Crafting apologies has practically become a standard duty of public relations professionals. Organizations, top executives, and celebrities are under constant scrutiny – and many eventually commit a very public faux pas. In today’s digital world, news of corporate missteps spreads quickly and increases the pressure to issue an apology.
A study by the Journal of Management shows customers are more likely to continue patronizing a business that apologizes after violating trust. But not just any apology will do. Studies also show that no apology, especially in business, may sometimes be better than a poor apology. An apology can intensify and extend a small issue that was confined and would quickly dissipate. For more widespread problems, a quick and sincere apology is crucial to success.
Crafting and delivering an acceptable apology can be difficult. Critics will be waiting to attack the apologizer’s timing, delivery and sincerity.
Established Apology Protocols
Fortunately, there are formats to follow. There’s the five-step formula devised by 12th-century Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides:
∙ Recognize what was done wrong.
∙ Show regret.
∙ Make a verbal declaration.
∙ Vow to not repeat the mistake.
∙ Show that you’ve learned from the mistake.
In his book “Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust,” John Kador explains the 5Rs: recognition, remorse, restitution, responsibility and repetition.
Paul Oestreicher, executive director of communications and public affairs at Yeshiva University, and Heena Chavda, communications manager at Cox Automotive, reveal what they say is a new model for apologies in an article for the Public Relations Strategist. They call it the 6A rubric.
• Acknowledge something has happened. Accepting responsibility creates the foundation for a future relationship.
• Show an authentic expression of regret. A true expression of remorse is heartfelt, real and something the audience can feel.
• Use appropriate tone and language. The mood, tenor and words must fit both the person apologizing and the audience for which the apology is intended.
• Choose an acceptable venue. Location determines who and how many will receive the message, and it will help set the tone of the apology.
• Act within the right time frame. Delay or hesitation could result in mounting suspicion and a missed opportunity to correct the situation.
• Announce the next steps. Demonstrating how the offense won’t be repeated can be vital in rebuilding trust and reputation.
The authors surveyed 205 adults to judge the importance of each factor, assign weighted importance to topics and create an equation to measure the effectiveness of apologies. Testing apologies in advance and analyzing them after delivery can help improve apologies, they note.
Tips for Giving Apologies
Mark Bernheimer, the founder and principal at MediaWorks Resource Group and a former CNN correspondent, provided Marketwired some useful tips for apologies.
∙ Be proactive. If news will become public knowledge, be proactive rather than reacting to it.
∙ Avoid clichés. Phrases like “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims” sound tired and meaningless. Original and sincere language is preferable.
∙ Consider the messenger. Better to have a real person deliver the apology than a faceless corporation. A serious situation calls for the CEO to talk publically about his personal feelings.
∙ Beware of lawyers. Lawyers’ interests are at odds with PR. Lawyers seek protect the firm’s legal interests. PR seeks to protect the firm’s image. It’s essential to show sincere regret, even if you stop short of releasing anything that can be used against the company in court.
∙ Be personal. The executive or celebrity can greatly increase the effectiveness of an apology by explaining the personal impact. They can refer to themselves or their family.
∙ Train and Practice. Completing training and developing a plan before speaking to the media is crucial. Thinking on your feet in front of reporters is the worst scenario.
Bottom Line: PR is assuming another responsibility: writing apologies and planning their delivery. That’s a difficult assignment. Although good apologies retain customers, poor ones are worse than doing nothing. Timing, wording and a sincere demonstration of remorse are all required for believable apologies.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.