February 20, 2015
/ by Guest Contributor
When pitching, nothing is more exciting than getting a call back from a top-tier reporter within minutes of sending your first email – which is exactly what happened to me one day several years ago when I was arranging a desk-side media tour for an executive who would be in New York the following week.
“Of course I’d like to meet with him,” the reporter said. “I’m just surprised he’s available. How do you know he’ll be out of jail by then?”
Even the Betta fish that I kept in a vase on my desk stopped what he was doing and turned to stare at me, his little mouth a gaping O.
“You didn’t hear?” the reporter asked. “He was arrested a few hours ago in Europe.”
To my great horror, she wasn’t exactly wrong. Our client did, in fact, get detained that morning – a little detail that the primary account team in London failed to pass along to New York. It was a colossal mistake – one eclipsed only by my decision to forego a news scan before sending the invitations.
I did the only thing I could do in that situation: I stopped sending emails and started screening my calls. Then, as much as it pained me, I willed myself to put the mistake in perspective. Given everything that happened that day, a misfired pitch was probably the least of anyone’s concerns. No one ever told me otherwise.
Perhaps that first example is extreme – one complicated by foreign news cycles, a disjointed global account team and a client with some alleged legal issues. But for every complex situation like this one, there are many more mistakes that can be chalked up to sheer distraction or carelessness. I find those more difficult to accept because they should be so easy to avoid.
Take, for example, the time I was conducting media outreach for a client in the midst of a bankruptcy. One morning, in a rush to customize the first few sentences of a pitch, I inadvertently deleted a key phrase from my template. Instead of announcing that the company would continue selling only one product after emerging from Chapter 11, I wrote that the company was discontinuing that particular product but would be keeping all others.
For the record, that wasn’t the most careless mistake I ever made while working at a client site. That distinction would go to the time that I missed a step while trying to take a shortcut through a hotel gym on my way to my room and came thiscloseto falling into an indoor swimming pool.
Unfortunate as that was, my failed bankruptcy pitch was a pretty close second. I spent a good amount of time correcting my mistake with the reporter – then trying to figure out how to make sure it would never happen again.
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I’d like to say that these situations are two glaring anomalies in my otherwise perfect track record. But they’re not, of course. I’ve sent emails with typos, linked to incorrect landing pages and double-pitched editors. If something similar has never happened to you, then you should stop whatever you’re doing and write your own guest blog because the PR world needs to know your secret.
Most of us can agree that these little mistakes are inevitable. They are the costly byproduct of working at a pace that’s too rapid. That’s why it’s important to learn how to move past the negativity as quickly and painlessly as possible.
My approach is fairly simple: accept responsibility for what went wrong and then focus on making things right. For all the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve found that my clients and managers are much more willing to focus on the solution – so long as I can give them a decent one to consider. It also doesn’t hurt to have a stockpile of success to fall back on. My pitch record is far from perfect, but I’m fortunate to deliver more wins than losses. The fact that I’ve managed to remain employed implies that most people understand that perfection is impossible.
If there’s an upshot to the nonstop pace that’s become the norm for most PR professionals, it’s that any situation can change in an instant – which means that those of us who can course-correct quickly and seamlessly are at an extreme advantage. Adaptability has never been more important. If you don’t believe me, ask the executive from the desk-side media tour. When the dust settled after his detainment, he kept right on moving. And so did I.
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This is a guest post by Nova Halliwell, a public relations professional in New York City. You can follow her @adviceineeded or www.adviceicouldhaveusedyesterday.com.
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