This is part 2 of a series on how to deliver a proper apology.
These days, public apologies feel like a daily occurrence, especially when so many people are posting to social media.
This past weekend for example, food service vendor Aramark issued an apology for a “racially insensitive” Black History Month menu of chicken and waffles, with watermelon. Unfortunately this is not their first offense – Aramark is behind similar menus on past holidays commemorating Black people that sparked controversy at two universities going back more than a decade.
A repeat offender that required a sincere apology.
Whether you’ve just experienced an incident for the first or fiftieth time, involving racial stereotypes, leading to ‘life or death’ consequences, or blatantly wrong, a closely considered response is of utmost importance.
It is often said that it is better to make a mistake and then ask for forgiveness. In PR the opposite is true – plan accordingly to not make the mistake in the first place, because even a small wrongdoing can have grave consequences for an organization’s reputation.
And when done ill-prepared or without much thought, apologizing can often feel uncomfortable and risky, or just forced and insincere. On top of the legal risk associated with admitting wrongdoing, there’s a loss of power for the offender in asking for forgiveness.
Most apologies are low cost and can help defuse a tense situation— many even create substantial value.
The issue at hand could be caused by an accident, error, omission, external, or internal event. Whatever the case, the same basic principles should be followed when delivering an effective and sincere apology.
Remember the 2017 Oscars blunder, when an envelope mix-up resulted in Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announcing, ‘La La Land’ as Best Picture winner, when the actual winner was ‘Moonlight.’
PwC oversaw the counting of the ballots for each award, as well as the presentations on the night. PwC issued a statement sincerely apologizing, assuming full responsibility, and promising to fully investigate what went wrong with the system to prevent such an error occurring in the future.
This is a great example of an apology done right.
Below we outline several tips for delivering an effective and sincere apology.
- Show concern: Effective apologies address the recipients’ feelings—they don’t prove a point. Sincerity is vital because public apologies often come off as publicity stunts with no real solution and could compound the problem.
- Humanize language: We all make mistakes. Some wrongdoings have greater consequences than others, but it is important to recognize that those impacted are humans too. Use plain language to connect with the audience and show that there are real people behind the organization and can empathize with those impacted.
- The right audience: Make sure the apology is directed to the right people. Whether this is employees, customers, investors, community members, or any other combination of stakeholders, the apology needs to be catered to the right audience.
- Demonstrate action: Apologies are performative unless real action to address the issue is taken. Offer reassurance to demonstrate concrete plans to ensure that the problem never happens again?
- The medium: Organizations often default to written statements that reach a broad audience. Another option is a live statement, with or without an audience, which increases the perceived importance of the apology. Be warned though. An on-site, live apology puts the speaker in an uncontrolled environment.
There are many examples, even in just the past 12 months, of when individuals or organizations needed to apologize but didn’t (read Will Smith slapping Chris Rock), obfuscating the real issue, or refusing to take responsibility.
Conversely, we can see many examples of when a public apology goes right, helping to strengthen trust in the organization and its reputation. In the event an organization is required to deliver a public apology does happen, we have the experience and resources to help https://xenophonstrategies.com/services/crisis-communication/.