Media opps vs media flops: PR and managing expectations

Article by:Ilona Hitel


Picture the scene. You’ve set your client up for a Sunday Times business profile but the opportunity isn’t quite right for them. You have set another up for radio but they really wanted TV.
Sometimes it is amazing how clients do a complete turnaround on opportunities, and their expectations need to be managed as to the potential impact on journalists who have given up the time to hear the pitch and made the time to interview. Out of the hundreds (if not thousands) of pitches a news desk receives each day, yours has stood out enough to secure a rare broadcast slot for your client.  Do clients know what they are turning down? If not, it’s on PRs to make sure they do. Too many let downs (more than one) will be give the media a dim view not only of the company, but also the PR agent go-between involved – one thing journos have is a remarkably good memory for people who let them down. Re-arrangements are rarely possible, given the hectic news schedule, and what a journalist is writing about today won’t always be the same in two weeks’ time.
Pitch is exactly that, especially for unknown brands. A story pitched and placed should be considered as high value as a sales opportunity. Would you turn your sales lead down for a creds meeting? These publications will drive leads so it’s actually a fast track to an uncompetitive pitch or tender. Yet it is amazing how some clients think it’s ok to tell the BBC to hang on after the poor PR exec has gone into bat full of promises. That’s why scale ups are a dream to work with. They are agile and tend to leap on media profile opportunities as a chance to stand out and differentiate.
It’s all part of our role however to get that middle position right. PRs need to educate and keep their clients informed as to the weight, availability and importance of the media circle of influencers. They need to get that message heard at the highest level. They also need to go fully prepped to journalists, confident that the client has the customer, spokesperson, premises, whatever is involved, lined up.
Rant over. When all is said and done, half of the challenge of being a good PR is to negotiate these bumps in the road. As awful it might be for an enthusiastic PR to decline this kind of media opportunity, the time may not be right for a client, and at the end of the day they are the decision makers for their business. Then it becomes a question of how to get the best outcome for both sides, and really earn your crust as a PR professional. Is the opportunity something that might be right in the future? Can we keep the relevant journalist up to date? Most importantly, what did we promise and what can we provide instead?
As a team leader it’s also important to keep your team’s spirits raised when these brilliant opportunities are hard fought and won, only for it to be pretty clear that the client thinks they are simply good enough to deserve them anyway. After all, why wouldn’t the FT want to feature you on their front page? At this stage, it is time for any manager to PR the PR and point out what you and your team has achieved.
Sometimes that works against you, but it’s rare – and it’s a risk any professional PR leader should be prepared to take to protect their journalist relationships and preserve their precious team morale at doing their jobs well. Like any good sales person, a PR is only as good as his or her last story sold.


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