How quickly can bad press turn positive? In the case of the group behind the TED series of conferences and lectures, it can take less than 24 hours. On May 28, during a TEDWomen conference in Monterrey, California, designed to celebrate the achievements of women and girls as creators and change-makers, the organizers turned away a woman who had arrived with her five-month old baby.
When Jessica Jackley, founder of the micro-loan business Kiva and author of Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration From Entrepreneurs Who Do The Most With The Least, was asked to leave the TED conference due to the event organizer’s no children policy, she did the natural thing: Jackley took her complaint to Twitter:
Confused. #TEDWomen2015 “about the power of women and girls.” But working moms? Was just asked to leave bc my nursing 5mo old infant is w me
— jessicajackley (@jessicajackley) May 28, 2015
Shortly thereafter, she received a phone call from June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, who promised to fix the situation and invited her to come back to the conference. Unfortunately for Jackley, it was too late—she was already at the airport awaiting a flight home. But by the time she landed in Los Angeles, Cohen and the TED team had set up a dedicated lounge at the event for parents, babies and toddlers, a place where moms could watch a simulcast of the conference. Jackley published a lengthy description of her ordeal, but saluted the conference’s reaction:
TED Media has had a longstanding policy of restricting their events to ages 16+. “This preserves the intense, immersive, full-attention experience that people have come to expect,” wrote a staff member on the TEDblog later that day. TED staff at the event were friendly but firm (they even offered to help Jackley find a local caregiver), but the staffer also admitted that the organizers “lost the moment to ask the bigger question: Is it time to change our policy?”
Well, yes, it was time to change that policy. And they did, that day. By the time tech bloggers got to the story a few hours later, it had already changed in TED’s favour. “The decision made in the moment we feel was wrong,” Cohen told Mashable later that day.
The lesson from Cohen and the TED team is not just about commitment to customers or simply the speed at which they responded and contained what could have become a social media disaster (this was, after all, a conference designed, in part, to appeal to working moms). It’s about the power of rapid course correction. When there’s a systemic problem within an organization—for example, when the way you’ve always done things no longer makes sense—the quicker you can elevate it to a person with the power to make a change, the better. Even better if they can make that change in time to beat the backlash.