If you’re in the PR business long enough, it’s bound to happen.
Take a Deep Breath
First, take a deep breath and calm yourself. It only seems like the end of the world. Should you call the reporter? It depends. This isn’t weaseling out of the answer. It’s a judgment call.
Then, ask yourself why you think the reporter didn’t quote your client. Was your client on point with his key messages? Did he give the reporter the information he needed?
If you’ve answered in the affirmative, consider contacting the reporter. If you know the reporter well and have a good relationship, pick up the phone or shoot her an email and politely ask if there was a reason your client wasn’t included in the story.
You may be surprised to learn that the reporter is just as upset or disappointed as you are. For reasons of space, the story was trimmed, and along with it your client’s quotes. That can happen when a breaking news story takes precedence.
Explain to your client what happened. He may still be irritated but you don’t want to scold the reporter and never have him quote any of your clients again.
Some time ago, a media company planned a PR and advertising campaign to launch a major new magazine. We media trained the spokesperson and The New York Times ran a big story in the advertising column. Much to everyone’s horror, the reporter had the wrong name for the magazine!
The launch was in the works for over a year and a lot of time and money had gone into the planning. Everyone, including management, wanted to know: How could this happen? The PR staff double checked all the promotional materials and everything was correct.
What happened is that reporter goofed. He apologized in a follow-up column with the correct spelling of the magazine. Ironically, this generated even more publicity for the launch.
Another PR friend wasn’t so lucky. She was publicizing an employee benefits company and pitched a story to Fortune magazine. It was a unique angle on new kind of benefits program that was taking hold in corporations and the reporter was completely unaware of it.
He was excited by the idea and had her client on the phone for 90 minutes. He asked for a follow-up phone call the next day to continue the conversation and they gladly obliged. A few weeks later Fortune ran a big story and quoted other benefits consultants – but not her client.
She called the reporter to ask why not. His response: “I forgot.” (You can’t make this up.)
Then there are the situations where a well-trained spokesperson goes on a TV talk show to promote a product – and forgets to mention it during the interview.
How to Avoid Ducking
No one wants to be on the end of a tongue lashing from a client or CEO when he doesn’t get quoted. So how to you minimize the chances of something going wrong?
- Check and double check. You can avoid ducking by checking and double-checking that your publicity materials contain the correct information. Don’t be the one who leaves out crucial information or includes misspellings.
- Media train your client. Your client may not be quoted because she didn’t lead with her key messages. As most media interviews are conducted by phone and email, the spokesperson should keep her key messages in front of her and refer to them as she speaks. This takes training and practice.
- Ask for feedback. Too often an executive will end a meeting without asking this question, “Did you get everything you need? Is there any other information that would help you with your story?” Throughout the interview, check for understanding. The writer can’t report what he doesn’t know or understand.
- Use a cheat sheet. TV interviews are particularly problematic. Even spokespersons who have been media trained suffer attacks of nerves. It’s OK to bring along a “cheat sheet” with the name of your client, statistics and the price of your products for reference during the interview. Anticipate the questions that may be asked. One businesswoman was wrapping up a radio interview when the reporter asked for the address of the company’s office in that city. She had to admit she didn’t know it.
- Follow up. Be sure to send the reporter information he asked for. At the end of the interview the client can ask when the reporter expects to file the story. As the PR person, ask for permission to check in for updates, “Would it be OK if I check with you in a couple of weeks on the status?” Most times the answer will be yes.
- Say “thank you.” Remind your client, or CEO, to thank the reporter at the end of the interview. Then send an email with your thank-you to keep your client top of mind.
No one is perfect. Your client or CEO may think it’s the end of the world if he wasn’t included in one story when he was quoted in 10 interviews before that.
But keep in mind that a baseball player only needs to get a hit one out of three times at bat to be a star. Ted Williams was one of the few baseball players to end a season with a 400+ batting average. That’s only getting a hit four times out of every 10 times at bat. A 900 batting average for your client is pretty darn good.