The Art of the “Big Apology”

In practicing the art and craft of public relations, nothing could be more important than learning the art of apologizing. An apology is needed because we tend to screw up one time or another irrespective of how big or small or powerful we are. In the era of social media and viral communications, this becomes even more important. Whether it is companies, governments, not-for-profits or personalities, we live in a branded world of products, services or people. We are judged and our success or failure depends on how we carve out our little (or big) niches, by creating and building brands be they products, services or people.

The art of apologizing becomes an essential tool in the hands of the PR practitioner precisely because of branding. While there are many definitions of branding, at the heart of it is the fact that branding is an emotion. It is the emotion that we associate with the product, service or personality that we call a brand. e.g. What is the emotion that springs to your mind when you think of Apple computers, a bottle of Pepsi, a cup of Starbucks coffee, Deepak Chopra, Bill Maher or Amnesty International. Are you pleased, hurt, delighted or couldn’t care less? The more successful brands create an emotion in their customers, like a cool factor, and maintain it. When they err or very blatantly screw up, it affects customer loyalty which in turn affects their brand and boils down to loss of revenue. So perfecting the art of apologizing is a must for any PR practitioner for their job is by definition to build a brand by protecting and enhancing reputations through building relationships.

How do you apologize? Few basic rules apply:

  1. Overcome your ego.
  2. Don’t hold back.
  3. Be unreserved.
  4. Be quick and don’t let events overtake you.
  5. Don’t leave room for critics to find loop-holes.
  6. Remember, an apology is not an excuse.
  7. Don’t stop at apologizing for the incident but state what you are doing to correct the problem.

Thinking of an example, the apology rendered by Domino’s pizza in April 2009 when a YouTube video of two of their staff members, at a store in North Carolina, performing gross acts on the food went viral was as close as one gets. See http://www.vojtechpr.com/?p=82 .

The bad example which prompted me to write this blog came this week. It was Starbucks in Argentina that got itself into trouble BY APOLOGIZING!!! See http://thenextweb.com/la/2012/07/16/starbucks-apologizes-to-its-argentine-customers-on-twitter-and-facebook-creates-pr-crisis/?awesm=tnw.to_l1VP

Well! It was Starbucks trying to apologize for not being able to serve coffee in its usual Starbucks labeled cups imported from the US. Instead, Starbucks apologized for using “national cups” which were cups made in Argentina! No wonder, its Argentine consumers were infuriated.

So, next time you apologize to protect your brand, remember the basics.

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