Posted by Richard ● 16-Apr-2018 13:47:00

Sorry....

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Saying sorry is a hard, complicated and important process that normally is only necessary at times of extreme stress. Whilst I sincerely hope that none of Champion's clients ever find themselves in a situation where they have to apologise, it is inevitable that things will one day go wrong, and it is up to the spokespeople and comms teams to get the apology right. There is a lot of "Sorry" going around at the moment. Here are four examples of apology statements for comparison purposes. 

First up is Commonwealth Games chief Peter Beattie, who admits organisers botched Sunday's closing ceremony, accepting criticism that long-winded speeches had fans rushing for the exits while athletes were largely excluded from the broadcast. 

In a series of Twitter posts Monday, Beattie said the ceremony had not worked out as organisers planned. 

"We wanted athletes to be part of and enjoy the Closing Ceremony," he said. "However, having them come into the stadium in the pre-show meant the TV audience were not able to see the athletes enter the stadium, alongside flag bearers. We got that wrong. 

"The speeches were too many and too long. I was part of that and I acknowledge it. Again, we got that wrong." 

In a later television interview, Beattie said "did we stuff it up? Yes. Should (athletes) have been a part of the actual ceremony that was broadcast? Of course. We got it wrong. I can't be more honest about it than that."

"I am not interested in blaming anyone else. We stuffed it up and I apologize to the viewers and the athletes." 

This sounds like genuine regret. It is possible to feel the anguish and I admire the way he has taken personal responsibility for the mix up.

A good apology I'd say.

Second:

Jeremy Hunt, UK Health Secretary was found to have been letting out 7 luxury flats which he had not declared joint ownership of.

A spokeswoman for Hunt said: “These were honest administrative mistakes which have already been rectified. Jeremy’s accountant made an error in the Companies House filing which was a genuine oversight. With respect to ministerial and parliamentary declarations, the Cabinet Office are clear that there has been no breach of the ministerial code.

“Jeremy declared the interest to them after the company was set up. They advised that as it was a shell company with no assets or value, it should only be registered when it became operational.

“As such, Jeremy presumed the same rules applied to parliamentary declarations. Although there was no personal gain involved, Jeremy accepts these mistakes are his responsibility and has apologised to the parliamentary authorities.”

So, this apology struggles because there is no real sense of remorse, at least until the end. It is overly complicated in its explanation. There is no sense of accountability. The feeling one is left with is that Mr. Hunt finds the whole thing to be a tedious frustration and really doesn't think he should have to explain himself. What compounds this failure for me is the fact that it was not made personally by Mr. Hunt. He is being accused of abusing his privilege and so defends himself with a, presumably government paid for, spokes-person. For many, this will further amplify the fact that he is rolling in the deep. I doubt this apology will resolve the matter. 

Another example to consider is the apology from Starbucks CEO:

"By now, you may be aware of a disheartening situation in one of our Philadelphia-area stores this past Thursday, that led to a reprehensible outcome. 

I’m writing this evening to convey three things: 

First, to once again express our deepest apologies to the two men who were arrested with a goal of doing whatever we can to make things right.  Second, to let you know of our plans to investigate the pertinent facts and make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again.  And third, to reassure you that Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.    

In the coming days, I will be joining our regional vice president, Camille Hymes—who is on the ground in Philadelphia—to speak with partners, customers and community leaders as well as law enforcement.  Most importantly, I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology."

It's a lengthy statement which can be found here

In the case of Starbucks there is a clear and specific situation where harm has been caused to the two individuals. The Starbucks statement does well to acknowledge this and the CEO's commitment to work directly and personally with the injured party, on record, is an important element.

Lastly, let's look at Mark Zuckerberg's apology in the US. According to Time:

Zuckerberg appeared nervous but contrite as he took the stand before a rare joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees, which together comprise nearly half of the members of the Senate on whole. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” he said. “I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

“We’re undergoing a broader philosophical shift about how we view our role as a company,” he said. “For the first 12 and 13 years we were focused on building tools. It’s not enough to just build tools. We need to make sure that they’re used for good.”

What I like about this apology is that it has been written from the perspective of a news editor. News is edited from the bottom up. The first sentence, or headline is the most important. In this case the apology is structured so that the personal accountability is front and centre, the explanation is there is you want to read on. The most important thing that he wanted to communicate was how sorry he was.
 
So looking at these 4 examples, I think there are some fundamental lessons to be learned about the art of apologising:
 
1. Make it personal. If Zuckerberg can make a personal statement so can Jeremy Hunt
2. Lead with the acceptance of responsibility and culpability
3. How are you going to help the injured party? 
4. Follow up with explanation - why you got this wrong
5. What is being done to make sure that this is not going to happen again
 
So, whilst I hope that the sh*t doesn't hit anyone's fan, ever, I know that it will.
 
I also believe wholeheartedly in stake-holder mapping, scenario planning and statement preparation. Every business should do this and revisit it at least once a year. Preparing for the unexpected can stop an issue becoming a crisis. 
 
I'D LIKE TO KEEP HEARING FROM CHAMPION
 
 

Topics: b2b marketer, Crisis communications, pr strategy

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