish many fires every day, and better content production and management isn’t usually high on that list — unless a rash of angry clients threatening to leave makes it so.


But letting Writing Overwhelm linger and gather strength chomps away at your margins, your reputation, and your client and employee retention. Consider this math exercise:


A trained writer can complete a high-quality 800-1,000 word thought leadership piece in about 4-5 hours. An untrained writer can take double that — and oftentimes, much more. But let’s say your untrained staff, scared stiff of writing, are spending 8 hours per piece.


Each works on 7 clients who all want at least one piece written every month (a three-piece per quarter commitment, fairly standard). We have:


    7 content pieces * 8 hours per piece = 56 hours spent on the writing process


That’s almost 1.5 work weeks per month spent on writing. Your employees are spending 35% of their working time on a task that terrifies them (not to mention time spent writing pitches, responding to client emails, and the like). That’s quite the time cost.


But how about the dollars and cents? Well, let’s take the average hourly rate for a PR specialist at $32.42. We get:


    56 hours * $32.42/hr = $1,815.52 per writer per month


Over a full year, that’s $21,786.24 per writer. And if you task 10 PR specialists with writing, you spend $217,862.40 per year to get 840 pieces of content.


But Alex, that’s about $260 per piece — that’s a decent return, right?


Not really. Because this exercise assumes a few things:

  • You’ve built an efficient machine to capture, research, and vet ideas from your clients.
  • You’re running an efficient, high-quality internal drafting and editorial review process.
  • You’re using robust processes to manage content production and delivery between all stakeholders.
  • Clients will love the quality of every piece and provide minimal edits and feedback so you don’t waste more staff hours on rewrites or negotiating with upset client leads.
  • Your employees, spending a third of their time fearing their jobs, won’t quit — despite an average annual industry turnover rate of 25.4%.

You can bog down anywhere in this content process, and your staff will burn time and energy digging out of it — all while fear gathers strength. After all, the client told them their piece was garbage; clearly, they’re no good at writing. (Another sentence I’ve sadly heard before.)


Without guidance, support, and training, that $21,000+ per-person cost climbs. Tack on reputational costs as dissatisfied clients and employees leave. And add the indirect costs stemming from time, energy, and effort dedicated toward an increasingly frustrating process — not to mention rehiring a quarter of your workforce every year.


Can you truly afford to let Writing Overwhelm linger?


But generative AI will solve this problem, right?

Tools like ChatGPT help PR agencies with content ideation or rephrasing pieces. And as the models mature, they’ll more accurately mimic voice and tone and incorporate more recent and sophisticated research into pieces. You either are using or will use AI-powered tools somewhere in your agency’s processes.


That said, today’s generative AI is the Wild West. Copyright assignation remains unresolved. And AI has surfaced a host of other legal, ethical, and financial questions that warrant caution.


But beyond those concerns lies a deeper problem. When we rely on AI to do everything for us, we’re not learning — just copying. And “prompt engineering” and its output doesn’t engage our critical thinking, problem solving, and research and synthesis skills the same way as writing does.


So when your employees open a blank page, or a client sends feedback like, “This sounds too generic,” without AI to save them, that long-festering fear arises. Perhaps they can auto-generate an introduction or gin up a specific example, but that only masks the issue instead of confronting it.


AI is the scared writer’s Tylenol. It numbs the pain, but without addressing the underlying issues, we’re not curing anything.


Talk of AI focuses too narrowly on output instead of broader outcomes. We want happier, more efficient employees who gain proficiency in their craft over time. AI has a place in supporting that proficiency, but it can’t build it alone. 


If we never challenge our people to exercise the craft behind writing — which includes managing content and people — then nobody grows, learns, and improves.


That will cost them and you in the long run.


Writing Overwhelm is the monster; how do I slay it?

You can’t simply give up content as an offering. Your clients’ need for content is only increasing, and if you can’t provide high-quality work to meet those needs, they’ll take their business elsewhere.


But you also can’t let content and its creation and management processes devour your margins. In fact, along with content supporting financial growth, it should also boost your reputation with employees and clients and differentiate you in the marketplace.


Finding the right next steps, however, proves tough for most managers and leaders. It’s tempting to throw your team into an online “Comprehensive Writing Course” for $700 a head and hope that solves it. And maybe it’ll help the 5-15% who actually finish such a course. But, much like turning it over to generative AI, these passive opportunities only mask the problem. The monster survives.


You need to slay Writing Overwhelm once and for all.


Slaying this pervasive monster takes a more thoughtful, deeper approach that demonstrates commitment to your employees and managers. That approach includes steps like:


Support from experts who have dealt with Writing Overwhelm in its many forms. You need a guide to walk you through the many manifestations of Writing Overwhelm and set the foundation to address the real issues head-on.


Targeted training on where the writing process is actually breaking down. Training helps but only if it’s relevant, urgent, and applicable to your people’s daily work. You need to understand what specifically troubles your team and then get them the right resources.


Personalized coaching to get training to stick. Your expert guide should direct your people through their learning experiences, focusing on what scares them the most. Personalized coaching gives your people the confidence and skill set to tackle their own Writing Overwhelm — whether that’s writing pieces, managing writers, or collaborating with clients to create great content.


Systems and processes installed to reinforce growth and improvement. Guides can’t stay forever, but systems and processes offer a long-term base of institutional knowledge and support. You need the right tools and processes to gather great content intelligence and apply it throughout the content creation and management process.


You have to address the writing skill set and the process around producing content to effect real change in your people’s mindsets and behaviors. One cannot succeed without the other. Then, and only then, will you have the capabilities to slay the monster lurking within your agency.


Your noble and necessary quest awaits

Humans want to avoid fear. When we can procrastinate or hide from tasks that elicit fear, we’ll take that road 99.99% of the time. 


That’s Writing Overwhelm’s insidious nature. Merely avoiding it extracts many more costs than confronting it.


You owe it to your people, your clients, and yourself to challenge the monster. With expert guidance, targeted training and coaching for individual contributors and people managers, and systems and processes by your side, you’ll slay Writing Overwhelm and discover what confident and capable writing talent can do for your agency. 


If you’re seeking an expert guide to slay your Writing Overwhelm, drop us a line, and we’ll chat about your unique situation and path forward.