Tag Archives: Crisis Communications

PR Crisis – How to Handle Mistakes

photo credit: Seth Lemmons via photopin cc

photo credit: Seth Lemmons via photopin cc

mis·take  noun

1. an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.

2. a misunderstanding or misconception.

Mistakes are: minor, easily repairable  “We screwed up on your delivery, we’ll be a week late.”  “I’m sorry, but whoever took your cake order heard “Happy Birthday Harry”  instead of “Happy Birthday Mary” “.  Mistakes are misspelling a word, debiting the wrong account, charging the before-sale price, forgetting a deadline, using whole milk instead of skim in your latte.

MISTAKES are serious lapses in judgment, human error, or a complete disregard for others that cause, or have the potential to cause, serious consequences, injury or even death.  Like the Costa Concordia running aground.  Or, like someone in the cockpit of a British Airways jet who pushed the button for the automated “We are going to crash” announcement.

The most important thing about mistakes (little or BIG) is to ensure they don’t happen again.  That is a complete given.

The next most important thing is how you handle them.  For mistakes, an apology and an explanation is often enough.  All of us have been in the situation where we’ve made a mistake, for whatever reason.  It’s tolerated.

First, take responsibility.  Own up to the mistake.  You did something “wrong”. Admit it.

Be genuine in your dealings.   You messed up.  You should feel badly about it, imagine a similar situation that has happened to you.

Be honest.  There are things you will be able to say, and information that you may not be free to share.  Whatever you do say should be a candid and honest statement.

Apologize.  Say you’re sorry. Explain why you’re sorry and relate it back to the customer.  “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.  I realize that because we are late delivering your furniture you’ll have to make new arrangements for someone to be home.”

But MISTAKES must be handled differently.  MISTAKES must be handled on two levels.  They must be handled in the public domain and they must be handled with the individual(s) impacted by the MISTAKE.


There should be an immediate public admission of a problem or error.  No need for details initially, but  include a reassurance that the matter will be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken with those found to be accountable.

Provide timely updates.  Communicate regularly and/or whenever there is important new information.

Monitor Social Media.  Follow up any issue that surfaces so that you can comment on the critical ones. See previous point.

Come to a conclusion.  Issue a statement when the dust has settled, the investigation is complete, and you can talk about the measures that have been put in place for the future.  Don’t just fade away so that people ask “Whatever happened to…”


The most important part of dealing with a MISTAKE is how you deal with the individuals involved.  Each one of the people who have been impacted need to feel that everything possible was done to help them, comfort them, accommodate them, make it up to them, yes, compensate them.  That the “best” has been made out of a horrible situation.

Each of these individuals is a customer, a spokesperson, an advocate.  They entered a covenant of trust that X (product, service) would be provided in return for the $.  How they are treated will not only affect their attitude toward you in now and in the future, but will help colour public opinion for years to come.

Lessons Learned

BP is a brilliant example of what not to do in a crisis situation. BP’s image may never recover from the disastrous oil spill in the gulf of Mexico.

First, BP only  accepted partial responsibly for what happened, blaming two other companies working with them.

Secondly BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward’s regrettable “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do.  I’d like my life back.”  statement may have been a bit too genuine and it showed a definite lack of prioritizing in his sympathies and in his responsibilities.

But fundamentally, there were, and are, so many people affected;  the environmental impact so broad and far-reaching – not just geographically but into the future as the ecosystem evolves and compensates; that it may be impossible to make restitution to everyone impacted by the catastrophe.  But BP should keep trying.

For generations, BP will be a bad word in the mouths of many of the residents of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and neighbouring states.

Despite the short shelf life of news in the Social Media environment, people who have experienced a disaster, as well as their families and friends, have long memories.

Originally posted on January 25, 2012 on mononews.