A manager writes:

I have responsibility for P.R. at my work, among other things, and was overseeing a TV news crew that had asked to use our site to interview an ‘expert’ on a topic which was controversial. This expert sometimes worked out of our clinic and asked if the interview could take place at his office. Being concerned that the agency not appear to take sides on the issue, and to protect clients of the agency from involuntarily appearing on T.V., I asked the cameraman to stay confined to the interview room. I needed at one point to get a confidentiality release form and left the area for a couple of minutes. On my return I saw the cameraman had taken a position on the floor to get a view of the hallway. I asked him to return to the room.

 Later that night when I watched the news show I saw that it included what the cameraman had filmed – viewers would be able to tell that the interview was filmed at the agency and would have seen some clients. I am very upset about my error, feel I shouldn’t have let this happen, and wonder if I am not up to this responsibility. I am afraid to tell my boss I made the mistake.


You certainly sound stressed by your error and are questioning your competency to fulfill your responsibilities. The size of a mistake and how publicly it is shared contribute to the amount of stress we feel. You are in good company as every manager makes mistakes. However, it is the response that will be judged as much as the error. Take a deep breath and plan your response, including talking with your boss.

First, ask yourself the question, ‘how much actual harm was done’?

You would have an urgent concern, for example, if you are located in a women’s shelter and an abusive husband may have seen his wife on the news; compared to a fleeting glimpse of a client with some potential invasion of privacy. You need to do some potential damage control with the clients who inadvertently appeared in the news clip. Assess the level of potential harm to the clients and your agency’s reputation, and take action to mitigate possible risks.

Second, think about what you learned from your mistake about your judgement in letting the media access your agency when the topic was controversial.

Even with restricting media to internal areas they could still have taken a shot from the outside to show where the interview was being conducted. At the very least, you could have discussed the request beforehand, and sought the advice of your boss. Media are usually working on pressing deadlines and can request or demand immediate responses to their requests. Always put your clients’ and organization’s interests first.

Third, you have discovered a gap in what is otherwise a correct and important policy to protect client privacy.

Review your P.R. policy and make improvements especially where it deals with supervising media.

 My suggestion:

Ask for a time to check-in with your boss.

  • Let him or her know what happened,
  • Share your assessment of risk that was incurred and your suggestions for mitigation for your boss’s feedback and final approval.
  • Recognize and apologize for your lapse of judgement,
  • Say how you feel you could personally improve your approach in the future

The longer term lesson is to see mistakes as part of gaining experience. As long as you review your actions and learn from the experience you are fulfilling your prime responsibility as a manager – to keep developing your judgement and competency to better serve your clients and your agency.

Over to your peers: What have you learned from mistakes you’ve made?