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Marketing Emergencies: A Survival Guide

Video Summary

$hit happens. Whether the link in your latest email blast doesn't go to where it's supposed to, you've accidentally removed your site from Google, or you've made an embarrassing spelling mistake in your latest campaign, surviving a marketing emergency is all about keeping your cool and knowing what to do next. This session will be your practical guide to creating your own marketing emergency response plan.


Hi. I’m Sarah.

In all of my work, I aim to be a champion of the customer experience. I understand the needs of both the customer and the business, and when those priorities compete—as they often do—I’m dedicated to finding the perfect solution to serve both equally.

My superpower is my ability to read between the lines and understand the root of a problem so that I can create the right strategy to address it. I do this by asking why, collaborating with the right people, and trusting my own intuition and experience.

I value empathy, vulnerability, creativity, integrity, and quality. These show up in my work and expectations daily. My standards—for both myself and the people I choose to surround myself with—are high, and I also recognize we’re all humans trying our best. I believe we’re the same humans at work that we are at home, and I provide space for the people I work with to be real.

I bring a sense of playfulness and fun to everything I do. Even the most mundane of projects can be made delightful with the right intention, and I genuinely enjoy much of the work I do.

With high levels of self-awareness and honesty, I aim to be a supportive leader my team can rely on, while also providing the space for growth and development. I thrive in transparent, collaborative environments.

I'm currently the Director of Digital Marketing at Bumped and am open for speaking engagements.

What you will learn?

  • Learn how to respond efficiently to marketing-related mishaps
  • Plan accordingly for future marketing emergencies

Marketing Emergencies: A Survival Guide

Sarah Esterman:
So before we get started, I just want to do a quick energy check of the room. A lot of great stuff yesterday, a party last night and there’s a lot of stuff still to come so we got to be pumped. How is everyone feeling? (crowd whoops and claps) Okay, that was pretty good. I’m not going to make you stand up and shake because that was like pretty good so well done.
All right, so I’m going to take a moment to introduce myself. Rob already did a great job. My name is Sarah Esterman. I’m director of digital marketing at Bumped, just like you said and for the last three and a half years I was at Simple where I built their life cycle marketing program from scratch. So that means that I was involved with the strategy, vision, implementation of all things life cycle marketing, email and app push, direct mail, all of that stuff.
I very recently left simple. So that was in February. I am going to be using all Simple examples in this talk. But I have to give the heavy disclaimer. I don’t work there anymore. I do not speak for them. So clear the air there.
I don’t just want to share my job with you though. Like I want us to be friends. So I’m going to share my truest self. Maybe this is the problem with technical issues. There you go. This is me with my cat Jazzy. She is as close to perfection and seven pounds as you can get. And while I know that we already had the party last night and I’m not gonna be able to make it to the one tonight, I got to fly home. Just for reference, I’m always down to talk about cats because, well, cats. You will definitely see from this presentation that I love them.
Plants. My husband and I have 20 or so houseplants in are 720 square foot apartment.
Email. I made my way into marketing by way of email marketing. So it will hold a beloved place in my heart always.
And then your favorite emoji. I like Emoji. You’ll see them in this talk as well. Tell me your favorite emoji later, I’ll tell you mine.
That sounded creepier than I intended to let’s move on.
So I also want to take a moment to talk about like why marketing emergencies and this is the part where I say, yes, the title of this talk is a bit tongue-in-cheek. There are no true marketing emergencies that we would need survival guides for, it’s not life and death work. And though like shit happens, we fuck up, incidents come up, and all of that leads to very real feelings of stress, anxiety, panic. And that is very worth talking about.
So with that said I’m going to walk over here for the clicker.
Who has had to deal with a marketing emergency? Raise your hand.
Yeah, I’m seeing a lot of hands which is expected like most of us probably. And how does it make you feel when you mess up? Thumbs up thumbs down? Lots of thumbs downs. If you do have your thumbs up talk to me later because I’m super curious because it feels really gross. Like it feels really bad and this gif perfectly captures that for me. I’m going to pause it though because it is really distracting. Maybe. There we go. Technical issues. It happens.
And so for me one of my personal values is quality. I want everything that I put out in the world to be 100% all of the time and so when it’s not which of course it won’t be because I am a human. I feel like a failure like I don’t just feel like I have failed. I feel like a failure which is why this topic matters so much to me because it would be really easy for me to come up here and say, Hey, the best way to handle a marketing emergency is to not make a mistake in the first place, and like sure QA, QA, QA. And also that’s not super helpful advice when you’re already dealing with a mess that has been made.
And so by the end of this talk, I would like you to feel a little bit like this. If you’re not getting my cat hitting watermelon, watermelon bursting open, it means I’d like you to feel like a badass.
So I’m going to share a few of our examples from my time at Simple. Again the disclaimer. I don’t work there. I don’t speak for them. And does everyone know what simple is, what they do? Rob gave a little bit. Okay, not very many people.
Simple is a tech company that’s trying to change the way people think about banking. They do this by offering fully FDIC-insured checking and shared accounts, apps with budgeting built right in, and awesome customer service. So that’s the rundown.
Also note for the first example I’m going to share that Simple came around at a time when they were sort of like the first ones in the space like online banking wasn’t really thought of. We’re talking like 2010 to 2012ish, like it was very new.
And so this first example. Before there was a product, there was a waitlist. Very typical in the tech space and when we were actually ready to invite people from that waitlist to the product, we had an email that was like, hey, you can sign up now.
Because of startup scrappiness at the time, we didn’t have a tried-and-true email service provider. And so it was an engineering solution that worked with Amazon Web Services. There was no UI so mistakes are easy for marketers to make and one such mistake, if you didn’t have a first name specified, there was no fallback. And so usually what you’ll see in emails or any dynamic content situation where this is the case is like “Hi” space comma, but this actually spit an error out into the email itself.
So a chunk of emails went out looking like this:
Hi, Java::JavaNull, a while back you signed up for an invite to try Simple, a new way to save and spend. We know you’ve been waiting to replace your bank and today we’re pleased to invite you to do just that.
So this probably goes without saying but nobody who got this email’s name was Java::JavaNull. Like just gonna throw that out there and while it’s like not a huge deal, dynamic content mistakes are so easy to make, like probably one of the easiest mistakes to make, it was kind of embarrassing like with the context. Like we were saying like, “Hey, you! Replace your bank, replace your brick and mortar bank that you can walk into it anytime, speak to a teller, hear your entire banking history. Replace that with this completely online solution. Trust us with your money and also our technology cannot get your name right.
So like not a huge deal but embarrassing enough that the team decided to respond and they sent out an email with a picture of our CEO Josh for those in the back that might not be able to read this. His sign says:
Hi, Java::JavaNull, we done goofed. Sorry, Josh.
And then in parentheses, “You’re still invited”.
It was sincere. It was funny. It was self-deprecating, all of which was appropriate for the situation and it was well received. Someone wrote a blog post how a botched email invite convinced me to sign up for Simple. And then someone even joked on Twitter that they would legally change their name to Java::JavaNull if it meant they would still get their invite. Like obviously they didn’t need to do that. But it gave us a laugh.
And so like again, like dynamic content stuff. It’s like not the biggest deal but because of the way that Simple addressed it at the time, it showed that we were human which I think helped with building trust in the long run.
I was going to actually build up to this but I forgot and I just clicked it.
One time, we updated our marketing site and changed the robots.txt file in a really bad way and Google bot did not index it anymore. We fixed it.
And then the next example, okay. So fall of 2016 can anyone think of anything remotely controversial happening in the US in fall of 2016? Like anything at all?
So if you’ve ever used Twitter on your phone or like the Tweetdeck app, you might know that it’s very easy to accidentally tweet to the wrong account if you have two accounts signed in and an employee happened to do that. It happened to be a political in nature tweet. It might have called a certain presidential candidate an asshat. Customers certainly noticed. Fortunately, our comms team did as well. They quickly deleted the rogue tweet. They put out an apology. And that apology was again well received. Sorry for technical stuff. Here we go.
Here’s some tweets that we got in response. Thanks for the fast honest response. Respect. Didn’t see it. But thanks for being honest. You guys set the standard, happens to the best of us. Please don’t reprimand them. Mobile apps especially, don’t make it obvious which account you’re using. And then the fourth one is my favorite.
There was a period of time when we put our Apple Pay but not Android Pay right away. And so no matter what we did for that period of time whether it was an email, tweet, whatever product we put out, we would inevitably get like a lot of replies being like, but what about Android Pay? And so hey mistakes happen, too bad. It wasn’t one enabling Android Pay that would have been cool, LOL. And then the last one also, don’t hurt the employee, please.
These are just like some that I archived and obviously we didn’t, that person was still employed afterwards.
I’m going to give one more example, and this one is like longer and a little bit painful for me. It affected most of our customers and it requires a little bit of banky context.
So the first thing that you need to know is that Simple itself doesn’t have a bank charter. Instead, they work with a partner bank that does. In 2014, BBVA, big Spanish bank, acquired Simple and before that, we had built our partner bank platform with the bank. After that, it made more sense for BBVA Compass to be our partner bank because they were literally financially invested in our success.
We had to rebuild the platform, all behind the scenes, and then in late 2016 early to mid-2017, actually moved all of our customers over and that was hugely customer-facing. Like they actually had to go and do stuff, was largely different by email. I’m very proud of that but that’s not the story today. And while largely successful it could be quite painful for a lot of people.
So people had to get new cards. They had to get new account and routing numbers. They had to switch over Direct Deposit. They had to change their bill pay if they had it set up. So it’s like really kind of punished our best customers. And because we were a tech company, like there were some bugs and while they didn’t hit everybody, like the people that they did hit it was really painful for because again, we’re talking about people’s money. Like this is their bank account. If you didn’t have access to your money, like that’s a problem. Money is also inherently emotional. There’s a lot of stuff tied into it.
It also turns out that some reporters saw the bugs and that wasn’t so great when stories went up on BuzzFeed and I think TechCrunch. Wasn’t the best for us and I’m telling you all of this to tell you how sensitive of a brand time Simple was having in early 2017. Like it wasn’t good. We felt like we had betrayed our customers’ trust especially because we went from being like a really well-loved brand to one that like we were now struggling.
And so we were getting a lot of questions too at the time because this is the first time we really talked about our partner bank situation. And a lot of customers were like, okay. What’s your relationship to BBVA? What’s my relationship to BBVA? Are you guys selling out, like what’s going to change? Am I getting their marketing now? And we’re like no, nothing is going to change. It’s all the same. You’re still the same Simple customer and it’s going to be fine. And anything if anything does change it will be for the better because we’ll be putting out a new product and it will be great.
And so on February 7th 2017 when by most and by most, I mean about 90% of our customers received this email from BBVA Compass. My heart just sank. This was bad. Like it was bad not just because our partner bank sent our customers an email. Like that’s the obvious reason that it’s bad. It was also an accident. It was bad because of the content and yes, it’s not the prettiest if you know of Simple’s branding, it’s definitely not up to Simple design standards, but that’s also not the issue here.
I’m just going to read a couple sentences here because I doubt any of you can. Whether you’re thinking of buying your Valentine flowers or treating that special someone to coffee or dinner, cashback rewards are waiting for you. The BBVA Compass simple cashback program lets you earn cashback rewards. Stop there.
BBVA Compass simple cashback. So this is the problem with having a company name be a commonly used adjective. I’m just going to throw that out there. It sounded like we had teamed up with BBVA to have this new cashback feature, which wasn’t true and also customers were really confused about why they were getting an email from BBVA Compass about it. It was not great.
And so as you can imagine because I found out via Twitter like just by tweets coming in from affected customers. As I saw those tweets can then I’m as you can imagine. I felt like this. Like I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Like I want to be like well my job is done. I’ll see you never. Because I felt really bad. I felt like we completely betrayed our customers’ trust and I had no control like it wasn’t a mistake I had personally made. I couldn’t stop something. I couldn’t like figure out who the list was and quickly put an apology. Like I had no idea except for those tweets.
And related. This is my Instagram post from that day. If you’re not familiar with this fine dog, then you’re really missing out. It’s very applicable to a lot of life situations.
Okay, so we had to respond we worked with BBVA for several hours to get the list and we sent out this email subject line, ‘Apology for not-so-sweet Valentine’ and then, ‘Hi, earlier today our partner Bank BBVA Compass accidentally sent you an email. There’s no way to sugarcoat this message. We’re sorry and this should not have happened. Our partners are not supposed to send you emails. Our values remain the same. You’re important to us. Our communication is important to us. We hope you’ll still be our Valentine. The team at Simple.
So you’ll notice that this is like less silly than how we responded in the Java::JaveNull situation and that’s because the risks here were higher like we were doing with customer trust. Like that was a huge thing, more customers are affected. It was a problem. And though there really were regulatory risks. So in banking I’m not going to get into it but in banking if you promise something and then can’t deliver, that’s against the law. We could have been fined and so we had to respond because of that.
And then also we weren’t actually sure based on her privacy policy whether it be BBVA Compass was legally allowed to email our customers. So there was the US Spam law issue there as well.
And I think like oh and then we sent this email response was again good so, thanks for the Valentine. Shout out to Simple for sending an apology. I don’t think I even got the email you guys are apologizing for but heckin’ yes. I’ll be your Valentine. So that when I say oops, I’ll still be your Valentine, part of loving is to forgive transgressions. I got your Valentine’s Day email. Thanks for being honest and letting us know.
This is like just a portion of the tweets that Reeves received and also people were still upset so we did have to still continue in building that trust back over time. What I will say as a quick sidebar is that if you’re ever doing any like really public customer-facing work and people end up Tweeting or on Facebook or putting out in the world how happy they are with something you’ve done, like definitely screenshot that for a day later either for giving a presentation like this or just like when you’re feeling shitty to come back to, to like boost your spirits. It really helps.
Okay, so all of that aside, something I’ve learned from all of these situations, specifically the customer facing ones, is that if you respond well to an incident and by well, I mean like with the appropriate sincerity, tone, intention and humor and self-deprecation where it’s appropriate, tends to go over better in the long run. And it’s like any relationship. Alexa talked about this yesterday. If you like own up to stuff and have that reciprocity then like yeah, it’s going to like your relationship is going to stick around for longer.

How to handle a marketing emergency
So with all of that said, let’s get to the good stuff. How to handle a marketing emergency.
First things first. Keep your cool. This is a really cool cat. We have a lot to learn from this cat. So keep your cool when tensions are high. It can be really easy to panic and panic never helps in these situations and frankly it often makes it worse. I cannot honestly think of any situation in life where panic has helped me. I can think of many where it’s made things worse.
So keeping a level head can help you react appropriately rather than irrationally when things are awry. But it’s so easy for me to come up here and be like, keep your cool. You got this. How do you actually keep your cool? Like I have anxiety. For me, it’s like yeah, cool. Thanks.
And so I have a really tactical tip. Breathe, like really breathe. That slowing your breath can help you feel more calm is probably not new news to anyone in the room who has a yoga or meditation practice already. Like it works. Multiple studies have been done to show that slowing your breath can lead to lower levels of stress, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, etc. And it’s also something that you can do in a pinch.
There are loads of breathing exercises on the internet. One of my favorites is called dragon breath. So you put your fingers in like an old-school phone because phones don’t look like this anymore. So you block one nostril, inhale through the other, block both to hold, and then exhale so that previously block nostril, do that a few times. You’re going to feel so much better.
We’re going to practice breathing today. We’re not going to do dragon breath because we don’t all need to be touching our faces right now. And so if you like bear with me when I get to the next slide, I have a gift that like will help coach us through breathing. We’re going to inhale through our noses for five to six seconds. Hold at the top for two, exhale for five to six seconds through our mouths, hold at the bottom, repeat a few times. I really need this. So like humor me and I will also give you some verbal cues.
So I’ll let you know when I’m going to start the GIF, but what I can say now to prepare for breathing is like sit up straight if you can. Exhale fully like to get all of the air out otherwise this breath is going to feel real short.
Okay? Inhale through your nose. Hold. Exhale through your mouth. Like a real sigh, like get it out. I want to hear you. Hold. Inhale through your nose. Hold. Exhale through your mouth. Hold. One more time, inhale through your nose. Hold. And exhale.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like tons better. You’ll also notice that I will talk slower for like a minute and then it’ll pick back up. So this is something that you can just like do in a pinch. My Apple watch tells me to do it twice a day and it can really help. So that’s how you keep your cool.
Step 2 is to be kind. And let’s pause for a moment and talk about kindness and empathy.
Yeah, so remember when I asked you how making a mistake makes you feel and we all pretty much agreed. It was miserable. Yeah, that’s not a condition that’s unique to this room, like everyone feels that way. So when stress is high and incidents come up, we need to be gentle and kind with each other as well as ourselves.
And so let’s talk first about being kind to others. One way you can do that is to choose your words wisely. Okay, when tensions are high, it can be really easy to a) say stuff you don’t mean and b) say stuff that comes off a little differently than how you intended. Words matter, they’re important and impact is greater than intent. So to that end, I created this handy dandy little chart here with three things that I hear most often in this situation, what is heard, and how like what we can say instead to make the situation better.
I will say I have said all of these things I felt like an asshole many times. I don’t want to be that person. So this is a practice.
The first one is how could this happen? And like let’s be honest when someone says that, what they’re really saying is like how could this even happen? And like what I hear is, how could you be so stupid to mess this up? Maybe that says more about me than anything else. But like that’s what I hear and obviously like the answer is, we’re human. All of us are human. Everyone we work with is human. Everyone we will work with will be human unless you work with animals or AI happens faster than I expect it to.
So like let’s give each other the space to be human and like I don’t know about you, but when I’ve made a mistake, I am keenly aware that I have made a mistake like I don’t need someone reminding me and that’s not what’s helpful. What I need is support. So like let’s ask each other what they need. Let’s say, how can I support you? What do you need to help move in the right direction?
Okay, two. It’s not MY fault. Okay, it might not be your fault. But when you say that it sure as hell sounds like you’re saying it’s somebody’s fault and like yeah, it might be, but does it matter whose fault it is, or does it matter what you do next? That was rhetorical but the answer is that it matters what you do next and so like ask that. Ask what you need to do to move forward. How can we move forward? What do I do next?
Okay. This last one is my favorite and least favorite all rolled into one because it’s so awful. You should have done this, that or the other thing. Yeah, when someone says that to me what I hear is I would be better at your job than you. And like no, that’s not true. And even if it is, it’s really not a nice thing to say when someone knows they’ve messed up so like don’t. Be kind about it and let’s give each other the space to be the experts in what they do, do our jobs. They were hired for a reason, to do theirs. And like move on.
And instead, what you need to know rather than focusing on the past and what should have happened is how do you ensure that this incident doesn’t happen again? Because it could unless you put new processes in place.
So words, being kind to others, this practice of like saying things and then thinking about how other people are hearing them is really good for like outside of the workplace too, so it’s made my marriage a lot better something that we even do at home. And it’s, I got, we got this from Brené Brown, is that when someone says something remotely antagonizing, the other person will try to not get defensive and we’ll say, “The story I just told myself about what you said was,” and that can help us not argue, but like actually move forward and like be your kinder people to each other.
Okay, so next, being kind to yourself. So I don’t know about you but it’s a lot harder for me to be kind to myself than it is to others. Like I’m my own worst critic. My inner critic is very loud when I fuck up, like I feel awful. I already said that and so one really good tactic that I have for this is to know the facts. And like know the facts means like pretend that you’re this cat and that stuffed animal with the facts and like hug them tight.
What do I mean by this? Actually make a list of facts about yourselves. This is your situation, your work, whatever that you can like use to ground yourself. They should be kind facts by the way. Like I feel like that goes without saying but like nice things about yourself and they can help ground you in the situation, remind you that this incident is fleeting, like it’s temporary. You’re going to live beyond it. And these facts are forever.
And so for example, I’m going to be vulnerable. I actually like just wrote this list right when I was like about to come on because I was like super super nervous about coming on after Will. So I’m going to share this. You’re good at your job. That’s like a really nice one for me because I told you yesterday that I just started a new job, imposter syndrome is super high. It’s nice for me to remind myself that I was hired for a reason and I’m good at what I do.
Okay, you do a lot of things really well. That one’s a little vague, but it’s nice. I feel like I do a lot of things really well.
You read fast. I really don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote this. That is true though. I am proud of the fact that I can read books really quickly.
You’re a great cat Mom. That’s true, matters to me.
And this one’s my favorite. You have great eyebrows. That one shows up on all of my lists. Makes me feel really good. So, what I recommend when you create these lists is to actually like write them down on a Post-It put in your pocket. Like I did stick it on your computer, put it at your desk like somewhere where you’re going to see it. A mirror is also a really good place and just like let yourself feel them. Like I feel better after reading that.
And so it sounds super cheesy. It is super cheesy and also it kind of works like as you can tell I’m like smiling a lot more now. So like I feel better. Okay, that’s kindness.
So you’re showing up with kindness. You’re calm. The next thing that you need to do is assess the situation. You got to figure out what the hell is going on. And now I’m just going to wait for dramatic effect. Cats. Just don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. We already talked about that. Breathe. Okay.
So how do you figure out what’s going on? I ask a lot of questions. Here are some of the ones that I like to ask and your questions might look different. They might start with something basic like this and then you build on them.
Also like when you’re asking these questions also document them because if you’re not writing this down, then you’re going to forget it. And like what’s the point of not writing it down?
So the first one. What happened? So succinctly describe the incident in a sentence or two and like okay, so when you’re in an incident and you have all of the context, it can be really easy to forget that not everybody else does and they might just need the very short version of what the hell’s going on.
And so for our BBVA email incident, that might be our partner bank sent our customers and email they weren’t supposed to. How many people were affected? You need to know this. You need to know how many customers were affected, how that affects your total customer base. So we knew 90% on that example. That sucked. If it’s prospects that you’re dealing with and like know how many prospects. How is that going to affect your acquisition goals?
You need to know that it can also help with prioritization because let’s be honest when like shit’s happening, you also have other work to do. It’s not like it’s like oh all I have to do today is this incident. You have another job like that you’re there for and so prioritization is key because in some incidences, if like not a lot of customers were affected and we’ll talk about this a little bit later, you might not need to do much in that moment.
Okay. Is there any money to be lost? Like how’s that going to affect revenue? How’s that going to affect higher-level business goals. You need to know this again for prioritization, but also because like if you make any sort of business decision, you need to be able to point back to that number as the reason why.
This next one, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. So like actually tell the story from your customers perspective write it down in like first person I, from your customers perspective, sounds cheesy again, there’s a lot of that in this talk.
So for our BBVA email incidents, that would be like. I’m a Simple customer. I got this email from BBVA Compass about this new simple cash back. Is that a new thing? Why am I getting this email from BBVA to begin with? Are they just going to start marketing to me now? Like what’s happening?
And thinking about the situation from your customers’ perspective can help you react with more empathy. It can also help you know how or why you need to respond to a thing.
And then finally and this one is the heartbreak Emoji because it makes me sad. Impact is greater than intent. I’ve already said that. What are the consequences? We don’t mean to make mistakes, but they still have consequences. Cause and effect. You need to know them. How is this going to affect a position? How is it going to affect retention? How is it going to affect revenue? How will it affect trust? And so you write all of this down, you figure out what’s going on, and then the next step is to actually take action.
Recently, this is a true story. Recently, my husband pointed out that the paws aren’t real paws. Like I didn’t know that I had seen this GIF a lot. I’ve used it in talks before and I was like, damn it Rob, you ruined this for me. Yeah. So taking action. Can we like not taking action at all in some cases and it can be really tricky to figure out when you actually need to send a public-facing response to a thing.
So, for that, I created a flowchart and if you know me at all, which not many of you do because this is a new crowd for me. I love flowcharts. Love them. I think they’re the best way to show processes in a really simple way that other people will understand them. And so this is my how do I, or do I need to respond to this incident flow chart and so we’ll walk through it.
The first question is does this potentially cause a lot of confusion? And if the answer is yes, like for me, always respond. Confused customers are not happy customers and confused prospects never become customers. So you don’t want confusion out there.
If there isn’t a lot of confusion, then you can ask yourself, were a lot of customers affected? And you know this, you’ve written those numbers down already. So, you know, if not a lot of customers were affected, there’s not a lot of confusion, in a lot of cases you can just let it be. Again, it’s like specific to your situation, but sometimes when you point things out when not a lot of people or not a lot of confusion, you can actually point something out that people didn’t even notice before and it can make you look worse as a result.
Okay. So if a lot of customers were affected then this one is a little bit tricky. Is the benefit of responding greater than the damage if you don’t? So is there actually like a tangible business or relationship benefit to responding to this incident and if there’s not, then like there are some cases even if a lot of customers were affected that you might just like let it be.
So an example of that, if you send an email to a lot of your customers and it has a typo, if it’s not a really big deal, it’s not like a link broken, probably fine. Or like social. Like if you put something out on social and you have a typo you might be embarrassed about it. You might feel awful and be like, I’ve known how to spell since the second grade. I don’t know when we learned spelling. Yeah, you can let it be.
And so like we all are marketers in this room, but just ways that you can respond, fixing a thing like fixing a robots.txt file, email follow-up might be appropriate in some situations, a social call out, and then in some cases an actual one to one customer relations call or message because if there’s a lot of confusion and there are few people affected, that’s a really good opportunity to build that relationship with your customers again, and like rebuild that trust. Throwing that out there.
So you have responded to the incident. Now, you learned and we’re not going to learn about military strategy. That’s not today’s talk. I don’t know anything about military strategy. So it’s good. This would be like terrible would be a nightmare for me. We’re going to learn about how we handled incidents and so because why make mistakes if we’re not going to learn?
So I like to hold the learning review, other people call this a post-mortem. I think that’s morbid. So I like learning review or retrospective is another good one.
So how was the response to the response or lack thereof? So you might have responded you might not have are there any metrics that you can note? If you sent an email, what’s the open rate? If it was social, what are engagements looking like? Can you track sentiment in any way? So that sort of thing.
What went right? Where did your team really show up for each other? Were you showing up with kindness and empathy? Were you efficacious? Were you efficient? Like note that, give credit where it’s due. It goes a long way in situations when morale is feeling kind of low.
What went wrong? This is the poop emoji. I forgot that, that’s fun. What went wrong, like where could you show up better for each other next time? Yeah, like were people rude? Give some feedback words. Like yesterday, I think Matt mentioned radical candor when we were up here all together and like yeah, so there are ways to get feedback that are great and also kind and help you move forward.
What would you do differently next time? So similarly like if you had to do the same incident all over again like please no, but like if you had to, what would you change about how you responded?
And then finally, how can you prevent this from happening again? Like I said, you need to know what are the QA processes that you’re going to put in place like what action items are you going to take away to make sure that this incident cannot happen again.
So with the BBVA email incident, we worked with BBVA to set up a process for their suppression list, so that they couldn’t actually email our customers again.
And as you’re going through all of this just like a side note, if you start catching yourself saying like, oh I should have done this or I should have known this. Just like pause, like no you shouldn’t have because you didn’t and that’s okay. Like you know now and that’s like called learning so allow yourself that space to learn and so if you say like, oh I should have known this like pause and be like, what I meant to say was, next time I will do this differently and that can help a lot.
Alright, so this last step is actually like sort of like extra credit. Gain perspective. This cat has so much perspective. I’m like so in awe of this cat. It’s really good. So gaining. I can’t stop looking. Gaining perspective. Okay again, I like mentioned earlier that some things can help ground you and remind you that this like emergency is fleeting and temporary and after an incident that’s happened, it’s like really good to like pause for a moment and just like have some perspective about the situation that like where you are in the universe and also like it’s not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. Like it is and it’s not I don’t want to minimize our work.
But so I’m just going to share some things that help me keep my perspective. The stars. Do you know how far away the stars are? Like, does anybody actually know? No. They’re so far away. That’s my official scientific answer. Also. I’m not a scientist. They are so far away and they are so far away that this light that stars emit takes so long to reach your eyes that by the time you’re looking at them you’re looking at them as they were years ago, like thousands and millions of years in some cases like you’re standing there you’re looking at the stars and you are literally looking back in time.
Isn’t that cool? I think that’s really cool. It helps ground me and helps me feel really small which can be like this BBVA email thing, not a big deal because like the stars, like that sounds but didn’t sound as good when I said them but they’re wondrous, it’s amazing.
Okay. So the second one is more related to what we’re talking about. How you respond to emergencies and incidents can actually benefit your business and your brand. It’s true. We saw it at Simple. It just is like all in how you respond. Not all incidents can like help rebuild trust like when you respond but like some can. And I’m not telling you to go out and like make mistakes just so that you can respond. That would be terrible advice. So like don’t do that. Intent matters, but like don’t think that it’s the end of the world for your company.
And then finally and this one’s the most important one. So be ready. My cat really loves me and she’s a thing of perfection. So I must be doing okay. Okay, thank you. I know that Rob’s going to be making his way back up and just for reference, Twitter @sarahesterman. I’m on LinkedIn. That’s my personal email address. Don’t sign me up for any weird stuff unless it’s cat-related.

Thank you, Sarah.
We have a couple of minutes for questions.

Sarah Esterman:
Yeah. I’m going to drink a Bloody Mary while you do that, so.

Woman from audience:
Thanks for your honesty. That’s definitely why we’re here to learn when accidents like this happen and it causes a ripple effect, and it affects other departments, say sales. Yeah, right. What are you know, what are some suggestions when it’s now transitioning to other departments having issues with their, you know, the way that they’re maybe making their quota because of something that went out and is there something you can announce on that level?

Sarah Esterman:
Sure. I mean, I haven’t worked with companies with sales teams. I guess I do now, but I can’t tell you what I do now. So before this I haven’t worked with companies a sales team. So we don’t have like immediate experience with that. But what I can say is that having like an incident response plan is something that like orgs should just like have overall so that you’re all on the same page when things happen and like yes, that sucks that like quotas might be affected. You also need to own up to it. And I don’t know that I have like a perfect answer.

Woman from audience:
That’s fine. Just was curious.

Sarah Esterman:
Vulnerability works for me, but it depends on org.

Man from audience:
Hey, thank you very much, Sarah.
In my work with the Distilled Seattle team and with our clients, it’s sort of occurred to me that each of us can really only control our own actions in situations like these. As much as we would like to control the actions of others. It’s nice if we can sort of achieve this Zen approach to these situations, but it’s also much much better when everyone has taken a similar approach.
So if you’re the first person on your team that’s thinking about things like this, do you think there’s anything you can do to you know model behavior in a way that others might you know pick up on and say like hey, I’d rather be like that.

Sarah Esterman:
Yeah, so like definitely lead by example, and also leading by example can suck if you’re the only one not being an asshole. So I hear you. I think not everyone is an asshole. I shouldn’t over speak but I think like again leading by example and then also like taking like a plan to your org and be like, hey, we need to know how we’re going to handle incidents from like the very tactical point. And also like as humans, like I really liked yesterday how Matt was sharing his team is reading radical candor because how we give each other feedback and how we talk to her each other really matters, especially at like growing organizations when you don’t have a lot of management in place.

Man from audience:
Awesome. Thank you.

Can I ask you a tactical question here? When you have to go through a response like the BBVA email and it seems like that afternoon, you got out your response to it. Was it part of your incident response plan to have a point person because it feels like there’s a lot of decisions need to be made at a lot of coordination needed to happen for that?

Sarah Esterman:
Yeah. So I. Even though this doesn’t like quite make sense. I became the point person in that situation because like I owned email at Simple, which even though this was like a partner sending a thing and like technically potentially a comms or PR issue, I owned it. There was no like formal process in place for us to like figure that out. I was just like, I’m a handle it. People looked at me and was like, okay. So yeah, like I think that again, I’m just going to like repeat this and repeat this and repeat this, having an incident response plan and like having ideas of who we are going to be the point of contact ahead of time, especially in tech like sometimes you set up a pager system to, I don’t know that that’s applicable to all of you, but it can help.

You’ve pre-sold more copies of Radical Candor today.

Sarah Esterman:
But it’s funny because I haven’t read it yet. That was a good TED Talk.

All right, in which case, let’s say a huge thank you to Sarah Esterman.

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