On-Air Faux Pas? Experts Share Advice to Regain Viewer Trust
Let’s face it: No one’s perfect.
Folks on television probably have a greater appreciation of this than most.
The past year was chock-full of on-air faux pas. News anchor Kristi Capel of Fox 8 in Cleveland was suspended for three days after using a racial slur on live TV. Then there was the critique of First Lady Michelle Obama by former Univision host Rodner Figueroa in March.
But not everyone considers their personal brand a priority, and a crisis communication strategy might be the last thing on their mind.
So if you find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation, we offer some solid advice from industry experts.
Say your blunder wasn’t severe enough to get you fired or suspended.
Experts agree you should apologize as soon as possible, while the moment is still fresh.
“If you are still on air, apologize, apologize and apologize again before the segment is over,” says Jack Deschauer, senior vice president with LEVICK. “Sound sincere when you do it. Try and fix the issue before you even leave the chair.”
Deschauer has assisted a number of celebrity athletes through crises, including the NFL’s “Spygate,” Jayson Williams trial, and suspension of Tim Montgomery by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Also, the words you select are important.
“Don’t ever say ‘I’m sorry IF I offended someone,’” Deschauer says. “Instead say ‘I said something awfully stupid, and I’m sorry, I made a mistake.’”
Don’t Stress the Details
Sometimes, on-air personalities can get caught up in today’s standard of political correctness.
But if you swallow a word or phrase during commentary and would like to make a correction, just alert the audience to the mistake and move on.
“Emphasize the corrected word or phrase, but do not pause and make a big deal of it,” says Scott Sobel, president of Media & Communications Strategies, Inc.
And if it’s a big deal, namely a fireable offense?
Dee Dee Edmondson, senior account executive of public relations with RDW Group, Inc., explains that if your mistake is more like a lie a la Brian Williams – it’s going to take more than an apology to your public audience.
“You start with an apology and then repeatedly do things that will help reinstall trust in you throughout the next year,” Edmondson says. “However, depending on the lie, it might be too big to overcome.”
Edmondson suggests an interview with the person or subject matter you made a faux pas about and possibly doing a compelling human interest story about redemption.
Think Before You Post
Social media will hold you accountable for your mistake.
Twitter, for example, can blow up quickly, depending on what you said and how it was perceived.
“When it comes to the world we live in with Twitter and social media – wait,” says Deschauer. “Wait five minutes; wait 30 minutes. Most of those errors are made because you typed before you thought. If you give it a minute, you might realize how bad your words really do sound. Don’t be first to opine – because being first and stupid is much worse than being third and right.”
Wait until you’re ready to speak with reporters, and make sure your thoughts are clear.
And, don’t back up what you did because you’re afraid to admit wrongdoing.
“You’ll only dig a much deeper hole, and when it’s deep enough, no apology will get you out,” Deschauer says.
But keep your head up.
Let’s say your mistake wasn’t a huge deal, but you were off the air for a few days. When you return to work, you’ll need to work hard to build back trust.
“If you make a mistake, apologize to your listeners/readers, own it and do something that reestablishes trust,” advises Edmondson.
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Jessica Alas is Multicultural Audience Director at PR Newswire. Follow her at @alasjessica