On April 9, 2003, I was in a TV studio with a client who was just about to go on air. He had been meticulously media trained, provided background about the issues, the show, the anchor and was nervously awaiting his media debut.

The interview didn’t happen.

April 9, 2003, of course, was the day that Baghdad fell to U.S. forces. The breaking story, underscored by video of a huge statue of Saddam Hussein toppling to the ground, pre-empted the interview and dominated the day’s news.

What to do about the interview?

If breaking news like this occurs, it pays to be gracious. How you react will be remembered.

I’ve known PR people who have harangued or bullied reporters for not covering a story or for not hitting on a point they wanted mentioned. This not is only unpleasant, but pointless.

Reporters have a job to do, and that means being accountable to their viewers, listeners or readers. Understanding and respecting that is what a good PR person does. It also gets better results. If your client is bumped and you exit gracefully, it’s much easier to follow up later to see if you can reschedule.

Anyone who’s ever worked in news – and this is why many successful PR people are former reporters – understand that you cannot dictate every second of a story.

Oh, it can be done, but it’s not news. It’s an ad.

Why it’s called ‘earned media’

“Earned media,” on the other hand, is more credible exactly because it can’t be bought. Being interviewed by the media establishes you as a thought leader, which can be a thousand times more convincing than a commercial.

Earned media requires the ability to marry the needs of clients with the needs of the media. Great PR people work hard to develop unique story angles that will showcase their clients’ expertise while providing information that interests and benefits audiences.

Ultimately, it’s work that pays off. And, when faced with an obstacle, we don’t give up. We graciously regroup and keep pitching.