Every cloud has a silver lining… even retracting a press release

You don’t work in media relations for as long as the Resonates team without having encountered the horror of a press release retraction. Whether the error originates from you or the client, any diligent media relations manager will experience the panic and the icy sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach when the issue comes to light.

No one retracts a press release lightly. You may experience a few blushes when you spot a grammatical error, a misspelt name or a missing word after you’ve sent your release, but such minor misdemeanours don’t warrant a retraction.

Legal issues relating to contracts or accidentally including classified information, however, do need to be dealt with swiftly and effectively.

Take a deep breath

Managed effectively, it doesn’t have to end your career, client relationship or destroy your reputation with journalists. Like most things in life, it is manageable if you take a deep breath, identify what needs to happen and act quickly and professionally.

To start with, make sure you fully understand the issue and that a retraction is really the best way forward. If it is, then the outcome is obvious, you need to contact all the journalists you sent the release to.

Be prepared

A panic-driven response based on an unprepared or ill-conceived communication at this point has the potential to make the situation worse. You could divulge too much information or fail to effectively communicate that the release should not be published.

So, before you begin, take a moment to prepare your response. That way, you can be confident that the message you deliver clearly tells the journalist that the release should not be published and gives a credible and honest explanation.

If you have sent the original release to a handful of journalists, hit the phones and have a conversation. For larger numbers, craft a concise, apologetic email. Use a confident, clear subject line that states RETRACTION and quotes the original release subject line to make your message as clear as possible for everyone receiving your email.

Journalists are people too

Journalists are naturally inquisitive and can be unnervingly direct but underneath their efficient professional exterior, they are people. As long as you don’t make a habit out of retracting releases, most journalists will understand and appreciate your swift response and honesty. After all, no one wants to publish material that is inaccurate or liable to generate legal disputes in the future.

In our experience, journalists’ responses can be quite reassuring and even supportive including comments like: “No problem, I quite understand”, “No worries, will sort!” and “No problem – although it has been live online for a couple of hours. I’ve taken it down now.”

The silver lining

Although we don’t advocate retracting a press release as a proactive strategy, it can get you noticed. So, when you are ready to re-issue the release, consider whether there is any value in using the email trail including the retraction dialogue.

Good relationships in life are built on shared experiences and a well-managed retraction of a press release is just that, a shared experience. So, when your moment for a retraction comes and the icy sinking feeling hits your stomach, take a deep breath. Manage the situation quickly and professionally and look for opportunities to make connections and build relationships – just don’t do it too often.