Judgment Day: Clients vs. Media

Judge Striking GavelYou’ve seen Terminator 2.  And if you haven’t, stop reading this post.  We are not friends.  Watch the movie, then come back here, so we can resume our regularly-scheduled friendship.

Hint: If you haven’t seen the movie, this is where you should say “Stay here, I’ll be back.”  I’ll wait.

Now that we’re all on the same page (and friends again), you are quite familiar with Judgment Day, the day where the robots take over and life as we know it ends.

Catastrophes and crises happen, especially in the PR world.  Every publicist has a “war story.”  Or ten.  Some of the juicier ones I’ve been a part of: a mall fired their Santa, 90% of media passes were revoked by the client 24 hours before a major-name hiphop/R&B concert, and a basketball team’s two biggest stars basically sat out a full-season injured.  Oh, there are more.

In crisis situations, playing the intermediary becomes a challenging role.  Sometimes, you are forced to make a decision such as: Which relationship is more important to you: the media or the client?

This is Judgment Day.

I remember one “judgment day” vividly.  Two nights before a big charity fundraiser, I was at Target doing a little shopping when my phone rang.  It was a very prominent reporter from a national-scope daily newspaper.  (For the record, they still run a print edition!).  I had worked with this reporter several times over my career and trusted her to bring the facts and do her homework.

And, oh, boy, did she ever…she had tax records pinning the client who had the upcoming event to the wall for not having donated money in charity for three years.  Kind of a big thing, since registered 501(c)(3) organizations are legally obligated to give money annually!  It was something the client had never mentioned to me before so I was caught completely off-guard.

At that moment, several factors came into play: the reporter, the publication, the client (and, sadly, how much money they owed us), my then-company’s reputation, and the fact that I was pushing a red cart around aimlessly through the faux-vintage t-shirt section while being pummeled with ugly, ugly statistics about the legally-registered non-profit I had represented for three years.

After going through that morality play in my head, I came to a decision.  I would represent the client to the best of my ability for the event and resign the account immediately following.  Someone in a client service field should always stick up for their client, but in this case, I wasn’t going to let this client mess up this relationship with this reporter because they hid the most important fact about their organization from me for three years.  The media won here.

The fundraiser was a moderate success.  I resigned the account immediately afterward, saying a big “Hasta la vista, baby,” to the entire mess.

What are some “Judgment Day” stories you’ve survived?  What choices were you forced to make?

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