How to Get an A+ in Apology 101

Apologies are at the core of crisis communication. Apologies are at the core of relationships, and relationships are at the core of public relations.

PR people make mistakes, editors make mistakes, CEOs make mistakes. When someone makes a mistake in the public arena, it is good public relations practice to address the issue and apologize for it in order to mend any problems that arose because of the mistake.

But that being said, there is a right and wrong way to apologize. A half-hearted apology is almost as bad as no apology at all.

The New York Times published an article discussing the large number of half-ass apologies we hear from influencers all too regularly.

Here are my five tips for great apologies:

1. Issue the apology immediately after the incident. Late apologies are sad. They’re just sad. It’s no fun to be offended by a comment someone made and not get an apology until a week or so later. Apologies should happen in a timely fashion. Ideally, an apology should be issued a few hours or a day (at most) after the incident. People generally respond better to apologies when they occur very recently after the incident.

2. Plan the apology before it is issued. Whether you are the PR pro writing the CEO’s apology or you are the CEO yourself, be sure to know what is going to be said in the apology and communicate these tactics to the person delivering the apology. Know what to say. And more importantly, know what NOT to say. Only the worst apologies embody an “I’m sorry” like offending people more than they already were by the original comment.

3. Include a call to action in your apology. The address needs to be clear and concise with a definitive call to action. Apologies are all fine and lovely, but what is going to be done about it? Include a call to action in the apology in a clear and concise way.

4. Follow-up with your call to action. The only thing worse than not having a call to action in the apology is to not follow up with the call to action that was promised. Be sure that the call to action is related to the mistake and is feasible to achieve, because the only way to have a chance to earn consumer’s trust back is to have something to show for it.

5. Be sincere. Nothing is worse than an empty apology. Yes an apology was issued, but was it really meaningful? If the apology isn’t sincere, consumers are going to feel even more disrespected than they were by your initial mistake.

It seems like many people apologize all too often and they do it in the wrong way. Take previous LuluLemon CEO, Chip Wilson. He went against two out of five of my apology tips (he gets an D in Apology 101).

He released a video apology one week after making a comment that the brand’s pants yoga pants are see-through because they just don’t work for “some women’s bodies” (strike one).

Wilson’s apology video was far from sincere. He looked forlorn and superficially sad, as though it was an act (strike two), saying he is “really sad.” So what if you’re sad? The thousands of women you offended with your comment are sad too.

Apologies are really important in public relations and are something to take seriously. These five tips I’ve provided give some specific guidelines of what is expected for a successful apology.

Photo by Raj Taneja via Flickr

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One thought on “How to Get an A+ in Apology 101

  1. This blog post is great! I definitely agree with you about these 5 things a person should do while apologizing. I also did a post about an NFL player who tried to issue an apology and waited several days to do so (he should get a C at best). The LuluLemon example you gave was also pretty entertaining. Thanks for sharing!

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