Make No Mistake: Three Tips for Fixing Common PR Blunders

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” - Oscar Wilde

Nearly every public relations professional has their fair share of mistakes, slip-ups, or other moments that make them sweat. Whether it’s a reporter breaking an embargo on a press release or a spokesperson backs out of an interview at the last minute – we have all been there.

Mistakes happen – regardless of which party is responsible for them; what matters is how you and your team respond to the situation. A PR professional’s ability to manage the situation, including mitigating further damage and alleviating the damage that has already happened, is equally as important as our performance before the mistake occurred.

While I can’t address the details of specific mistakes, I can provide the following tips and best practices that apply to most common situations. Use these to see your way through the next time you or your company gets in a bind.

Avoid finger-pointing

Focus your efforts on developing and executing an effective response plan, not trying to explain to the client or reporter that it was someone else’s fault. The longer an under-embargo story is online, or a spelling error lives on a press release, the more damage will be done. Immediate action — not finger-pointing — is necessary.

Spokesperson cancels an interview last minute? The reporter doesn’t want to hear why it’s not your fault they didn’t show up. Instead, they’d rather hear a sincere apology and a list of additional times when your client could make up the interview. Even better? Come back to them with an apology, and an alternate spokesperson that they could speak to that day (not always possible, but, hey, we can dream)!

Bottom line – no one appreciates finger-pointing. Even if you’re not to blame, you’ll look a lot better if that realization is made after you’ve remedied the situation.

Get on the phone!

Don’t try and fix the problem with a slew of frantic emails. If possible, ask the person responsible for the mistake if you can discuss the matter with them on the phone. It not only shows you’re dedicated to fixing the problem as fast as possible, but also ensures better real-time collaboration and problem-solving. Also, if the mistake was your fault, your apology will appear much more sincere than over email.

Let it go and move on

Don’t hold a grudge, but learn your lesson so you don’t let the same mistake happen twice. For example, let’s continue with the “spokesperson last-minute cancelling the interview” situation:

  1. Yes, it’s annoying the spokesperson cancelled the interview at the last-minute, but stuff happens, so let it go! Getting overly upset or angry is unprofessional, and also wastes precious time when you should be working on fixing the situation.

  2. Regardless of if you were able to make-up the interview, know that the reporter will likely remember what happened – and ensure that any follow-up opportunities, with the same or other clients, are as rock-solid as possible. If it is with the same client, be sure to nicely communicate to their team that because of the previous cancellation, it’s critical that the same mistake does not happen again.

This advice is equally as important if the mistake was your fault. Misspelled an author’s name on a bylined article? Apologize and get the mistake fixed as best and as quickly as possible. After, follow-up with the client to apologize again and let them know it has been fixed (hopefully), and that it won’t happen again. And DON’T let it happen again!

The fast-paced nature of public relations often makes for a higher-likelihood of mistakes. While our goal is to do everything we can to prevent these mistakes, it’s unrealistic to act as if they won’t happen, which is why I encourage you to keep these tips in mind. Although I mentioned these best practices won’t perfectly apply to your specific PR errors, at the very least, they should help you keep in mind the notion that mistakes can, and will happen – hopefully better preparing you for when they do.

Let’s talk.