May 17, 2012
A couple of weeks ago, we were filming a segment on-location at Bunz, a gourmet, farm-to-table burger joint we represent here in San Diego.
The feature reporter, Larry Himmel of Channel 8 News, was interviewing our client, chef/owner Jeff Rossman, in the kitchen. Himmel wasn’t only asking questions, he was also happily salting hot French fries, squirting housemade beer-thyme mustard onto gourmet burgers and adding the cherry to the top of his old-fashioned, frothy milkshake made with local strawberries.
He was to return to the studio that afternoon, put the package together and have it air primetime. The co-anchors would even eat some Bunz burgers on air (which I would deliver just before the segment started.)
Things were going well.
Then Himmel excused himself to take a phone call. He returned, rattled, shaking his head, saying, “I can’t believe it. Junior Seau just committed suicide.”
For those unfamiliar with Junior Seau, he was a former pro football player beloved in San Diego and beyond. Indeed, many considered Seau, with his mega watt smile and generous heart, a member of the San Diego family. Everyone at Bunz, including us, was stunned and saddened.
Within a minute of Himmel’s announcement, Seau’s death was being reporting on TV as breaking news. As we all watched rapt, Himmel got another call. He had to leave Bunz and head over to Seau’s, Junior’s eponymous restaurant, down the street from where we were.
Suddenly, everything changed. Our spot slated to air that night got cancelled (understandably so). All local news that afternoon and evening would be dedicated to Junior Seau. Himmel said our segment would run the following evening. It was cancelled again. It aired two days later (without the anchors sampling the food): primetime Friday night.
What’s the lesson for public relations professionals here? We don’t control the news.
As PR professionals, we can offer reporters the best angles, leverage the smartest trends and secure spots. We can position stories to best represent our clients. We can give talking points to the reporter he may or may not use. We can prep our clients and provide media training before they go on-air. We can spread the word of our clients’ successes on social media channels. We can show up early, stay late, answer every email and phone call promptly and professionally, and still we’re not in control.
In our scenario, our client’s story was delayed due to a tragic event that took place. As such, we fully understood its taking precedence over our story. Here’s what we did: We asked Himmel, who’s a pro — and an utter pleasure to work with — how we could help him. We assisted him and his cameraman who needed to quickly finish our shoot. We kept in touch with him via email and phone over the next 24 hours, so at a minute’s notice, we could provide him with whatever he needed, from photos to quotes to burgers.
As PR professionals working with reporters and TV stations, we should always endeavor to make everything as seamless as possible. We must also recognize that we don’t have full control over what happens, and that flexibility and understanding are sometimes the best traits you can display.
Photo credit, FCC, mkd.