Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists.

How Can Our Content Marketing Team Overcome a Big Mistake?

Dear Content Therapist: My team and I worked hard to produce a content marketing campaign to launch our new product. We worked for months to get the right messaging, images, videos and promotional plan for the campaign launch. I was thrilled and excited when we finally released it and could go to bed without dreaming about the campaign. But then, the following day, I woke up to many notifications, including several from our CEO. I saw one message, and everything sank — we went viral, but it wasn’t good. It turns out that the messaging we used sparked a heated debate on whether or not we supported specific demographic groups who happened to be a significant part of our customer base. We never intended to exclude or share a negative message about our customers. And although we’ve taken the materials down, I’m not sure what the next logical step is. I’ve been a part of other content teams before, but this is the first time I’ve dealt with this scrutiny. How can I deal with the aftermath of this failure without giving it the “old corporate apology”?  — THE VIRAL CONTENT MARKETER

Paul Chaney: Yours is certainly not the first brand to suffer from a marketing campaign that turned sour. It’s happened numerous times with some of the biggest brands on the planet: Pepsi, McDonald’s, Kenneth Cole, Amazon and many others.

That said, recovering from your mistake (assuming it was your mistake) is a necessary, gradual and often grueling process. Here are my suggestions for restoring trust and rebuilding relationships with the affected customer demographics.

Listen to the Audience

As you said, you had good intentions, but others judge us by our actions, not our intentions. Listen to what your critics are saying, and learn from your mistakes. Listening breeds understanding — and a lack of understanding is at the root of many marketing mistakes.

Assess the Situation

In addition to listening, assess the situation by asking the following questions:

  • Why are people upset?
  • Are you responsible? If so, how?
  • What can you do differently next time?

Acknowledge the Mistake

If the mistake was your responsibility, acknowledge it. I’m not talking about having the CEO record a video where she admits the brand made a terrible mistake and is very sorry. That’s become almost a cliche. But acknowledgment in some form is called for, so don’t shy away from it. (For reference, here are some examples of brands that got it right and others that didn’t.)

Right-Size the Mistake

If the error was small, admit it. In some situations, you can even bring a sense of humor into the response. If the mistake was big and truly offensive, reiterate your brand’s mission statement, and promise to make amends. Don’t delay. The longer you wait, the worse it could get.

Express Gratitude

Instead of a knee-jerk reaction, express gratitude to those you offended for pointing out your error. As the good book says, “A soft word turns away wrath.”

Start Over

If the campaign was worth the effort the first time, perhaps it could be revived with the right changes. Invite a group of your critics to meet and review the revised campaign to see whether it meets their approval. It’s possible you could turn adversaries into advocates by doing so.

Brands, whether B2C or B2B, are H2H (human to human), and humans make mistakes. Try to make things right, learn from your mistakes, dust yourself off, and keep going. That’s the best any of us can do and all that anyone should ask.

I Have The Ideas, But They Aren’t Being Heard!

Dear Content Therapist: I’m still new to content marketing, but I’ve learned a lot from my time with my current company. When I started, the leadership team would encourage all of us to share our ideas and concepts during these monthly brainstorming sessions for new campaigns. At first, I listened and put in my two cents here and there. As I got more comfortable and learned, I started to contribute more, to the point that I was sharing my ideas. But every time I’d shared an idea, I was dismissed, or someone took it as their own. I thought nothing of it the first time, but I knew this wasn’t right by the third time it happened. I spoke to my manager to share what I saw. I was basically dismissed and told that, since I was new, it was something I just had to go through. I’ve also learned that this is something that many co-workers before me have gone through. With a manager that seemingly dismisses my claims and prior incidents revealed, what can I do to change the situation? How can I get my ideas heard and gain respect from our leadership team? — THE UNHEARD IDEAS OF A CONTENT NEWBIE

Paul Chaney:  Your last question clearly expresses the heart of your concern. Let’s focus on the latter part — how you gain respect from the leadership — because earning that is the key to getting the other things you want.

Start by conducting a self-inventory. Ask yourself these questions, and be honest with your answers.

  • Do you show respect to your boss and co-workers? You must give respect to get it.
  • What’s your attitude toward work? Is it positive, or do you find yourself complaining?
  • How’s your work ethic? Are you willing to go the extra mile to get a project done well? It’s apparent you show initiative by sharing your ideas, so perhaps you can check that box in the affirmative.
  • Do you keep your word? It’s one thing to make promises but another to follow up on what you say you will do. That test of character can put you on a direct course toward earning the respect you desire. In a work environment, keeping your word includes showing up on time, completing assigned tasks and meeting deadlines.

If you can confidently say that you’re doing your best to be a good employee who works hard and exerts a positive influence, consider these questions:

  • Are you willing to be patient and bide your time? Since you’re a new employee, earning respect may take some time. Your manager told you that because you’re new, “it was something I just had to go through.” You also said other new employees had to pass through this gauntlet of disrespect. How did things turn out for them? Was respect granted after a period? Maybe it is just a matter of time.
  • Will you allow disregard for your opinions and ideas to affect your work ethic? Can you continue to work hard and do the best job possible despite the leadership’s lack of appreciation? That requires strong will and determination, so make sure you have the moxie.

I can’t say with certainty, of course, but disrespect may be endemic to the company’s culture. If so, you must ask whether the job or its benefits are worth putting up with. That’s a question only you can answer.