Welcome back to another Ask Me Anything, which is a series where we talk to our friends, our viewers, and our community about all of their pressing needs, questions, wants, and desires.

Let’s take a look at the mailbag. Ohhhh…this is a good one. It’s going to make me mad and I’m going to have to control myself:

We have a client who made an announcement this week. They identified their top-tier publication, and we landed them an interview with them. Yay! This morning, I get a message from my client saying they will have to “decline” the interview. How am I supposed to go back to the reporter and say “sorry I gave you this awesome story, now my client doesn’t want to do it” without burning the bridge?

Oh, this is a doozy! I’m all fired up!

AMA: It’s Not Your Fault

I’m going to start off by saying that this is one of the most frustrating things about having a client-agency relationship.

You can do everything in your power to get results and then the client backs out or doesn’t show up or won’t answer the reporter’s question…and there ends up being no story.

But whose fault is that?

IT IS ALWAYS OUR FAULT…even though it’s totally not our fault.

I once watched a PR firm work all sorts of magic for a shared client (we were doing PESO Model implementation and they were doing the earned media). The CEO would commit to interviews at BIG media outlets and then not show up.

He did that because he didn’t want to pay them their fee—and so he would have a reason to fire them. And fire them, he did.

It’s so counterintuitive and dumb, but okay, dude. It was terrible to watch happen. It wasn’t their fault at all, but they took the fall and the blame.

It makes me crazy.

Now that I have that off of my chest, let’s talk about what to do.

Ask “Why?” Multiple Times

When this question was posed, the first question I asked back was, “Why are they backing out now?”

There may be a very valid reason for it.

It could be that this company is looking to sell and the interview is happening during the quiet period.

That’s highly unlikely in this scenario because they’d have plenty of lead time and wouldn’t have their comms team pitching them.

But the point is there could be a very valid reason for it. So, before freaking out and going to the journalist, make like my small child and ask “why?” one thousand times before doing anything.

(“Bean, will you please put your shoes away?” “Why?” “Because I don’t want anyone to trip over them.” “Why?” “If someone trips, it could hurt them.” “Why?” “OMG! PUT YOUR SHOES AWAY!”)

If there is a valid reason, you can easily go back to the journalist and explain that—and then ask if you can come back to the interview and story idea in a week or two (and make sure you follow up, even if it’s to push it off again).

The challenge is just declining the interview, of course, is now the story is in the reporter’s mind—and they may have already sold it to their editor.

If that’s the case, they still have to do the story and they’ll go to your competition to get their take…on a story your client should be leading.

Then, back to my original point, it becomes your fault, even though it’s not.

Always ask why, why, why and let that determine what you do.

If it’s not a valid reason, explain this process to them and say, “Listen, you wanted this interview and we got it. Hooray! But here is what will happen if we decline now.”

Then talk them through the consequences and figure out, together, if there is a way to make it work.

Have a Question For Us?

Asking why a bunch of different times may drive the client crazy, but it’s your job to find a common ground and to not burn a bridge.

You also cannot do your job without knowing the “why” behind decisions—so stand your ground.

We are here for you, if only to tell you you’re right and it’s not your fault.

If you have a question for a future AMA, you can drop them below or join us in the (free) Spin Sucks Community.

There also is a bit of color commentary in the video so don’t miss that! We also talk about chickens in the city—and the supplies you need to provide for them.

See you next week!

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich