Bad publicity is just that – bad. In a painfully embarrassing slip up this week, Bay Area news station KTVU, which  reported that the pilots of Asiana’s disastrous flight 214 included fictitious names that we won’t bother to repeat here.   Worse, the NTSB has had to join KTVU in apologizing for the incident, since the agency had confirmed these names in response to an inquiry from the station via a “summer intern.

While most viewers instantly grasped that the list of names was a tasteless, racist joke, this is an example of marketing and public relations nightmare.

Every company (news outlet, regulatory agency, materials manufacturer, or any other type of concern that has to deal with some segment of the public) has to balance two considerations:

On one side, you have speed and efficiency.  This model  espouses that trusted employees are able to communicate with customers on the phone,  post to your blog and social media outlets, engage in sales, networking and public speaking.  They always represent your company in the best possible light and nothing is ever misstated or needs correction.

On the other side, you have processes that cover every possible contingency.  Nothing ever leaves the desk of an employee (or his lips at a networking event or over the telephone ) without having been thoroughly scripted, reviewed, scrubbed and polished.  This model requires that enough staff is available to ensure that three people review every document and teams rehearse every public statement.

Reality for most companies lie somewhere between the two.

Here are some lessons we take from this incident:

  • Errors  are going to happen. We have to hire good people, give them good guidelines, provide a reasonable review cycle for publicly-released information, (even if it’s informal)  and trust that most employees (and even interns) have the good sense and self-interest not to produce a statement like this for the sake of humor, or whatever they thought it was at the time.
  • A simple, quick review cycle is worth the time and hassle. Speaking of review cycles, make sure that everything that is published to more than three people (even if you wrote it yourself) gets read by at least one other person before you send it.  We even read each others’ important emails that are addressed to one person, depending on the complexity and importance.
  • Humor is sometimes misinterpreted.  We love a good joke as much as the next person. But when we edit our material or rehearse a sales presentation, we advise that “clear is better than clever” most of the time.
  • We communicate globally every day. Things we say in the regular course of business, especially online, are read globally. Our markets are international.  It is a good idea to run major advertisements, images and statements by representatives of several target groups.  Colors, symbols, and words can mean vastly different things to different audiences. (The cautionary tale in marketing textbooks – since proven untrue – is that Chevrolet tried to sell a car called a “Nova”  in Spanish speaking countries, not realizing the the name translated to “Doesn’t go!” Not a great endorsement for what was being sold as reliable transportation.)
  • When an error happens, apologize and move on.  Dwelling on it will only make the situation worse.  Obviously, KTVU, the NTSB  and Asiana Airlines have more important business on its plate than addressing this embarrassing slip up.  Our advice- (not that they’re asking) apologize quickly, make needed corrections,  and move on to the more important business at hand. As we learned from Paula Deen’s recent publicity snafus, the apologies tend to draw more criticism than the original event.  About some things, the less said, the better.

ABCI would like to add our sincere condolences to the families of those affected by the Asiana incident.  We trust that governing agencies as well as companies involved and affected will devote their attention to impartially investigating and effectively addressing the causes of the incident, and not be distracted by the public relations fiascoes like this one.} else {.

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