My Biggest Story Goes Up in a Puff of White Smoke

by Dan Ward

The upcoming papal conclave has me thinking of one of my greatest media relations triumphs … which suddenly turned into a story that never aired.

We often tell clients that there are no guarantees in media relations, and for me that was proven April 19, 2005.

We were managing a publicity program on behalf of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a national nonprofit group dedicated to increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables.  The USDA had just unveiled a new Food Guide Pyramid, and we had successfully secured an interview in the Foundation’s Delaware offices with none other than ABC’s “World News Tonight.”

It would be the first national broadcast story for the Foundation, and I was already writing my award entry in my mind.  The ABC crew arrived in our client’s office and began setting up the lighting.  We called our clipping service to make sure we didn’t miss a second of this historic interview.

And then white smoke was seen at the Vatican, a signal that a new pope had been selected.

The lights were shut off, the cameras put away, and the crew said their goodbyes.  Our interview was never shot, and the story never aired.

I often share this story with clients, and potential clients, to illustrate how publicity is never guaranteed, and to stress the importance of setting realistic expectations.  No matter how much you believe in your or your clients’ stories, bigger news is always just around the corner. You can’t control what the media chooses to report.  You can only control what you say and what story you attempt to tell.

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