Managing client expectations when the news cycle goes south

For when the news cycle just won’t cooperate.

Sometimes, the news cycle won't play along with your PR plans.

Dustin Siggins is founder of Proven Media Solutions

Nothing sinks a PR pro’s heart like the news cycle spinning out of control. It happened to the entire world in September 2008 (bank bailout/recession), March 2020 (COVID-19 pandemic) and – if you’re in politics – it happened on Monday (Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon being fired).

As you might guess, my heart was hitting my toes on Monday. We had a great client set-up for a press campaign about a key political issue. Internal prep included the client’s study being ready for public viewing, many hours helping the client prepare a white paper and getting the spokesperson ready for interviews. Externally, a top-tier op-ed was planned, relevant media had seen the white paper and the study before the launch, and a press release was ready to go out at 8 a.m.



And, well…nobody really cared. Only the op-ed went off as planned. Even the client’s allied media didn’t cover it, and the social media traction was reminiscent of a car on black ice.

Did I mention that the client has a board meeting this week?

It wasn’t fun, especially given the months of work for the study’s launch. But we relied on a customer service approach that kept our heads in the game, the client’s expectations managed, and the campaign rolling forward.

First, we didn’t panic. Our PR plan is sound, the client understands that PR is a rocket ship – not a sniper shot – and the op-ed was a solid placement. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t waste a couple of hours checking Twitter and Google way too many times for something else positive to report, or stress way too much about unrelated launch issues creating more problems.

But we didn’t panic. What we did do was contact the client early in the day to be upfront about what was going on. We explained how rude it was for Carlson and Lemon to choose today to be fired – our contact person got the joke – and then laid out how that impacted the launch plan. We would still likely get some coverage, but not nearly the level we intended, at least not this week, and certainly not before the board meeting.

We also laid out a solution for presenting the 2023 media campaign to the board in a way that was both honest and positive. The client bought into the approach – something that may not have happened if we’d tried to run silent on the news cycle’s sudden shift.

Third, we kept pushing for coverage. We reached out to some of our friendliest media contacts on Tuesday 1-on-1, which resulted in scheduling a top-tier interview. We re-sent the press release to those who didn’t open the e-mail on launch day, creating a combined 40% open rate on a list of almost 600 journalists. And we are going to continue moving forward with other media plans that will squeeze every bit of juice out of the launch lemon.

Sometimes, the news cycle just pivots on a dime. You can hold off on existing plans, continue as planned, or change course. What you can’t do is give up or not tell clients what’s going on. As every PR pro knows, that’s a great way to turn a temporary crisis into a long-term trust problem.


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