Banff Day 1: PR in a Twitter Age

What to say, what to say? This is my fourth time in five years covering the Banff World Television Festival. The Festival was the birthplace of TV, eh? I’ve interviewed and met some great people here, some of whom are still part of my life. So I guess it was inevitable that I’d have a bad day in there somewhere. This was that bad day.

And it will be a boring bad day to most of you, but since my dayjob (when I have one) is in communications, I’m interested in how things escalated from laughter at the discovery that I wasn’t officially registered by Jive Communications, the contracted PR company doing media accreditation – which was fixed quickly and with good humour by the Festival staff – to anger.

I wasn’t the only one with registration mixups. Of the three I know personally, all are web media rather than mainstream media. Coincidence? Maybe.

I had contacted Jive weeks ago asking about access to the online delegate area, which had previously been part of the registration process. Even though I found out today that I should have had access, as usual, and in fact that was the missing piece for why I wasn’t properly registered, Jive told me I would not get access and any questions I had that weren’t answered by the public site should go through them.

This morning, after getting my pass, I couldn’t find representatives of Jive in the on-site media room, so sent an email telling them I hadn’t been properly registered, should have online access, and by the way, what’s the status of the interview requests I submitted to them, as requested?

That’s where things went wrong. The response made it clear, though there was no explicit admission, that my interview requests hadn’t even been considered until today. So at noon, with 2 ½ days left of the festival, I found out most were now booked solid, a couple I was given contact information for to arrange myself, and oh yeah, I could use the online delegate area to find contact information for others.

I get that I’m not the Canadian Press, or Entertainment Tonight. I didn’t ask to speak to Ricky Gervais or William Shatner because I knew I’d be too small potatoes for them. But I’m not a semi-literate blogger with no audience, either. My site isn’t the New York Times but it fills a unique niche out there.

Peter Keleghan articulately ranted in the Home Grown Canadian Talent panel about how not enough people see Canadian TV, but Jive couldn’t be bothered to contact him to see if he wanted to spend 10 minutes talking to a popular website whose sole purpose is to try to get people to be aware of Canadian television? It’s ridiculous, and the giveaway that they hadn’t tried to arrange interviews for me comes from the fact that they have no idea if his interview schedule is booked up, but passed me his contact information to do myself.

That’s when I vented on Twitter to say that I was trying to regain my zen before responding to the supremely unhelpful PR company.

What they did right

Both Jive Communications and the Banff TV Festival contacted me after seeing my tweet and tried to take the discussion offline. The festival went straight to the phone, which was even more right, particularly since it was emails from Jive that set me off.

What they did wrong

Jive still has not addressed or apologized for the crux of the issue, which is that they neither assisted me in arranging interviews nor allowed me access to the delegate area that would have let me to do it myself. They were either simply wrong when they told me last month that I should not be registered, or they were attempting to control my access to information that they’re now telling me I need. Either way, that’s what I’m angry about, not the fact that Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) doesn’t have time to talk to me.

Instead, they downplayed the issue in a way that made me feel condescended to: “Interview schedules were tight but it’s ok because your pass gets you into everything anyway.”

When dealing with am angry client, it’s unwise to give off a “hey, it’s no big deal” vibe. Acknowledge the concern, apologize, make amends if possible. In this case, my concern isn’t that none of my interview requests could be met. It’s that they didn’t try. And they didn’t tell me they weren’t going to try. And they still haven’t admitted that they had no intention of trying. And now it’s too late for some of the interviews I wanted, and I spent an afternoon dealing with prep work I could have done before the festival instead of attending sessions or writing about the festival.

If Jive is treating some or all online media differently from mainstream media, it’s a strange decision in the year when the Banff TV Festival is combined with NextMedia, an acknowledgment that mainstream and “new” media are not as easily distinguishable as they once were.

Besides, offering me or any other website media accreditation to an event is not charity. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. I get something interesting to write about; they get an interested person writing about them. Either offer me media accreditation or don’t, but treat me as a professional when you do.

Perhaps the biggest lesson here is that there’s a danger to treating people badly who have active online lives: we tend to share our experiences online.

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4 Responses to Banff Day 1: PR in a Twitter Age

  1. wcdixon says:

    fuck

  2. CB says:

    Go get 'em!

  3. jimhenshaw says:

    Following the tweets of you and others at the #banff2010 hash tag has given me the distinct impression that the value of attending the conference has significantly declined.

    I know distance can skew actuality but it feels like what used to be a gathering of the cream of the industry is being overwhelmed by hucksters and wannabees who feed off and hype each other.

    Reading your account, I started to wonder if the quality of many of those attending is a reflection of the quality of those organizing the event.

    I'm sorry you had to deal with what you went through. But I hope you know that those of us who visit your site daily truly apprciate your contribution to Canadian TV.

  4. DMc says:

    #BanffFail

    meet the NextMedia, same as the Ex-Media…

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