Learning From the White House Talking Points PR Blunder

Everyone makes mistakes. Even PR practitioners get the chance to be human once in awhile. But when the eyes of the world point in your direction, you better be at the height of your game. 

The White House hosted a master class yesterday (Sept. 25) in what not to do in crisis communications. Following the release of notes of a July 25, 2019, telephone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, some Democrats received a surprise in their email—the actual GOP talking points regarding the call. 

Aaron Fritschner, the communications director for Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), said that "numerous Dem colleagues" received the email at 11:22 a.m., followed by a White House request to recall the email at 12:02 p.m,” according to The Hill,

The points quickly leaked to the media, which posted screenshots via Twitter.

In a push-button society of instant delivery, it's more important to check and double check before moving ahead with anything in PR.

The following tips seem simple, but take a look at these best practices for a refresher on how to avoid adding to your crisis communications workload.

Before you push send…

Mulligans may apply to golf, but not in the digital realm. There are no do-overs or takebacks. Even if you think a bad tweet is deleted, think again. A reporter or angry customer might have a screenshot, and that questionable message will never be forgotten. Unfortunately, many of us will never forget when Spaghettios dishonored Pearl Harbor Day with a weird and tasteless tweet, which lives for eternity in news articles and callouts. 

A good tip is to count to five before you send anything. Check and double check the recipient list. A mistake will live longer than the extra five seconds you take to confirm your work. 

Focus on writing well

Checking and double checking goes hand in hand with a proper edit. And even in the throes of urgency, a PR pro is only as good as her communication skills. This includes attention to detail. And grammar, voice and tense within writing. 

The White House not only sent talking points to the wrong recipients, but created a document rife with passive voice, repetition and unclear messaging.

PR pros should focus on writing well for every piece of work, especially when a brand has an important message to share. 

Be careful

Again, these tips — be careful and double check your work — seem obvious, but if this week proves anything, it's that avoidable mistakes continue. The week began with the Emmy Awards honoring the late composer-conductor André Previn, but flashing a photo of conductor Leonard Slatkin, who is alive and well. The next evening, up the street from the White House, Washington's football team honored former player London Fletcher. The scoreboard spelled his surname Flecther. 

One way to try to defeat mistakes is to treat every part of your job as you would a chocolate soufflé or baby bird. PR pros are gatekeepers of the message. No matter how big or small. The public depends on the proper disbursement of information, as do brands and organizations. A mistake not only impacts those represented, but your professional profile. And you are your own best PR practitioner. 

It also takes time to repair brand trust. It is unclear how a misfire of talking points will impact an impeachment inquiry into the President, but, as mentioned prior, nothing ever really disappears in the digital world.