I’m not so charming

by Smartie on March 1, 2011

Unrealistic expectations can turn really shout-y really fast. Photo from the fabulous Parallel Exit show Room 17B by Jim Moore.

I once shared office space with these really terrific guys who produced shows for corporate events. They funded an Off Broadway run of one of their shows they thought could break out of the corporate event circuit.

They had money to spend and spend it they did. They hired one of the biggest theater PR firms at the time to handle the press outreach. They were super excited.

And then came no reviews on top of negative reviews. They did the show in a space that was questionable as an Off Broadway venue. They produced at a busy time of year. There were no stars. It was essentially a musical revue, which can be a tough sell. They were pissed at the press office.

They told me they went into a marketing meeting screaming that they shared an office with a publicist and knew I was on the phone non-stop for my clients. They claimed this company wasn’t doing the same for them.

“In our very first meeting, you said you would get us ALL THIS!” was the gist of their anger. They felt ripped off.

I knew the people on their account. They were a knowledgeable, hard working bunch with great contacts. The show was as tough sell to the press, and in my opinion they actually did a really good job with what they were handed.

Where I felt this firm failed was in that initial meeting. They promised Broadway-sized press for a show that was never going to achieve that sort coverage.

Essentially, they oversold and under-delivered. And that’s no fun for anyone.

A big part of my job is managing expectations. And this makes some people angry. When people are passionate about their work, it’s very hard to hear someone with a more realistic point of view. But I need to be a voice of reason.

It has cost me money in the short term. Realism is read as being unsupportive. Since I am not “passionate” about the project, I lose the business. But in the end, it’s saved me a whole load of problems on the back end. Who wants to deal with screaming clients who were given unrealistic expectations? In that instance, they have a right to be pissed.

It’s important to dream big, but it’s also important to keep the expectations more down to Earth.

So if you head into a meeting with a prospective PR firm, try to go into it objectively and have realistic expectations of what you is achievable. And if you are being sold pie-in-the-sky scenarios, you may want to reconsider your choice of representation.


Steve Duncan March 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Very well said!
This is a constant problem in the arts. Expectations and ego, rather than common sense and building dedicated audiences.
In small business, theatre companies are like restaurants: Just because you can cook and have some money to cover overhead, doesn’t mean you know how to run a restaurant.You can build it, but there is no guarantee they will come.

Smartie March 1, 2011 at 2:51 pm

You are right, Steve. It takes a very long time to build an audience. If you build it, they will come… EVENTUALLY. But not necessarily out of the gate. You have to keep building and building and building.

Emily Owens March 3, 2011 at 5:52 pm

So true! Everybody wants The Times, and being realistic about why that may not happen probably loses me work to PR firms who are willing to make empty promises. But I’d much rather be realistic and honest upfront then deal with unhappy clients!

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