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When a Press Release Typo Becomes News: Tips to Recover

By on Wednesday, July 11, 2018

It’s every public relations professional’s worst nightmare – a press release typo becomes front page news. So how do you recover?

The Women’s March issued a news release this week attacking President Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court justice nominee, but there was one problem.

The space for the nominee’s name on the release was still filled in by XYZ in the first sentence, and the nominee’s name was misspelled further down in the release. Clearly someone had used the wrong version of the file or completely forgotten to add the name of the nominee in the rush to distribute information quickly. USA Today and other media outlets covered the gaffe, and conservative social media was of course, all over it.

To make it worse, the gaffe played into fears that Democrats and their allies planned to oppose anyone nominated by the President. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “So many groups on the Left were declaring War on President Trump’s nominee — even before they knew who it was!” As a PR professional, you never want to be in a situation where a typo in a press release makes news.

So how do you recover when a mistake in your release becomes a big story all by itself? Here’s a few tips to help.

Fix the release. Immediately. Right away, the Women’s March corrected the error. An updated message with the errors corrected was sent out minutes later. So often when I talk with people who have made a mis-step in the media, they have not taken efforts to correct it quickly and stumbled in their response. Then they torture themselves about it for months. The approach the Women’s March took was decisive, speedy, and immediate.

Respond directly to criticism and get back on message. The Women’s March responded with this direct remark to Senator Graham within an hour and a half of his original tweet criticizing their release. They said, “Senator Graham is right. We did prepare a press release in advance because we knew that all the people on Trump’s nominee list would strip protections for almost every marginalized group in the United States for years to come.”

Call a typ0 what it is. A typo. The announcement of a new Supreme Court justice by a controversial president, was planned in advance and well-publicized. Groups on all sides had time to prepare news releases. The nominee’s name was speculated about in advance. Of course, groups on all sides were putting XYZ in their draft news releases as placeholders. It’s common in PR to do this, and  even to have a version that you trash or don’t use, based on the outcome of an event. The Women’s March did a good job at using their mistake to talk about their message, and they didn’t belabor the point. They didn’t blame an intern or staff member for the mistake. They simply got back on message right away and used the extra attention the mistake generated to talk about their views.

Make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. Review your procedures and systems for approving a news release before it goes out. Even if staff are rushing to get something out due to a breaking news event after work hours (which this was), there should be some type of check to ensure it’s correct. A second set of eyeballs can be a huge help to avoiding a media relations problem.

I think every PR person in Washington, D.C. will be doublechecking their releases for a while.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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