A lot can be learned from a mistake

During one of my recent training runs for the Dallas Half Marathon, I accidentally ran 10 miles. How, you may ask, can one accidentally run 10 miles? Well, folks, it happens if you encounter the sign “Trail closed ahead,” and you don’t check the handy-dandy GPS to determine a similar route and mileage. So, during mile nine-ish, I found my mind wandering to work – a welcome distraction from the pain and agony we runners endure. I began thinking about the great parallels between PR mistakes and distance running mistakes.

As with training for a half marathon, PR mistakes are a common occurrence that can be prevented if one makes the effort to follow the plan – or to plan at all. I’ve written about this in a previous blog post (Before the Launch). I would never sign up for a half marathon the day before the race after zero training and expect to even make it to the finish line. Likewise, a company can’t expect PR success without planning. The effects of this mistake manifest in many ways: low attendance at an event or grand opening; people being unable to find you online; or in worst-case scenarios, a lawsuit over copyright infringement. Taking time to effectively research, plan and incorporate PR initiatives can make your business goals reachable.

Another common mistake is not listening to your key stakeholders. For runners, this is akin to not listening to your body when you need to rest in order to avoid injury. Consider the Netflix to Qwikster to Netflix debacle in 2011. The CEO made the decision to change pricing, packages and the company name without proper research among its current customers (and without planning). The situation became a negative PR firestorm that ended with major backpedaling by the CEO – right back to the original name and format before Qwikster even launched. But what remained? The negative impression about Netflix, its CEO and a slew of lost customers. Had Netflix given more thought to the idea, and taken time to ask and listen to key stakeholders, the rollout might have been successful.

Now, think of some of the great sayings of old: “Look before you leap,” “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and this little gem: “Think before you speak.” Or act. Consider the current presidential campaign’s many “oops” moments. While President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are probably two of the most well-trained individuals in the USA right now when it comes to media interviews and public speaking, they are also humans prone to missteps when taken off guard. As with a political campaign, an executive can derail his company by not taking time to prepare for an interview. And, as we have seen, what you say can and will be used against you. (Trade secret: There’s no such thing as “off the record.”) Don’t make the mistake of not thinking through and writing out your talking points, rehearsing your responses and preparing for all possible questions. A great PR partner will help you in this effort so you don’t wind up on the nightly news for your own “oops” moment.

I could go on with more PR mistakes and parallels to training for a half marathon, but for now, I’ll leave you hanging. Wait – did you just ask what the tie in to training was for “Think before you speak”? I’m glad you caught that. Here it is: If you don’t think things through (such as how hot it is in Texas from June to October, which means waking up before dawn so as not to die from heat exhaustion, which means earlier bedtime, which means the baby needs to magically be on a schedule again so you can go to bed earlier…), you’ll find yourself committed to running 13.1 miles and a bit sleep deprived in the process. 😉