PR Parables: When the PR pro said no to cancelling a big TV interview!

Planning, driving and managing the media plans around global CEO visits is quite an exhaustive experience. The local team usually packs in a little bit of everything in that whirl wind trip of its global CEO. It normally ends up being very packed, comprising meetings, reviews and employee forums. And whether we like it or not but the fact is that the PR and communications  teams do end up getting a fair share of responsibilities and ownership to come up with a planned  media schedule, sometimes covering two or three cities that the global CEO’s and their entourage end up visiting. 

This 3rd visit of a Global CEO, made it a memorable one for a different reason, this parable is on what happened in this visit.

It is important to set the context before I get into the “so what happened” part, this happening is from a time and an era when visitors from global HQ were not as prolific as they are today and relevant to this incident is that fact that during this time, the current brigade of sanitised security staff were not as commonplace as they are now. And by way of media options, these were the hey days for print and TV media.

As I mentioned earlier, this was the 3rd visit of this CEO, so the situation was kind of cool, by now, we knew his style, the kind of media he liked talking to, his direct and candid response to questions that he liked front ending and the evasive non-committal brief answers to questions that were not up his street.

So from a media planning perspective, we first drew up a first list of who all can be met from the media and a brief description of the key theme for each of these meetings. The final acceptance of the media plan would come from the global communication team. Once we submitted the plan, we waited to hear back. After a few mail exchanges, we received the green signal and were ready to put the plan to action.

One of the media meetings for this visit, was with the editor of the prime weekend business program and the set-up of this interview was usually done at her TV studio.  In the next few discussions with the global team, we were told that due to security concerns, we cannot do the in-studio interview. Given the stature of the media opportunity and of its editor, they were keen to go ahead with this conversation but only if the venue can be changed.

So purely as an outcome of maintaining and building good relations with media partners, the TV editor finally relented and agreed to do this interview at a “sanitised” hotel. She was gracious enough to go through this change of venue even though she would have to do the complete set up at an external venue. It wasn’t easy but once all was sorted out on this front, there was nothing more to worry.

A ritual of this visit was the pre-trip briefing, this was a big meeting, where every staff involved with the visit had to be present, and this was also a good time and an opportunity to present to the global CEO and his executive staff. The PR briefing was smooth, we walked them through the media plan, and the security staff was particularly delighted on hearing that the TV interview venue was moved. All seemed to be safe and sure. End of the briefing session, the local staff disbursed and so did I.

On the way back, I was engulfed with this feeling of “the lull before a storm”, it was odd, because there was no apparent reason to worry or even expect a storm. All checks were in place, the journalists who were to meet the CEO were also spoken to after the pre-trip briefing. All seemed well with the world. 

Ten minutes after reaching home, there was a loud ring and it was my phone, the call was from the global CEO’s secretary, she had a deeply apologetic tone and started her conversation with a “sorry, two seconds into the call and I realised that due to some major oversight in the itinerary, an important TBC business meeting slot had got confirmed and was now clashing head along with the long confirmed TV interview. We were in a situation, where I was being told to cancel the TV interview.

It was one of those moments where a decision had to be taken in a split second, one could choose to agree and do what was being told to do or disagree and respect a commitment made. Making a bold move and in a quivering voice, I conveyed to the secretary, that the interview will not be cancelled and that I will try and re-work the timings. What followed was unforgettable and unleashed a flurry of activities. Lady luck and an extremely understanding editor was by our side, she agreed to do this conversation and was even ready to do it at 6.30 am the next day at her studio.
And next day at the crack of dawn we had the global CEO at the studio for his first interview of this trip. He did have to traverse through the narrow by lanes and back lanes to do the TV interview at this small basement studio tucked in a corner of a south Delhi locality.  We had come a full circle on this. We were back to where it started from…

The two learnings that stayed with me as an outcome of this experience, first, don’t accept to change confirmed plans without thinking or reviewing the impact and the second lesson I learnt was that global CEO’s are extremely flexible and willing to adjust, it’s his deputies that are not.

Moushumi Dutt is a senior corporate communications professional . PR Parables is her monthly column for PRmoment India on learnings from her PR life.

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