When a Great Placement Isn’t: How and Why To Manage Expectations


I was thrilled. Front page of USA Today’s Life section. The “Featured Story” that went onto another page.  Cover picture of my client’s book and another picture from the book on the second page of the story. Client was the expert, quoted several times throughout the piece. Made me and everyone who called, emailed, and reached out to congratulate me, want to buy the book. Really was beyond my wildest expectations.

Problem was, it wasn’t beyond my client’s. Problem was, my client was looking for a book review. Problem was, I didn’t manage his expectations.

This was more than 15 years ago and I’m quite confident my client was happy with the placement, but was looking for any excuse not to pay. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised. He was not a standup guy. That said, I didn’t do my job. That said, even more of a reason to manage expectations (unfortunately it is sometimes covering yourself). A lesson learned. A lesson I will never forget.

When it comes to managing expectations, it comes down to two things: Understanding the media and understanding your client (and your client can be your boss/CEO if you are on the corporate side of things or, if you are on the agency side your client can be…your client).

  • Understanding the media – It’s not good enough to “just” get the placement. Our work is just starting. We really need to fully understand what the media is thinking so we can provide the best opportunities for our client. Research the media ahead of time so intelligent questions can be asked and ideas to better the story can be offered. Who else are you interviewing? Would you consider talking to an industry expert who covers our company? When is the story going to run? Is it a round up story or are you featuring us? What segment will we be featured? How long will the segment be? Will the host be mentioning my client or is it the responsibility of our spokesperson to give the mention? The point is, there is so much leg-work that takes place after the media’s, “yes” that can impact the quality of the placement and set the expectations of your client.
  • Understanding your client – How much does our client understand the media and how much do they want to understand? This is important – – need to make sure we are talking the same language. Before any campaign or effort involving the media, it is critical to determine what the client wants to get from the placements. Sales? Brand awareness? Facebook likes? Increased employee good-will?  Communication of key messages? Our ability to successfully table-set what can be done and how it can be done will dictate the quality of the relationship.

Managing expectations is something every level public relations professional should understand and practice – – even if you aren’t the main client contact. Arming the client lead with the appropriate information can only be of a help.

What about you? Any stories of managing expectations gone awry? What was the one question you asked a reporter that you never thought you’d ask?


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