No Guarantees

Rest in peace, James Brady.

I met him on April 4, 1991, and the only reason I know that so specifically is because that became an important date in Pennsylvania history and the source of a PR cautionary tale I tell clients. At the time, I worked for Graduate Health System and we had scheduled that day the opening ceremony for a new physical rehab unit at Mt. Sinai Hospital. We had arranged for Mr. Brady and his wife, Sarah, to be special guests at the debut of the new unit, since Brady had undergone successful physical rehab after taking a bullet in the head for Ronald Reagan. Plus, we were certain his presence would generate media coverage for the unit and the hospital. It was scheduled for about 4pm that day.

The time came, the ribbon was cut, and the Brady spoke–but not a single reporter or TV camera showed up, despite our previous arrangements with our media contacts. This was all before cell phones, and so we went back to our offices to make some calls and find out why the heck no one from the media had shown. The reason: Sen. John Heinz’s airplane had crashed over the Merion Elementary School a couple of hours before, killing the senator and several other people including children at the school. The biggest news story of the year trumped a ribbon cutting, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d had Reagan himself there.

So this is the story I always tell clients who want media coverage: there are no guarantees, no matter how compelling your story might be or how well you’ve pitched it. That’s life.

And as a footnote (and pure coincidence), a few hours before the plane crash, the PR director at Lankenau Hospital quit her job and left the building. Heinz and the other crash victims were brought to Lankenau. With no PR person on staff, the hospital executives capably muddled through the resulting media crush, but they knew they had to hire a replacement. That turned out to be me, and I spent the next 16 years working for Lankenau and Main Line Health.

About Richard Wells

The Wellynn Group provides senior level counsel in marketing, communications, and public affairs. Hey, and we're nice people, too.
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