Crisis Control: What To Do When Your Marketing Campaign Goes Wrong / PR / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Sometimes, despite everything you do to prep your marketing campaign for success, thing can go the wrong way. So, how do you handle this?

When you plan out a marketing campaign, you do everything you can think of to make sure it doesn't go wrong.

You organized a diverse group of stakeholders to plan your campaign, test it with multiple different people from different backgrounds, and considered where your marketing would be placed to make sure that it fits the right audience.

But sometimes, despite everything you do to prep your marketing campaign for success, you fail. Sometimes, you miss a step. You forget to include something and end up making a statement that you didn't mean to, such as your product bringing someone's ancestors back to life.

You try to use slang that you're insufficiently familiar with and end up insulting a group of people. Your message is interpreted as racist or misogynist. What do you do?

Related Article: Inbox Issues: How to Fail at Email Marketing


The first step in any marketing campaign gone wrong is to apologize. There are few things you can do worse than ignoring the problem, or pretending it didn't happen. But you need to apologize properly. You do that by:

  • Start by saying "I'm sorry," or "I apologize."
  • Say what you're apologizing for. Avoid language like "our tweet offended some readers," or "We're sorry that our readers were offended by the ad we posted yesterday." This language creates an inappropriate distance between your action and the people who were harmed by it. Instead say, "We apologize for the hurtful and insensitive language that we unknowingly included in this ad campaign." Admitting wrongdoing is a crucial step in an effective apology.

Demonstrate Awareness and Reflection

This step may not happen immediately. It's all right if your apology starts out as "We apologize for the hurt that we caused with our careless action. We've canceled the campaign, and we will be rapidly moving through an internal review to make sure that this doesn't happen again. We welcome any feedback you have, and we will communicate our solutions as soon as possible."

Many companies will use a pre-written personal statement acknowledging their responsibility and being ready for the accountability.

"One statement we have found useful,” says John Summers, CEO of Fuse Wave, “is thanking our clients for talking to us about how they were hurt or marginalized by our product or what we said. We're listening and learning. You need to be very clear about your timeline. Make sure to stay on track internally so that you can keep your promise to your customers."

These types of short and simple statements work well with people; it shows an understanding and intent of taking care of their business.

When you've reviewed what went wrong, you're ready to make the second half of your statement to your public.

  • Make amends. When you're running a large campaign, this step can be difficult. Consider what seems both proportionate and appropriate. What do your clients need? Would it help them to feel heard, or to know that you've changed? However you choose to make amends, approach the opportunity with gracious respect in order to win the heart of your clients back. You mean enough to your customers that they're willing to give you a chance to do better. Don't waste it.
  • Promise not to do it again. This needs to be more than just lip service; customers can see a false promise from miles away, and you'll lose more face with them than you would by ignoring the whole issue. In your promise, reinforce how you'll make sure the situation doesn't recur. You'll diversify your creators, or recruit a wider range of testers, or whatever seems like it needs to happen.

Related Article: So You Had a Bad Day: How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

Rebuild Trust

All too often, companies forget this step, which is arguably the most important step in front of you. Making a mistake in an ad campaign is probably not the biggest mistake your company will ever make, but it could be the most public. You need to remember that you are never your customer's only option.

You will need to work to rebuild your customer's trust in you. Unfortunately, rebuilding trust is harder than building it in the first place. So what can you do to help rebuild that trust?

  • Be good on your word. From simple issues like shipping times to more complex concerns like future ad campaigns, make sure that your business is doing what it promised, not just in its apology, but in its mission statements and communications.
  • Be honest and engaged. If your ad, for example, was perceived as racist, make a point of connecting with thought leaders within the community that was hurt by your ad. Ask for their advice and thought on how to avoid similar concerns in the future.
  • Admit your error. That's a big part of the apology that we discussed above; it's important to make sure that your apology makes it clear that the error was yours. When you say that you're sorry for "offense that you may have caused," it's very clear that you don't think you did anything wrong.
  • Understand that your customers may not move on as quickly as you do. Because of the fast pace of online media, they may miss your apology, or still be frustrated after the fact. If they contact you about it, approach the same way you did originally. Apologize, acknowledge and make amends.

Related Article: 6 Customer Feedback Channels You Should Be Using

Marketing mishaps happen to the best of companies. By reacting quickly and with a deliberate strategy, you can minimize the damage and make sure your business continues to succeed.

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