Your Boss Cancelled a Big Interview on Short Notice. What Now?

As a media relations professional, you’re going to find yourself in challenging situations that require quick thinking and strategic planning.

One example came up in a recent Reddit thread where a PR person had been put in an awkward situation by their boss. This person was tasked with informing a media crew—who were coming a long way to interview the CEO—about the cancellation of the scheduled interview.

We found it instructive, and so might you.

The situation provides valuable lessons on managing media relations, handling delicate situations and maintaining professional integrity.

The Scenario

A TV media outlet had planned to come overseas to the U.S. to interview the CEO. The media crew booked flights and hotels, only to be informed shortly before their trip that the interview was canceled.

This obviously left the media crew frustrated, and strained the relationship between the company and the media outlet.

Being the media relations person stuck in the middle of a situation like this can be extremely uncomfortable, because it puts you in the difficult position of delivering bad news to an important media outlet, potentially damaging the relationship and your company’s reputation.

You’ll likely get the brunt of the media organization’s frustration and anger. Despite the circumstances being largely beyond your control, the responsibility to manage the fallout and try to salvage the relationship falls squarely on your shoulders.

As if that isn’t enough, you also have to navigate the tricky task of managing up: communicating the gravity of the situation to your superiors and making sure they know the long-term repercussions their decisions might have on media relations.

This tests not only your relationship-management skills but also your ability to maintain professionalism and effectively advocate for necessary changes within your organization under pressure.

If you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, here are some key takeaways and actionable advice:

Preventing the Crisis

  • Clear communication: Before committing to any interviews, make sure all logistical considerations and the CEO’s availability are confirmed. This prevents last-minute cancellations and demonstrates professionalism.
  • Internal coordination: Establish robust internal communication channels to ensure everyone is on the same page before making promises to external parties. This helps avoid misunderstandings and unfulfilled commitments.

Managing the Immediate Situation

  • Advocate for the interview: If a cancellation seems imminent, strongly advocate for keeping the interview. Explain to your team the potential long-term damage to the company’s relationship with the media outlet.
  • Transparent communication: If cancellation is unavoidable, communicate the reason clearly and transparently. Whether it’s a personal issue or a scheduling conflict, honesty can help maintain some level of trust with the media organization.

Damage Control

  • Offer alternatives: Suggest alternative solutions. Perhaps you could offer another executive for the interview, or reschedule with the CEO while the media crew is still in town.
  • Personal apology: Apologize personally to the media crew, acknowledging the inconvenience and expressing your sincere regret. This personal touch can go a long way in mending the relationship.

Learning from the Experience

  • Internal review: Conduct a thorough review to understand why the cancellation occurred. Was it a scheduling oversight, lack of media training or an unavoidable personal issue? Learning from these mistakes can help prevent future occurrences.
  • Educate colleagues: Educate your colleagues—even the senior folks—about the repercussions of such cancellations. Stress the importance of honouring commitments to maintain the company’s reputation and your ability to perform your role effectively.

Long-Term Relationship Management

  • Build trust: Continue to build trust with media outlets by being reliable and transparent. Acknowledge past mistakes and show your commitment to improving processes.
  • Proactive engagement: Engage proactively with media personnel, offering exclusive content, updates and other opportunities to maintain a positive relationship.

Handling cancellations and managing media relationships are integral parts of your role as a PR professional. By learning from real-life scenarios like the one discussed here, you’ll be better able to navigate similar challenges in the future. The keys are to communicate transparently, advocate for feasible solutions and continuously strive to build and maintain trust with media partners.

If you ever run into this situation, remember that your actions can make a significant difference. By taking the right steps, you can mitigate damage, preserve relationships and enhance your professional reputation—not to mention your organization’s.