We have a very unique contest at my Porter Novelli office in Atlanta. Who can make the biggest mistake, where you say “What the EF?” You fall on your face and we all learn from it. Sounds like fun and a little embarrassing, huh? Well, I won this month, thanks to SXSW.
People say I have lots of chutzpah – the nerve to do something a little out of the ordinary. Like asking a question at a standing-room-only SXSW NY Times session about “fake news.” As a journalist, these “alternative fact” charges infuriate me.
Or passing Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer on her way to the SXSW keynote. I stopped dead in my tracks, ran backwards and told her, “OMG, my kids and I saw you in ‘Hidden Figures.’ You were amazing. My kids love math now. Thank you so much!” And she smiled.
To have chutzpah, you have to have passion. So I take that passion and use it to “connect” reporters with great clients who have great stories. Whether you’re in PR or a working journalist, the golden rule is you gotta be first. You gotta be accurate. And you gotta know the right people to talk to in order to be first and be accurate.
So how do you do that? Here’s where my “what the EF” moment kicked in. Before SXSW started, I was in charge of setting up a small invitation-only lunch between a few top-tier reporters and a huge client. I invited a top tech reporter, who shall remain nameless – everybody in the biz knows her. She’s someone you dream of having a relationship with and it’s really hard to get to her. I thought this salon-style lunch was the perfect hook to connect. I emailed her and she gave me a non-committal, “I’ll try to be there.”
In my attempt to seal the deal, I wrote her a follow-up thank you note and she asked, in return, for an outlook invitation so she could have it on her phone. YES, I was getting closer!
Then I EFFED it up. I sent her the invite, all excited, but I forgot my computer was on East Coast time and the event was on Central time, so I sent her the WRONG time for the party. Great way to make a first impression. Ugh, I wanted to die.
I panicked and realized I needed to correct this ASAP, so I fell on my sword with this email: “Oy, I’m an idiot. My computer didn’t change time zones so I sent you the wrong party time. I’ll send you another outlook as soon as I figure out what went wrong. But the correct time for the party is 12:30 CST, not 1:30p. Thanks, Jodi.”
I don’t know if it was the New York yiddish “OY” that got her or that I admitted I was an idiot. Seriously. But 30 seconds later, I got a response back from her, starting an email conversation that lasted 20 minutes. Honestly, I was shocked… and delighted. We started talking about who we knew in common in the business and decided to meet for a drink when we both got to Austin.
Turns out I walked in the pouring rain to meet her at 6p at a bar and I looked like a drowned water rat when I arrived. She laughed when she saw me and as I introduced myself, she told me I was crazy to come in the rain. I simply answered, “I came to meet you.” I think she was impressed I went the extra wet miles to meet her. We then spent about a half hour picking up where we left off on email and let me say she is one terrific lady.
She never did get to that huge client lunch – she had to cover a breaking story, but we’re still in touch.
Lesson learned at SXSW: It’s OK to fall on your face and tell the person you’re working with you just fell, you want to die and you’ll get them the correct information as soon as you can. In the end, I think she laughed with me – maybe I “had” her at “oy”– but I think my honesty, chutzpah and the extra effort I put in to meet her surprised her. Now, I have a great new friend and a great professional connection.
PS- I’ve emailed my new friend, told her I won a “contest” thanks to her, and am taking her out to dinner as a thank you next time I’m in her hometown!