The PR of “Walking Back”

When issuing publicity and marketing statements, not that long ago people “corrected” statements.  Today the PR term is “walking back.”

What does “walking back” mean?  It falls in line with the term “narrative” instead of “story.”  Or “optics” instead of “appearances.”

Our lexicon changes and when it does it catches like wildfire.  It is used over and over in the media and then finds its way into interviews, social media and in daily conversations.

This week President Trump did a major “walk back.”  When meeting with Russia’s Vladamir Putin, he said publicity that he doesn’t know why Russia “would” hack the U.S. elections.  When the firestorm hit, about four seconds later, Trump was forced to correct himself and say he misspoke.  He meant to say “wouldn’t” which became the official clarification.

The issue is can someone in the media make a correction and have it believed?  Can the President of the United States in the highest-profile meeting imaginable make a silly mistake?  If so, can we forgive him, or is it more ammunition for his adversaries?

Mistakes do happen, but as we have noted so many times in this blog, when something enters the internet, it is impossible to change it.  When a mistake is made and heard around the world, it is virtually impossible to “walk it back.”

That’s why we see heads of state speak slowly and with deliberation.  They know that every word, every nuance, is recorded and disseminated worldwide.  It is fodder for those who want to pick words apart so it is best that the president think about every word before uttering them.

The same holds true in the business world.  When giving a speech, doing an interview or writing an article, every word counts.  Words can come back to haunt you.  Not everybody has the pressure that a head of state has, but when you are conveying a message about your organization, every word counts.

Make sure your remarks are written down and that you are familiar with your message enough that you can speak naturally and not read off a piece of paper.  People know, even when hearing you on radio, when you are reading and speaking freely.  It is always better to speak freely than read.  But that takes practice and is an art.  It is also much more effective.

There is an old adage that take back spoken words is like replaced feathers in a pillow that are stewed all over the street.  It can’t be done.  Some people are natural speakers, but most are not.  It takes practice and focus.  Conveying your company’s message is the most effective PR vehicle you can convey and the key is preparation.