PR Parables: When a taxi bill approval trumps meeting the global CEO

Our global CEO was on a three-city tour of India. I had to plan out his media and PR engagements for Delhi.  

But this story is not about that CEO. It is about another visitor who didn’t make it. 

A global CEO visit is one of those times when the entire PR community of in-house PR and external agencies all come together to work on plans and timelines so that nothing falls out of place and the full team gets to deliver what they set out to. 

And I always look out for such media and PR opportunities to hand over some important tasks to the best and brightest, so that they get a chance to come out and lead from the front. 

A challenge for this visit was that it came up right after a new PR agency was signed up. Agency transitions are fraught with issues from both sides. In this case, the relationship started on a fairly complex note. Among other things, this agency had a “pay per use model” cost structure which was approved, against my discomfort and objections, and agreed to.     

The team was young and raring to go, so when they heard that they would get an opportunity to host a global CEO, they got excited and enthused. As per plans, all media meetings were to take place in Delhi. 

I decided that one of the agency’s client-servicing team members would be the facilitator in the media 1:1 conversation we had confirmed for the CEO.         

In the run-up to the planning—as I now recall--the manager of this young guy did check with me on my pending approval for his local cab bill. My error, I forgot about this small bill approval in our combined zeal to focus on the bigger issues.

And then D-day arrived. Our first media meeting was scheduled at 8 am, and this was the one where I had nominated the young agency rep to co-anchor the conversation along with our CEO. We were to meet at the hotel lobby at 7.30 am and then proceed to the meeting room.

I reached a little before 7.30 am and waited for the youngster from the agency to join in. No sign of him till 7.45 am, and no calls either. By now I had the right to panic. I was worried as well, for this guy was usually reliable, and punctual too. 

We were nearing our appointment time. I finally called him to ask how far he was from the hotel. I was totally taken aback when he said: “Sorry, Moushumi, but I can’t make it “. I ended that phone call mid-way and rushed down to ensure all went well with our first interview of that visit. All went well. 

So what had happened? It was that pending cab bill approval.

This was a situation where a young guy missed a big moment in his career due to the fact that his manager kept an eagle-eye on the invoices and POs and chose to make this miss a bigger issue, clearly missing the wood for the trees. 

With clearly limited experience and acumen, she withheld her junior from participating in a media conversation with a Fortune 500 global CEO and an editor of a financial daily, because their biggest global client had forgotten to approve his local cab bill of less than 2k INR.  

I figured out later that not signing the small cab bill was not the issue. The bigger issue was that I had reluctantly agreed to a contract which had clauses and terms that were not working for us. I’d waited for far too long. You shouldn’t. Speak up when you go through a lack of clarity phase, especially in money matters.  

And to the young, bright smart and ambitious PR professionals, I would say just speak up when you think something is not alright and you sense a road block in the form of your boss or your colleagues. There is usually a way out even if one door is blocked or jammed. 

I never got over the fact that for the lack of an approved cab-fare estimate, a bright young guy missed an opportunity he was so looking forward to. And the fact that a leader lacked vision and missed the big picture. A myopic view led to a missed opportunity.

PR Parables aren’t about the protagonists, or the whodunits .They are wholly and squarely about the incidents, big and small, that have stayed with me through the decades, because of what I learnt from them. 

Moushumi Dutt is a senior corporate communications professional  

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