Mangled Message: It was wrong, but it was great

Well-managed messages help a team, organization, or company stand out—in a good way. Mangled messages have the opposite effect, frequently damaging credibility with key relationships.

The messages sent by the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) concerning the 2015 Duke/Miami football game have been cringe-worthy, violating several “Marks of a Mangled Message.” To recap the signs:

#1. Not authentic or believable

#2. Detached from reality

#3. Focused on the sender, not the receiver

#4. Delivered inconsistently across channels and settings

#5. Not conveyed skillfully

As brief background, in case you aren’t an ardent college football fan: in the game Duke (one of my alma maters, but I promise that has no bearing on this selection) came from behind to take the lead against the University of Miami with only a few seconds left in the game. Duke’s subsequent kickoff to Miami would likely be the last play of the game. In desperation, Miami tried a series of laterals and crazy moves until one of the Miami players got in the clear and amazingly ran the ball in for a winning touchdown. (Cue the shock for Duke fans.)

This was one of the most memorable plays in recent college football history. The referees reviewed the play on video and, after nearly ten minutes, allowed Miami’s win to stand. However, it was evident on the replay to everyone else that a Miami player with the ball had hit the ground before pitching one of the laterals. The play should have been dead and the game over—plus there were other fouls on the play.

The oversights were so bad that the ACC (to which both Duke and Miami belong) admitted the mistakes in a news conference and suspended the entire officiating crew for two games. Meanwhile, the same ACC subsequently honored a Miami player as “special teams player of the week” for scoring a touchdown on a play it admitted should never have counted.

How many ways was the message mangled in the aftermath of the Duke/Miami residue? I’d say this combination of confusion and mismanagement violates “Marks of a Mangled Message” numbers 2 and 4, leading to an additional flag on 1.  

Help identify Mangled Messages—and support a worthy cause

There are unfortunately lots of Mangled Messages out there. The next time you spot one, please let me know (along with your opinion as to which of the five marks are involved). Not only will it be instructive to others, but it will also help some at-risk youth. Each month we will review nominations, share the “winner” at, and make a contribution in the name of the nominator to Ambassadors of Compassion ( or another charity of the nominator’s choice.


Jim Karrh, Ph.D., is a consultant, author, and speaker helping organizations transform their customer conversations and become more effective. See, follow him on Twitter @JimKarrh and email him at Jim (at)

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