Reader Question: Correct The Record Or Let It Go?
A reader recently wrote in asking about a challenge many PR pros have encountered along the way:
“Hey, Brad, question for you.
I work for a statewide non-profit. One of our board members lives on the opposite end of the state from me (the non-profit spokesperson) so he has done in-person interviews for us for media over there. In a recent interview, he made a huge gaffe by stating something as our non-profit’s policy that is the opposite of our policy. We’re getting egg on our face because of it. I reached out to the reporter for a correction but am waiting to hear from the director. I also posted our statement on the site that was making hay out of the story. But the story is still being reposted. Should we email (or post to our social media) a statement out? Or hope it blows over? Thanks for any advice!”
Making a call in this type of situation can be tricky. On one hand, blasting out a statement will undoubtedly reach people who hadn’t seen the original story, thus expanding the reach of the wrong information. On the other hand, a failure to respond can be viewed by the public (and other important constituencies) as a confirmation that the (incorrect) information is true.
Sometimes, waiting a story out and letting it die on its own within a news cycle or two is the smarter call. But in this case, you wrote one thing that makes this an easier call for me: you wrote that, “We’re getting egg on our face.” Since you’re paying a real price for the incorrectly stated policy position, it’s worth correcting the record—quickly and aggressively.
The next steps, then, are deciding what your statement should say and how you should distribute it.
Regarding the statement itself, the most important recommendation is to avoid anything that could even remotely be perceived as spin. Your board member screwed up. Say so. You don’t have to throw him under the bus, but call this what it was—an embarrassing misstatement that has had a negative consequence for your organization.
Here’s an example of the type of straightforward language I—and likely most readers—prefer:
“During a recent interview with [name of news organization], one of our board members [name of board member] misstated our policy position about [policy issue]. As a result, many people have shared that view on social media and expressed dismay with what he articulated as our organization’s stance.
He said that our position is [very brief summary of his statement]. That is incorrect. Our position is, and has always been, [insert policy position]. That is core to our beliefs, because [insert rationale].
[Name of board member] and all of us at [name of organization] feel terribly about the error, and we will work hard to improve our internal communications to make sure similar inaccuracies don’t occur again.
The fault is entirely ours, and we apologize for the error.
[Name and title of real person]
In terms of distribution, you might post the statement to the original sites that published the article and to social media pages that have discussed it. Doing so may come too late for the people who have already commented—but it may diminish further comment and stand as a historical record for people who encounter those pages in the future.
And yes, you might also send it to your mailing list, possibly alongside a regular email update if this issue isn’t quite serious enough to warrant its own email or newsletter.
I suspect many readers have faced similar challenges. What have you done in similar situations? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below.