Soon to be ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just reminded us all of an important lesson in marketing.
Be very careful what you say in a forum that has the potential to become public. One negative message can undermine years of careful positive marketing.
In case you've missed the news, Brown was recorded making negative comments about a voter he'd just finished speaking to. He called her a 'bigoted woman' while still wearing a live microphone and his remark was captured on tape for posterity.
It's too early to tell what effect this mistake will have on the election or Brown's political career. But there's no mistaking the damage to his personal credibility and Labour's electoral campaign.
Your business probably spends a lot of time sending out positive messages about itself. That's what marketing is all about - promoting brands and products to existing and potential customers. These upbeat messages are controlled and coordinated by whoever's in charge of your marketing.
What marketeers can't control, as Labour's again discovered, is the ill-judged off-the-cuff comment that creates bad feeling. Only recently I've witnessed a small business lose a valued customer because of an arrogant remark by one of its staff. All the goodwill that had been built over months was destroyed by the supplier's representative telling the customer that they weren't valued.
Those weren't the words used, of course, but that was the message the customer heard. The supplier later phoned up to apologise but, as Gordon Brown has discovered, it didn't really resolve the situation.
The lesson for all of us is to be careful what words we allow to slip from our lips, or type on our keyboard, in a situation where there's the slightest possibility that they might be broadcast further afield. Politicians should have learned by now never, ever to say something unhelpful within five miles of television or radio recording equipment. Brown's exclamation should have been reserved for pillow talk with Sarah or a debrief with colleagues in the sanctuary of Number 10.
Similarly, all of us in business need to control our communication. A hasty email or an ill-judged comment on Twitter or Facebook can do serious commercial damage. An insensitive engagement with a customer or prospect can lose a deal or a contract.
Last year I wrote that you should market through every contact point with external organizations. You should also make sure that everyone at those contact points understands the implications of saying or doing the wrong thing.