How to deal with client expectations when it comes to getting media publicity


By Sandra Coffey (Media Publicity Mentor)

Setting out a clear roadmap at the start of a media publicity campaign is at the heart of any strategy. However, many PR professionals find that during the campaign issues with expectations begin to emerge.  And the clear roadmap does not look so clear anymore. 

When it comes to media publicity, clients feel that their story is the most unique and has a great angle. They ask, “Why wouldn’t the BBC want to cover this?” In first conversations with clients looking to get publicity, I deal with what I call the “media publicity journey”. 

My first question is…

Do you want to be a one-story hit wonder, or do you want to map out your story journey so that it has many angles that you can send to journalists? Looking beyond the straight-up obvious story is key. Many make the mistake of having one great story but nothing to follow it up with and thereby not building any type of relationship.  Creating and building relationships with journalists will help to get a client featured more often so that eventually expectations to get featured on the BBC may become a reality. 

Now, I must preface this by stating that there must be a newsworthy story present that helps, entertains, educates, or enlightens audiences. 

Those that are getting coverage on the BBC, you will find, have had other articles written about them in their local newspaper, have been on local or regional radio. They will have some clippings, some media experience. This, for me, is an important first step in any media publicity campaign. The client needs to grow its newsworthy-ness and the easiest place to start to do this is by getting featured locally and regionally.

Expectations are important

I must, before I go any further, state that I don’t knock expectations because they are healthy, and they help nurture the excitement a client has around publicity. I want the client to be excited about being interviewed and being featured. I, for one, don’t want to send someone for an interview and realise they couldn’t be bothered to deliver.

This brings me to another important point. It is one thing to get a great media opportunity, it is another to make maximum use of it. The client also needs to be an active participant and your expectations of them should be outlined. One needs to ensure that once an interview is scheduled, the client takes time to get ready, has their research done, and has a good sense of how they come across on camera if it is for television.  

The question may need to be asked – does the client need to rehearse? Are they ready for any awkward questions that may come up regarding the movie? Is the actor that is the face of the campaign informed about issues that are trending in the film industry? 

If I need to, I will suggest doing a mock interview which is where I will interview the client with my journalist hat on. There will be a mix of the expected questions and then the not so expected ones. Media interviews are unpredictable. An interviewer may be having an off-day or may want to talk about anything except your story. 

Communication between client and PR professional

Clear communication is central to dealing with issues around what is expected and what can be delivered. Key elements need to be agreed on:

  • A timeline for how much you will do for the client in a week or month
  • What media outlets you will contact
  • What interviews you will set up
  • How you want the client to participate – some clients feel that when they hand their media campaign over to a PR professional, they don’t need to do anything else until a media interview is scheduled. Others want a response to their query straight away. Some text at the weekend looking for answers. 

There needs to be a good communication link so that either party can contact the other if something urgent comes up. You won’t want the client to wait until Monday to tell you about something that has just emerged and that has a significant impact on your media efforts. Neither, you don’t want to have to wait for a response from your client if a journalist needs it for Monday morning. There will be times when you will need further information so you can answer a journalist’s questions in time for their deadline.

Getting real

But I am a realist and I cringe when I hear clients come to me stating that “well such and such said they could guarantee me coverage, so why can’t you?”

Stop right there. 

There are so many moveable parts in the media that it is impossible to guarantee anything. I worked as a journalist and editor for 17 years and the day a newspaper goes to press is the craziest day of the week. And if a major story breaks, so many stories get knocked off the news list. Even good stories that I had written and spent a long time researching get kicked off. It never mattered how much I protested, when a major event takes place (a murder, a fire, major car crash), that is what people want to talk and read about. Other stories can wait until the following week. Some will fall off the list altogether.

It is at times like this when a good PR professional will come to the fore. This is when relationships are built. The key is following up and ensuring that the story that didn’t make this week can make the following week by making some changes or providing an update. By making the call and acknowledging that you understood why the story wasn’t featured last week, you are showing that you know what makes news. 

Keeping the client informed

Expectations need to be aligned with what is possible and by giving clients knowledge and insights into how the media works. Keeping them informed of progress by scheduling in an email a week to let them know of updates, I have found works best. 

If I feel that the client’s story is one that the national newspapers would love, then I will approach this subject with the client but with my expectations of what I think could happen. Because good media publicity involves both parties working together. I will suggest angles that need to be taken and what may or may not happen if such an angle is taken. 

Expectations are huge when a PR professional comes on board for a project. It is up to the PR professional to plan out a roadmap that suggests what is possible and what can be made possible if certain elements are in place. 


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