Misteaks Get Made

To err is human. In fact, to err big time can be part and parcel of marketing communications.

Come on, folks, how many times in your marcom careers have you proofed and proofed until your pupils peeled off, only to find the printer delivering pallets of brochures with:

  • References to our federal “goverment,” “anual” reports, and mission “statments”
  • Phone numbers off by one teensy, weensy digit
  • The wrong photo of the wrong person on the wrong page
  • Quotes attributed to people who never uttered the words
  • And, of course, my favorite… acknowledgement that the piece was authored by the “pubic” relations department

Granted, our Web sites are far more forgiving than print. In print, an embarrassing typo may require a re-do on a $50,000 printing job. (Unless, of course, you’re really good and you can convince the winner of the “best lawyer of the year” award that it was a compliment when the “w” was dropped in “lawyer.”) However, a misstep in your electronic communications is usually an easy fix. In fact, most bloopers can be wiped clean with nary a hint of a gaffe (as evidenced by the work of the remarkably efficient staff of ClickZ whenever I realize that I’ve submitted a particularly horrendous error-ridden piece).

But what happens when the problem doesn’t get caught right away? When it sits and smolders on your site until days or — perish the thought — weeks later, when someone finally taps you on the shoulder and lets you know that your content-creation process was bungled in one way or another? Just how do you assess the damage, and how do you — if you truly must — issue an apology online?

First, you must determine the extent of the damage. Was it a page buried deep in the site or way up there on the home page? Was it something that may have been emailed to others? Was it a price quote, event date, or some other inaccuracy that could seriously irritate your most valuable customers? Chances are, typos — and even links that simply don’t work — can just be changed fairly rapidly. But sometimes, critical information must be corrected more publicly.

If you do need to announce the change, take a cue from print journalists. Don’t repeat the false statement, and don’t belabor the point. Simply correct the inaccuracy. (For example, don’t state, “We regret that we wrote the author of this piece is a man. She is, upon further investigation, a woman.” Instead, try, “The author of the piece posted on Tuesday is a woman.”) And never attempt a legal conclusion about the reason for the correction (as in, “The statement was libelous.”).

Apologize to those who have been negatively affected and ask how you can make amends. Even small gestures are well received.

Alert all others involved on your marketing communications team — including your phone bank — that an error has been posted. Let them know how you plan to correct the problem.

If the error appeared in an email marketing message, be especially quick to let your mailing list know. The communication will be appreciated.

Of course, you can always attempt to protect yourself from the legal ramifications of an error. However, I prefer more proactive defenses against particularly embarrassing gaffes. Let employees in your organization know that you welcome their “eagle eyes” and encourage them to call when they catch a problem on your site. You might even consider enlisting competitors. Perhaps you can establish a “gentleman’s” (or “gentlewoman’s”) agreement to alert each other to problems. (Yes, I recently called a competitor to let them know that a link on Yahoo led not to their site but to a pornographer’s.)

My best advice is to avoid scolding yourself — or your staff — over a common error. Hundreds of thousands of words come out of our computers in this profession. Even the best spelling check in the world isn’t ironclad. Just try to protect yourselves against the really big bloopers. Correct and apologize for those that slip by.

But do send me some examples of the really funny bloopers. After 20 years in marketing communications, I’ve been gathering quite a collection.

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