PR Fish Bowl

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Our Favorite PR Horror Stories (And Lessons)

Jack O LanternsHalloween has us thinking about some scary PR experiences we’ve personally endured or heard about. Rarely can these mishaps be predicted, but sometimes they can be avoided after we’ve stopped cringing at the memory. Here are some of our favorites.

Disaster preparedness. Two years ago, just before Halloween, Hurricane Sandy struck here in New York. We had a potential overseas client fly in to meet with us and four other agencies in a competitive search. The day before the meeting, our office was in the “dark zone” without power, our server down, and the prospect couldn’t reschedule or meet via Skype. So we scrambled to find alternate space, and in a heroic effort, the team redesigned the room to reflect our creative theme, complete with props and baked goods! We were told that we made the next round, to take place the following week, so we redoubled efforts to perfect the presentation. The day before the final pitch, the prospect emailed to say the search was put on hold. Goes to show, you can rise to meet the most dramatic (natural) disasters, but you can never know how the fickle personal or business winds might blow.

Kill ’em with kindness. Recently, some colleagues — working with a creative partner known for his tempestuous personality — were late to a meeting due to a personal medical emergency. The upshot was that the team arrived one member short, and about twenty minutes late. Though the associate was told about the (very real) health issue, he was disproportionately upset, reaming out our colleague in a crowded public place. Our colleague kept his composure, even in the face of some pretty harsh insults. Weeks later, following a successful event, the individual came around, apologizing for his histrionic behavior and recommending us for future assignments. The lesson? It’s best to keep cool, be classy, and stay positive with clients. Sometime it pays to smile through a PR nightmare.

All mixed up. We know someone who spent hours meticulously researching media for the perfect pitch. The story was compelling and certain to find a good home. But somehow emails got sent to addresses with the wrong names attached. What could be worse? What could be more obvious than the importance of getting names right? Even personal, tailored emails when you actually know the person stand a slim chance of getting a response. It’s a scary enough world out there for the PR pro without fumbling the most basic things. We include this story as a (nightmarish) reminder of how important it is to heed every detail, getting every one right.

And here’s a favorite from the vault that will make you grateful for Powerpoint...

The Emperor has no clothes. Years ago, at another agency (hint: it rhymes with “pedal man”) our West Coast colleague George Drucker had the inside track on some new business. After the initial pitch, the team was feeling great: the presentations had gone swimmingly, they were in the final round, and only one other firm was in the running. The team was told they were favored to win! They did some final prep, and, feeling confident, assembled in front of the top execs the morning of the presentation, only to realize they had left the entire slide presentation at the hotel (this was the old days of physical slide carousels; kids, see them as memorialized by Don Draper). With no time to retrieve the slides and no backup plan, they tried to improvise. And went down in flames. A frightening day indeed, but, to be sure, George has never suffered from overconfidence (or forgetfulness) again. He became a model of backing up data, double checking all materials for meetings, and arriving early to presentations — just in case.

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