Thursday, September 13, 2012

The “Walk-back” is a New PR Trend: Don’t try this at home

The term is relatively new to the PR business but it’s ‘gaining traction’ to the extent it’s almost as cliché as “gaining traction.”  I’m talking about “walking back.” 

Here’s how it’s used.  Some public figure, usually a politician sticks his foot in his own mouth and wishes he could delete it from the public domain, but it’s too late.  The Tweets are out.  The articles are all over the Internet or in newspapers.  The nightly news readers are already quoting the misstep on the evening news or shows like Entertainment Tonight.

That’s when the PR counselor tells said public figure that there’s a new tool in the PR toolbox.  It’s called the “walk-back.”  All you have to do is “walk back” the comment by telling the public you really didn’t say what you said, or at least you didn’t mean what you said, or what you said wasn't really what you meant to say, though you really mean what you’re saying now.  Unless, of course, you have to walk this back later.

In golf they call it a Mulligan.  You can elect to erase a bad shot from your score card, but it’s not cheating because you’re openly telling your golf partners you’re doing it.  By the way, the PGA doesn’t allow Tiger Woods to resort to Mulligans.

I did a quick Google search of the term, “walked back his comments,” and found 977,000 mentions.  Here are a few:

·         This headline from the Huffington Post on May 6, 2012 – “Joe Biden Gay Marriage Reaction: Frustration As Officials Walk Back VP's Same-Sex Marriage Comments .”

·         This line from the online site MediaITE on August 6, 2012 – “In an exclusive interview on Sean Hannity’s show tonight, former vice president Dick Cheney partially walked back his comments referring to the choice of Sarah Palin for John McCain‘s vice presidential pick in 2008.”

·         This one from Spokesman-Review on July 29, 2012 regarding the Chick-fil-A story – “(Chicago Mayor) Emanuel eventually walked back his comments, saying he never intended to prohibit the chain from doing business.”

·         This from earlier this year – “Hours later, (Newark Mayor) Booker walked back his comments on Twitter and in a Web video and said he agreed with the Obama campaign that Bain was fair game.”


According to the Google stats, apparently female public figures have to do a lot less walking back.  There are “66,800” Google references to “walked back her comments.”  But in the interest of fairness, here are a couple of examples of female public figures taking a PR Mulligan:


·         From The Daily Caller on July 24, 2012 – “(Senator) Feinstein walks back claim that White House is behind national security leaks.”

·         And on June 7, 2012, The Daily Kos featured Debbie Wasserman Schultz – “The Congresswoman from Florida walked back her comments a tad, calling Jim Crow "the wrong analogy to use".  

 One thing to take from all of this is it’s never a good idea to assume you will be allowed by the media to “walk back” anything you say.  They may not always be so generous.  But for politicians, who oftentimes simply ignore proper media etiquette, it looks like the “walk-back” is here to stay.

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