Video Tip: The Right Way To Apologize in Crisis
When a crisis strikes, the first reaction for most individuals and organizations is to become defensive.
That often leads to two media statements: the wrong one, followed days later (after the fallout has intensified) by the right one.
In this video, I’ll offer you the right way to apologize when a crisis strikes your organization.
Below are some recent case studies of good and bad apologies:
Case Study One: When a vegan magazine pretended that pictures of meat were actually vegetarian dishes, many readers felt betrayed. They released a bad statement, followed days later by a good one.
Case Study Two: When an Orange County politician sent out a racist email showing President Obama as an ape, she released an inflammatory apology before backing down days later and issuing a more direct apology.
Case Study Three: When MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell used racial language to describe an African American leader, he skipped the defensiveness and issued a tone-perfect apology instead. A role model for spokespersons everywhere.
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Great video! And I couldn’t agree more that honesty upfront and early is always the most effective, and disarming, approach. I always see stories die faster when the subject just simply gives out all the facts early on.
I would ask one question though. It seems that the natural reaction to be defensive seems to be enabled by company/corporate legal departments concerned that admitting anything opens the door to liability and litigation. Have you run across this issue as well?
Not that I have much against lawyers (Well, I kinda do. Have you ever tried to copyedit anything written by a lawyer? Truly painful), but their protectionist approach seems to do more damage to the company name, brand, credibility, etc., in the long run than simply fessin’ up and moving on.
Would be very interested in your thoughts on that.
Great comment, as usual – thank you! You’re absolutely right, and I should have qualified my advice by saying I’m speaking primarily here about reputational crises. As for the ones that may require input from lawyers, well, I think you’ve just given me a great idea for an upcoming post. The advice is largely the same (as you suggested), but with a few important caveats.
More to come…
@John Never leave your crisis communications in the hands of the legal department. Why not? They have an other objective! Lawyers want to prevent legal cases. That’s their job. Please do ask for their legal advice, but let the CEO or President take the lead (I hope he or she is not a lawyer ;-).
As a communications advisor my objective is damage control and reputation management. My first job is to listen carefully to all experts (Legal, HR, CSR, CFO…) and help the decision maker to communicate fast, clear and honest within the company’s objective.
Last advice: always take the lead. Be the first to come out with a statement, even if you don’t have anything to tell yet. Otherwise journalists will look somewhere else for information…