The New York Times thought it was sending an email to a few hundred people who had recently canceled subscriptions, offering them a 50 percent discount for 16 weeks to lure them back.
Instead, Wednesday’s offer went to 8.6 million email addresses of people who had given them to the Times.
That was the first mistake. The second came when the Times tweeted this: “If you received an email today about canceling your NYT subscription, ignore it. It’s not from us.”
But the Times did send the original email, Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said.
This quote, from an AP article, published by MSN Money, describes the trouble The New York Times found itself in at the tail end of December.
What was probably a simple mechanical mistake, one person selecting the wrong list when preparing the email campaign, led to an undisclosed loss for The New York Times, not to mention some reputation damage.
As far as the initial email goes, it was an honest mistake, and choosing to honor the offer for the better part of the day was a smart PR move. The Tweet though, is inexcusable. There is little doubt that whoever authors the NY Times Twitter account was well aware of the situation when they made that post, and whether it was a genuine attempt at deflection or humor gone terribly flat, it looked like a lie. People don’t want to get their news from an organization that lies, and that’s where the Times took an unhealthy amount of reputation damage.
Will this break the Times? Obviously not. Was it damage that could easily have been avoided? Absolutely. Especially in markets as competitive as that of bringing news to the public has become, opponents will take advantage of every slip you make. Stay honest, double (triple, quadruple, whatever it takes!) check before sending important messages, and hold on to every advantage you’ve got.
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]