Thursday, May 06, 2004

Turn 'Em Down 

I had a painful task today of turning down media interviews for a company. There were plenty of them too from the largest networks and from print media large and small. You must understand that for most of my career, I have worked on accounts where one had to work hard to get one media interview, and it was sometimes impossible to get two for products, services and companies that are boring or obscure.

All of a sudden, a client has a crisis and media flood to the client's doorstep from every part of the earth. It was astonishing to the client who couldn't keep up. She would answer one call, hang up, answer another, hang up, answer another. Her voice mail box overflowed. She had chits spread over her desk with scribbled names and phone numbers. Cameramen were in the lobby asking for the CEO. She and the CEO couldn't eat, couldn't relax, couldn't breathe. Finally, she made a wise decision. She wasn't going to get to all the interviews: Some had to be turned down. She asked me if I would do it while she tried to whittle the pile still before her.

So I dialed and tried to make nice while saying no. It is an odd feeling. This is, of course, what entertainment publicists do regularly because stars and starlets are often hot commodities. Publicists can demand covers on People Magazine and get it. They can negotiate with Vanity Fair. They can flip off networks that have annoyed them and go to the gleeful competition.

I have never done that and don't expect to do. About the nearest I got to power in public relations was many years ago when I handled the test drive fleet for Porsche Cars North America. People would beg me in order to borrow a 911 for the weekend. I often had to say no: It was easy because if a journalist could not show substantial circulation or audience, it was too expensive and risky to loan a high-powered sports car.

One might ask why the company with the crisis didn't hold a press conference. The answer to that lies with the crisis itself. For many reasons, it was undesirable to have a press conference, and it still isn't. So, we continue to turn 'em down. I might even get to like it someday. I hope not too much because the crisis can't continue forever.


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