Unlike advertising, public relations is more an art than a science. Based on our level of experience, we can reasonably predict outcomes, however, they are only predictions. All kinds of factors can influence what happens, good, bad or indifferent.

You plan a major announcement on Tuesday morning. You and the client have invested time, money and energy preparing to make the biggest splash possible and, lo and behold, something over which you have no control – a natural catastrophe, a major political announcement, the death of a prominent citizen – dominates the news cycle you were counting on.

About twenty years ago we prepared to produce and distribute a video news release at the headquarters of United States Figure Skating, which was sponsored by our client, a major food brand. It was a Saturday event at which dozens of famous skaters made impressions of their hands in concrete for a wall that would later be constructed at the headquarters. We also conducted some great interviews with some of the big name skaters.

It was a can’t-miss kicker for weekend sportscasts…or so I predicted.

A few hours later, as we prepared to uplink the video we shot at a local TV station we watched footage of a tragic airliner crash in Florida coming in. Everything in every newsroom in America came to a grinding halt with the crash receiving wall-to-wall coverage that day and several news cycles thereafter.

We went ahead and fed our video knowing it would be ignored. What else could we do? I explained the reality to the client who took the news badly. I guess that was an understandable response, one founded in disappointment, but certainly it wasn’t a reasonable one if you know how TV news works.

On Monday, the client called to ask how the VNR had done. I patiently explained that it had received no airings, but a Plan B would be on its way shortly. After thinking about it and discussing our options, we came up with a solid idea. The same client sponsored a multi-city ice skating tour of former Olympic gold medalists, most all of whom appeared in the video we’d shot.

We asked for the tour schedule and sent our footage to sportscasters in the cities where the tour stopped. Not only did many of the sportscasts air the footage, they expressed gratitude for it.

Thus, we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Granted this took more time and patience on the client’s part, but it paid off.

This is among the reasons one of our clients told us “KEF Media is an agency’s agency.” We don’t quit when the unpredictable happens. We work with our agency clients to overcome obstacles thrown in the way of the best laid plans and find ways to deliver the results they are counting on.

I’d like to tell you our competitors do the same thing, but I know that’s not the case. In fact, one of them, which no longer exists, routinely sent agencies a list of events that had taken place the day their VNR was distributed to excuse poor results.

Here are tips to keep in mind:

  • Explain to the client there could be unpredictable events that might disrupt your plans.
  • Whether it’s a broadcast or digital campaign, be sure you have a Plan B should the unpredictable happen.
  • Counsel your client to have realistic expectations.
  • Don’t panic. Work the problem, don’t let the problem work you.
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