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What To Do When the Reporter Doesn’t Quote Your Client: Duck.

If you’re in the PR business long enough, it’s bound to happen. You open The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal and your stomach flip-flops. The reporter didn’t quote your client, or CEO, in his story. How do you explain this to your client?

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.

Oh no! What happened?

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?

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.

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