What to do when your spokesperson makes a mistake

A group of journalists with their cameras before a press conference

The Hoyt Organization, a PR agency in Los AngelesBy Leeza Hoyt, president of The Hoyt Organization, our Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) partner based in Los Angeles

 

We’ve all seen it on the news. The spokesperson heads to the microphone, reads a statement, then begins taking questions. Then, we notice something. He or she makes a mistake. Whether your spokesperson starts speaking off-topic, becomes a “deer in the headlights” or unintentionally gives away private information, mistakes can happen. Any one of these will damage your organization unless the issue at hand is managed carefully.

However, if your company has a plan in place for this possibility, you’ll be able to assess the damage, make a correction and move forward. But, how can this be done effectively?

Here are five steps every organization should consider when handling a mistake made by their spokesperson:

1) Take responsibility. While it may seem that admitting a mistake will lower your credibility, in fact, the general public responds more positively when organizations address problems immediately. If you choose to ignore it, you risk the media exploiting the situation and turning it into an even bigger story.

2) Assess the damage. Determine the level of damage the incident has caused. If it’s a minor error, it can be handled in a brief public statement. If it’s a major issue, consider sending an immediate update across all platforms and channels to stem the backlash.

3) Find a solution. While you can’t undo the mistake, you can create a solution that may repair some, if not all, of the damage. While the public appreciates you addressing the situation, they expect you to learn from the situation and to not make the mistake again. Back up your statement with an action to demonstrate the commitment to the correction.

4) Stick to the facts. Oftentimes, spokespeople are asked to speculate, or give opinions on what has occurred. This is where in-depth media training comes in to play. Make sure the spokesperson knows how to communicate under pressure and answer questions carefully, with accurate and factual information.A man stands at a podium giving a press conference

5) Media Training. Make sure the spokesperson receives proper media training after the incident to ensure they are prepared to represent your company or brand in a strong, professional manner. There is no question that working with the media can be challenging.

Knowing how to speak under fire takes skill, clarity, and a sense of Zen that exudes confidence yet calmness. Making sure your spokesperson has been well-trained will serve you well into the future.

Have you ever had to react after a spokesperson made a mistake? Leave a comment below or tweet us @LandisComm.

This blog was originally published on the PRGN website here.

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2 Comments

  1. Sean Dowdall Reply

    Leeza,
    Thanks for the tips. In addition to media training, we always try to schedule a media briefing session with our clients before interviews and rehearse tough questions.
    Sean

  2. David Landis Reply

    Leeza: great post. As they say when asked how to get to Carnegie Hall, “Practice, practice, practice!” Cheers, David