5 reasons for PR pros to embrace accountability

Own your mistakes.


Laura Adamson is a senior UX designer at Finn Partners.

Let’s face it. The more integrated an initiative, the easier it is to make mistakes. Whether we’re internal or agency folks, most of us in the communications profession these days are incorporating multiple components into complex campaigns intended for myriad channels.

When mistakes happen – and they will – our instinct is to gloss over them and hope nobody notices. But when it comes to dealing with the mistakes that are an inevitable part of working with teams to get the job done, our surest road to success is to admit when we fail.



My role in the interdependent world of integrated marketing and public relations is as a UX designer. I have worked on large scale web projects for the last several years and have come across the following scenario more than a few times:

Our team is close to completing a large web project, and suddenly, an issue arises in the design, development or both.

The client is frustrated. The designer and developer are frustrated. The project manager is anxiously shuffling budgets and timelines around.

Then, in the eye of the tornado, comes a moment when everyone asks, “How did this happen?” That’s when the buck-passing can begin, with no one wanting to look incompetent and everyone treating the problem like a hot potato. Of course, nothing gets solved. The team suffers, the project suffers, and worst of all the client or organization suffers.

We know what we should do instead. We know what’s right. When the question, “How did this happen?” is asked, we know we should look to ourselves first to see if we contributed to the problem. If at all possible, we should also minimize the blame to any one person in favor of sharing responsibility as a team – demonstrating we’re committed to find a solution no matter who’s at fault. After all, that’s what teams are for —  to not only do great work together but to support one another.

But –- while the most important reason to be accountable is because it’s the right thing to do -– there are other strong reasons why we, as professional communicators, can benefit by owning our mistakes.

1. We create better work.

As a UX designer, I’ve been on plenty of teams that have been confronted with a choice: brush the problem under the rug or confront it. What I’ve noticed is that when we do the former, the problem never just goes away. It sits there unresolved and eventually exposed. When we do the latter, we’re always able to find a solution – and the solution always makes the work better. Problems resolved are often problems solved. The client winds up loving the end product and the team has accomplished something it can be proud of.

Additionally, teams that confront problems avoid making the same mistake in the future and go on to do even better work the next time. Plus, when we catch the mistakes early on, they’re easier to fix and won’t cause bigger problems down the line.

2. We have happier clients.

When we take accountability, we showing our clients we care about their project and their success. By admitting to a mistake, we can work across stakeholders to find solutions and ensure the people we answer to are satisfied with the end results. This can lead to happier clients, more positive reviews, and potentially more business in the future.

3. We gain trustworthy reputations.

Trust is everything in professional relationships. By taking accountability and ownership of our deliverables, we’re showing our clients and team that we’re honest, reliable, and trustworthy. They know they can rely on us to own up, and also know we’re being straightforward when a problem comes along we had no part in.

Furthermore, working within teams where people trust one another – because they’re honest with each other – promotes a healthier, more fun work environment where everyone is able to create their best work.

4. We improve teamwork.

Speaking of, when we quickly and honestly admit mistakes, we create a foundation of credibility that supports longevity, success, and happiness as a team. When we have our teammates’ backs, they’re likely to have ours in the future. We become people everyone wants to work with because they know the projects we work on tend to go well – and when they don’t we’re there to support not finger-point.

5. We increase our capacity to lead.

When we take responsibility, people notice. We are given credit for not only solving problems but helping create a culture of openness and collaboration on our teams that encourages others to follow suit.

Even those of us not in formal leadership positions can gain leadership status simply by admitting our part in a problem and working with others to solve it. We become someone others look to – both the people on our teams and the people who supervise our teams.

Nobody sets out to make mistakes or wants them to happen. Yet they do. So the thing we need to remember is that clients aren’t expecting us to be perfect. But they are expecting the work to be.

As designers, producers, copywriters, developers, public relations experts, or any other comms pro, we’re going make the mistakes we sometimes dread. So let’s accept that we’re human as we strive for perfection. The next time things go off the rails, let’s think less about who’s to blame and more about how we can generate excellence from that point forward.


One Response to “5 reasons for PR pros to embrace accountability”

    Glenn G. says:

    As PR practitioners, our believability and trust are foundations of media and personal relations. We have to own up to our mistakes in order to maintain that.

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