I won’t pretend I know the game of football. I watch it. I root for the Patriots. But I won’t pretend I know the difference between a 4-3 defense and a spread offense. For me, football is something to watch until baseball begins again. Even I recognize, however, when a big name in a big game falls well short of expectations. Peyton Manning, who led his Broncos past the Patriots into the Super Bowl to cap an outstanding season—and perhaps career—quite obviously dropped the ball when it counted most. He did not meet or exceed expectations.
Nor did the game itself live up to the financial projections that preceded it.
A lot of big numbers were tossed around regarding the financial benefit to New Jersey and New York of holding Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. More than half a billion dollars, went the wisdom, would come into the coffers of restaurants, hotels, parking lots, and limousine fleets. But the general report among area merchants is that occupancy rates and reservations are about where they were this time last year. Some even lost money because patrons stayed away out of fear of crowds that never came.
Which brings us to managing expectations. In public relations or in politics, it’s one thing to believe in the cause and exude confidence, but it’s quite another to lead a client down the garden path to expectations you know cannot be met. You don’t have to be a naysayer, but you don’t have to be a cheerleader either for bad ideas. (And if your client consistently ignores your counsel, it may be time to part ways.)
If the client thinks a minor piece of news warrants a “media event,” but you know it won’t raise an eyebrow, you need to speak up. The key is to do it constructively. Offer an alternative that you think will work and lay out the desired outcomes. Instead of agreeing to a news conference, which likely will lead to an embarrassing conclusion, suggest an alternative. Perhaps that minor nugget of news could be pitched to a beat reporter as part of a larger story that loops in other stakeholders.
Maybe the client wants to launch a new product in time for a high-volume buying season, but you know it’s not quite ready. Explain the long-term consequences of launching a great product but without the support of an up-to-speed sales team or a consistent supply chain.
The expectations game can be difficult to navigate. Provide a clear roadmap that your client can trust, and chances are if you’re calling for Omaha, you won’t end up in Seattle.