The Secret Marketer on making the best of a mistake

Secret Marketer

As a marketer, you always dread the call: “Hello, is that the marketing department? This is BBC/ITV/Sky and we wondered whether you would like to appear on our consumer watchdog programme to answer some concerns your customers have raised with us.”

I’ve had this call a couple of times in my career, and is something I recommend every budding marketer out there experiences. First there’s that moment of panic, then denial, blame, abject failure, before realisation hits that you must hunt for a poor schmuck to put forward as the company representative.

This week the ‘Hello, this is the BBC/ITV/Sky.Would you appear on our consumer watchdog show?’ call came

Actually, in reality, I’ve rarely ended up having to find someone to fill that role. Even though when you know you are right and have made a compelling case to convince the reporter that there is no story in it, you know the way the piece will be portrayed to viewers is going to make you look bad… and appearing on the programme will do little to rebalance perceptions. As such it is always best to write your apology statement and roll out the “A company spokesperson said…” line.

This week that dreaded call came. It’s the first time for my company, which led to internal alarm bells that I had to quell with the likes of “it could have been worse”, “no one watches daytime TV”, “at least they used our statement” and “thankfully because our brand is not as strong as some, this happens so rarely to us”.

It all got me thinking about the British attitude to success, and big brands in particular. A reporter loves nothing more than a major brand making a cock-up. But in the main, big brands have become big because they know what they are doing – they understand customer service, they deliver product/service quality that encourages customers to keep returning, all while being kept on their toes by a highly competitive market rather than an angry watchdog-led media.

Mistakes happen when you are dealing with millions of customer interactions, product sales or invoice payments. It is not great to admit, but when you have humans in your processes, there is always the chance for something to go wrong.

The challenge is to turn that into a media statement that sounds suitably contrite, does not hint at blaming the part of the business that cocked up in the first place, while allowing some wriggle room just in case it happens again.

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