Correcting Mistakes: Responding Quickly & Effectively

Credibility is a hard-won attribute in today’s fast-paced and multi-dimensional communications landscape. Thorough editing, fact checking and reviews by multiple levels of people within a company or organization will help guard against mistakes. But when they do happen, the challenge is retaining the organization’s credibility in handling the mistake. With a 24/7 news cycle, quick but measured responses are essential to successfully navigating mistakes ranging from a mere gaffe to a major crisis.

The magnitude of the response depends on the magnitude of the mistake. Once the magnitude of the mistake is determined, the responses vary, as follows:

  1. If it’s a simple mistake, a simple correction may be all you need. This could be an updated press release, a call to a reporter to correct misinformation or a Tweet or other social media post. The Detroit Free Press, for instance, accidentally used football coach John Harbaugh’s photo on a story about his brother, Jim Harbaugh, who is also a football coach. The editors won over Twitter followers by using humor in their correction. The paper posted a series of tweets, expressing its embarrassment and featuring short video clips, or GIFS, that showed a kid hitting himself in the head with a yo-yo and other characters embarrassed by their mistakes. The humorous approach won over followers, as USA Today reported here.
  2. More substantive mistakes require more substantive explanations. Avoiding defensiveness, taking responsibility and apologizing for the mistakes will help resolve the issue quickly and efficiently. This past year, for instance, Urban Outfitters came under fire for selling a red-stained vintage Kent State sweatshirt that evoked the 1970s student shootings on campus. The red stain appeared to be blood splatters. Urban Outfitters issued an apology, saying it never intended to “allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.”
  3. Serious mistakes that lead to loss of reputation and/or harm may require pro-active solutions. In addition to taking responsibility and apologizing, saying how it will avoid the same mistakes in the future will help a company or an organization recover its reputation and credibility. This past year, the National Football League’s handling of the domestic abuse case involving Baltimore Raven running back Ray Rice demonstrates how failing to provide a pro-active remedy quickly can lead to more days of negative coverage than the story might otherwise get.

The NFL and the Ravens failed to adequately investigate the original abuse allegations and failed to pro-actively address their failings when the explosive video of Rice hitting his wife aired on TMZ and other media outlets. Moving quickly to admit their mistakes and outlining a pro-active NFL domestic abuse prevention program would have helped turn the tide of the coverage from their failings to their new determination to address one of the sport’s major problems.

What advice would you have for correcting mistakes?

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