Most of the time, when publicists work on segments or features with the media, we all know for the most part what the end result will be, and are often pleased with the outcome. Sometimes the end result exceeds our expectations and the client and everyone else are happy. Yet, sometimes, the end result is incredibly disappointing and we are left having to do major damage control. A few scenarios with this end result are below…
Scenario #1: You’ve worked for weeks on a national TV segment for your client. The segment is taped, so you executed the shoot and all goes well. You exchange countless emails with the producer to make sure they include all key messages, and are assured the segment will receive lots of air time in a prime time slot. You send an email to your client to tune in, and cross your fingers that the segment is all you were promised it would be and more. The segment airs, and it is cut short, and half of your talking points were left out as well. Client is not happy to say the least.
Scenario #2: You have worked on a brand feature for months with a high end women’s magazine. You have taken this editor on a press trip and spent hours setting up interviews with brand execs, sending photos and information to the editor, fact checking, etc., all in anticipation of a multiple page feature. The moment you’ve been waiting for arrives and the issue lands on your desk. You excitedly open the magazine looking for pages on your brand, but the feature has been cut—slashed actually—and is now a mere half page.
Scenario #3: You work on an online feature for your brand and send the writer countless photos, quotes, and press releases. You spend days fact checking and have stressed the importance of using only approved photos and quotes. When the feature posts, your client emails you urgently demanding to know why images and quotes were used that they never approved. You look at the feature, and to your surprise, you’ve never seen half of the images or quotes used either. In fact, your client was misquoted and you don’t have rights to some of the images.
All of these scenarios and countless more happen in our line of work all of the time. The question is how do you handle tough situations with the media when they don’t deliver as promised? As a publicist, it is always hard determining if and when it is okay to express disappointment with brand coverage since, well, we aren’t paying for it. Can you tell an editor/producer that you are not happy?
The short answer is yes, but there is a way to go about it. Truth is, most editors/producers know when you’ve been shortchanged, and they feel bad about it. Most of the time, it was not their call and was completely out of their hands. Sometimes there is breaking news and your segment gets bumped or cut short, or the pages the editor was assigned originally get cut in final edit, or their Editor-in-Chief or Executive Producer just wasn’t happy with the way the piece was turning out… There are so many reasons for why each scenario above could happen, and most editors/producers will be extremely apologetic if they cannot deliver to you what they said they would. In those instances, take the apology and mention that you’d like a chance to make it right for your client in the future if the opportunity arises. If they don’t address it with you, feel free to ask them what happened so that you can explain the situation to your client. They understand that on your end, you have damage control to do, so the more information they can give you, the better.
Again, there is a way to handle these situations and it is very diplomatically and professionally—and eliminate your aggression. You might be super pissed, but you know that old saying about getting more bees with honey? Same idea. If you ever want to work with this person/media outlet again, you’ll need to tread lightly. That means something different for everyone, but basically, be assertive, not aggressive. There is a difference. Explain that you expected a different result and were a bit disappointed when you saw the piece and now have to explain to your client why it was cut/shortened/etc. If info about your brand/client is incorrect, ask for a correction or retraction (much easier to do for online features). The type of conversation you have depends on your relationship with the editor, so again, THIS IS BY NO MEANS THE END ALL BE ALL of how to handle the scenarios above. Everyone is different; every situation is different; every agency/company has different ways of dealing with these types of situations. Obviously, always follow protocol, but know it is okay to stand up for your client as well. Afterall, they are our first and foremost priority. However, also remember that we could not do our jobs without the press. Your network is your net worth, and, truth be told, it’s always nice to have an IOU in your back pocket to leverage when the time is right.