6 PR lessons from the HQ Trivia incident
You probably already heard about this story.
Last week, The Daily Beast reached out to Scott Rogowsky, the host of a tremendously popular app called HQ Trivia that is so popular, I had never heard of it before.
But, apparently people love it. More specifically, they really love Rogowsky, who has become the face of the app. So, it’s not surprising The Daily Beast wanted to do what they said was a light-hearted feature on him.
According to them, they reached out to Rogowsky about doing an interview and he agreed to do it. They simultaneously reached out to a public relations account as well as HQ Trivia co-founder Rus Yusupov. So, they did the interview with Rogowsky and everything was fine.
That was, until they got an email from Yusupov stating that HQ Trivia was “not making Scott available to discuss his involvement with HQ with the media/press.” The reporter informed Yusupov that the interview was already completed and the story was close to publishing.
That’s when Yusupov got the not-so-great idea to call up the reporter’s cell phone and raised his voice to tell them that they weren’t authorized to interview Rogowsky. He threatened to fire Rogowsky if they ran the story and said in a not-so-nice tone, “you’re putting Scott’s job in jeopardy. Is that what you want?”
But, he didn’t stop there. He then asked the reporter to read him the story word for word. Or, they had the option to email it to him first. The reporter – who absolutely did not have to – shared some quotes from Rogowsky.
He first flipped when he heard Rogowsky say that he likes salads from Sweetgreen. He apparently can’t say that publicly because HQ Trivia doesn’t have a brand contract with them or something like that. The dude absolutely lost it and let me tell you how much the reporter cared.
He continued to berate the reporter because Scott can’t say certain things and that this journalist was unprofessional because they reached out directly to an employee or something. As though the reporter had the audacity to not read the HQ Trivia employee handbook! Shame! That’s not allowed! Neither are ripped jeans on Casual Friday! You’re making a mockery of this office, Travis! I don’t care if you bought them that way!
But, I digress. Let’s get to the lessons learned here. There are so many, that Yusupov could have theoretically gotten an entire public relations/journalism degree in one phone call.
1. It’s your job to manage your employees communication with the media
If you don’t want your employees to ever talk to the media without your authorization, you should cover that with them.
Put it in the handbook I previously referenced. Rogowsky obviously didn’t think anything of doing this interview. Maybe there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. But, clearly, the boss had a big problem with it.
Do not expect your employees to think to ask permission before doing a media interview. He didn’t think he was doing anything that was going to irritate the boss, or he probably wouldn’t have done it.
If you’ve got strict rules in your head about who can and can’t talk to the media and you know what they can and can’t say, put it in writing or make it clear in some other form of communication. Explain it in flag signals if you want., but don’t expect them to show up fully media trained on day one.
2. Don’t berate the media…ever
It’s never a good idea to call up and berate a journalist. It just isn’t.
First of all, they owe you nothing. They aren’t the ones – in this case – that granted the Rogowsky interview. They asked; he did it.
So don’t think that that reporter is sitting there worried that you are upset with them. You don’t sign their checks. Unless you are a major advertiser, but at that point you’d be chewing out someone else above that reporter.
Another reason? There is a good chance they are recording the entire phone call and it will be used against you and you’ll look like a colossal horse’s backside. Ask Anthony Scaramucci how that works. Think Yusupov knows that now? I bet he does!
3. Dude, ain’t nobody showing you their story
Yusupov is very lucky that the reporter for The Daily Beast was a swell cat and shared some quotes with him. They don’t have to do squat. They don’t have to show you anything. Demand it all you like, what was said on record is all fair game and they can really print what they want.
Once the interview is done and they have this person on the record, it’s theirs.
Believe me, I’ve tried numerous times in my public relations career to get a writer not to print a certain quote.
Side Note: Going back to point #2, I couldn’t have been nicer. I told them I understood that they went on record and blah blah blah, but I was sooooo nice about it. Thinking back to two instances off the top of my head, once it worked and once it didn’t, in case you are scoring at home.
4. You aren’t going to control the media
I think I kind of hit on this point already, but I want to be clear: You aren’t going to control the media. Just because you do or don’t want them to write something or say something, doesn’t mean they have to listen to you.
It would behoove you to be really nice to them whenever you can. They have a voice...a big voice in many cases. You don’t want that person with the big voice to not like you or to have a reason to make you look bad. They can and will.
Don’t try to tell them what to do. But, if you insist, be totally cool about it. And buy them beer if you can. Journalists like beer.
5. Yusupov may have won this round
Yes, Yusupov screwed up for the all of the reasons I just outlined. But, if there is any chance that you’ve read this far, go back to my first paragraph.
I had never heard of HQ Trivia. I like trivia. I’m going to check it out.
In this instance, Yusupov got way more exposure for HQ Trivia that if that simple, light-hearted interview with Rogowsky had run without incident.
I know I would never have read it. It was a tame interview about salads with a guy I never heard about that’s on an app I’ve never heard about. I still wouldn’t know about HQ Trivia. I do now.
For better or worse, Yusupov got some good exposure out of it. Now, that said, I would not make a habit out of it.
6. Apologies sometimes work (they don’t always)
It needs to be noted that the following week, Yusupov realized the error of his ways and made a public apology.
He even tweeted a photo of him with Rogowsky eating a Sweetgreen salad (they were winners too; I had never heard of them either). I will say that I really wanted to dislike this guy after I heard about this incident, but his apology really did seem sincere.
As much as I found his antics to be thoroughly obnoxious and arrogant, I bought the apology and all is forgiven as far as I’m concerned.
Maybe he saw a spike in downloads and chilled the hell out.
A co-founder of Large Media, Inc., Micah Warren has been a public relations strategist for more than 15 years. A published writer with an incredible track record of media placements, Micah has gotten his clients in USA Today, Fox Business Network, Bloomberg TV, Inc.com, CNBC.com, The Daily Caller, The NY Times, The NY Post, Esquire, Maxim magazine, ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” ESPN.com , Askmen.com, GQ, BBC, Reuters and many other newspapers, television shows, radio networks, websites and trade publications.
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