Welcome back to the Spin Sucks podcast. I’m Gini Dietrich. At least one hundred years ago, we were doing restaurant media relations.
I think every agency owner, as they’re starting out and trying to figure out the business side of running an agency, starts with restaurants, tourism, and/or small businesses.
Of course, many of us quickly realize it’s challenging to be profitable working in those industries and there is only so much you can do for free food and wine…try as you might!
(It wasn’t really that long ago that I started my agency—that or I look freaking amazing for being 120 years old—but so much has happened, it feels that way sometimes.)
But I hadn’t quite figured that out yet and we were doing restaurant media relations and working with some of the top brands in the country.
I had a background in food PR and had spent several years with celebrity chefs, who weren’t yet celebrity chefs.
There was a lot of work with The Food Network and Epicurious and the famous food and wine publications. I knew what I was doing and I had a crackerjack team under my tutelage.
A very famous restaurant was moving its way east and was opening a location in Chicago. They hired us to help.
They were opening in February, which is Chicago’s snowiest month, and we made some early recommendations to perhaps think about that timing. They patted us on the head and said they knew what they were doing. They had hired us to fill the room with influencers and to garner media coverage, not to comment on the weather. So we shrugged our shoulders and went about doing our job.
I remember even laughing with some reporters about the timing, but also saying, “Eh, they think it’ll be fine…so can you be there?”
We garnered a ton of media coverage for them but did a bunch of pre-event interviews and early morning news satellite tours and videos with their chef and sommelier…just in case. Of course, attendance at the opening event by some of the city’s most influential people was one of our goals, so we worked hard to secure RSVPs. And we did. There were nearly 200 people confirmed to attend.
Then Chicago got one of its major snowstorms (more than two feet at once) and everything shut down for two days. The first six hours of that snowstorm were during the event. Not one person showed up. Not even me and my team. We couldn’t get there!
We did our best to salvage it and many reporters still did stories because it was big food and wine news. But the event itself was a complete debacle and the client blamed us for not pushing harder about the timing of it (as if we could control Mother Nature somehow).
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but I would have absolutely put my foot down today. I just didn’t have the confidence, especially in running my own agency, yet. And I let them dictate the timing even though I knew it wouldn’t work. There have been lots of times throughout my career that a terrorist attack or Mother Nature or the economy or going to war or some other crisis has stopped our plans in their tracks.
We’ve had to make do with what was handed to us. But we’ve never been blamed like this client blamed us. They acted like it was a PR crisis and that we had caused the whole thing to go belly up. Of course, it wasn’t our fault and I know that, but it still doesn’t feel good to be blamed, not to have your reputation sullied by something outside of your control.
I have lots of stories like this from my career—some ended superbly and some, like the media tour that journalists had flown in for on September 11, 2001—never happened at all. You get really good at having plans B, C, D, E, and sometimes even F. And PR is almost always to blame.
For some reason, when companies hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, it’s often explained away as a PR crisis. Always the fault of PR—and certainly of the people running the communications strategy. Of course, it would never have anything to do with operations or a bug in the product or Mother Nature preventing an event. Nope…if you fix the pesky communications issue, everything will go swimmingly next time.
On today’s Spin Sucks Podcast, let’s talk about why PR is blamed for all of the problems—and what we might be able to do about it.