Let me tell you about two situations where companies wanted me to guarantee specific media results. Both were foreign-owned firms, which is relevant from a media culture perspective.
The first one was a steel service center that sold piping for industrial uses. It had approached me about possibly working with them on public relations matters in the U.S. As we discussed their needs and what I was able to do to help them, they started to insist that I tell them exactly which news media outlets would cover their story, and how that coverage would ensue as a condition of our work together. In other words, they wanted me to promise them specific results in advance of any work.
The second firm was a client in the environmental services sector that catered to companies involved in oil and gas exploration. After we had been working together for a little while, a manager there wanted me to give him detailed predictions on what the media would cover, and it insisted that I tell the media in advance they would need to get our approval before they would run any stories, and even share their early drafts before posting or publishing.
That’s Not How It Works
I told both companies that’s not how it works in the U.S. At first, both did not understand because they were used to these practices in their home countries where that had enjoyed such power and control over the media organizations that covered them.
In the first case involving the steel service center, I determined that there was no way I could manage their expectations to the extent that they would ever accept the differences between how the media operates in the United States and how it does in their headquarters country. So, I respectfully declined the opportunity to work with them.
In the second case, I spent a good deal of time bringing that manager up to speed on how the news media functions in America. In other words, I focused on strategy and process. Eventually, he became comfortable with the differences and was a very quick learner and adapter. It was a rewarding experience for me.
Don’t Give in to the Pressure or Temptation
Both stories reinforce an important lesson in the public relations business, and a reminder not to give into the pressure or the temptation to promise an outcome over which you have no direct control.
You can have a good sense of what stories will get coverage by specific news outlets. You may know the individual reporters so well that you feel you can predict their behaviors. You can feel so confident in your information, your timing and your strategy, that it’s almost guaranteed you will get certain results. But don’t promise those specific results.
Because at the end of the day, you don’t control those news media outlets. You don’t control those reporters. And you certainly don’t control the series of events that could disrupt your best laid plans.
Anything Can Happen
Anything can happen. The reporter you know so well could leave the organization or be re-assigned before you have the chance to place that story. A competitor could emerge whose news scoops your company’s or your client’s news, making it no longer newsworthy.
A major event on the geopolitical stage like a war could explode onto the scene disrupting all news media attention and killing any chance of you keeping that media relations promise you had made. It doesn’t even need to be that dramatic. I once had a press conference scheduled and talked to reporters 90 minutes before our scheduled time. All told me they were on their way. What I couldn’t predict was a breaking development in a big criminal case one block from where we were located. All of the media on their way to my event was diverted to the other story.
Even at times like that, it is important not to absolutely guarantee the news media will do what you expect until they actually do it. Always remind your leadership or clients that anything could happen at any time.
You can promise what you can control. You can control the process. You can ask the right questions, get the information, do the research, create the media target lists, create the media deliverables and determine the timing and the approach. You can conduct the media outreach and the follow-up. If you do it all the right way, you can deliver solid media relations results. That’s what you can tell the client or your leadership. That’s how you manage their expectations.
But no matter how confident you feel, if you guarantee specific PR outcomes, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Do you want to talk about media relations? Get in touch.