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Media Training: Learn How to Apologize

By Suzanne Spurgeon, Women Media Pros  September 4, 2019

In our personal lives we apologize if we hurt a loved one's feelings or even for accidentally bumping into a stranger.  But imagine if your mistake is very public and your apology needs to be too.  

There have been several apologies in the news recently.  

  • ABC GMA host Lara Spencer made light of Prince George for taking ballet class.  The story blew up on social media. Everyone from Gene Kelly's widow to Broadway dancers shot back at Spencer--for what was probably meant as a joke.  Male dancers protested outside the studio.  ABC moved quickly to put this story to rest. Spencer did sit-down interviews with male dancers and apologized publicly.

  • Over at MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell apologized after some erroneous reporting about the President.  A lawsuit was threatened, so the network's legal department was likely driving this one.

  • At KOCO in Oklahoma City a white news anchor apologized to her black co-anchor after she likened a picture of a gorilla to him.  He accepted her tearful on-air apology with grace, but I honestly believe this was a fireable offense.

  • Apple apologized after it was disclosed that some workers listen to recordings of our interactions with Siri.

An apology alone is hollow if it isn't accompanied by some action steps.  If behavior doesn't change then the mea culpa is meaningless.  

In our crisis communications workshops we help clients craft apologies for various scenarios.  A lot of thought needs to go into an apology statement.  Admit too much and you could face legal action, but don't say enough and you may dig yourself in deeper.  And, it doesn't end there.  Sometimes a CEO will sit down for media interviews, or a company will produce its own video apology and post it on social media. While the public can be very forgiving, most of us can see through a rote apology given unwillingly.

If your company is under the microscope for bad behavior, or perceived bad behavior, you have no time to waste.

  • Assign someone to monitor social media and traditional media 

  • Gather whatever facts/evidence that are available at the onset of the communication crisis

  • Convene a meeting of your company's thought-leaders and get their input

  • Consult with your legal team

  • Update the crisis group as more information becomes available

  • Craft your first written statement

  • Measure the response to that statement

  • Is it blowing over, so you can breathe a sigh of relief?

  • Or, is your phone blowing up with calls from journalists?

  • Craft interview talking points--include your action steps

  • Do mock interviews before the real thing

  • Measure public response to the interviews

No company, regardless of how well managed, is immune from errors that can impact its reputation and bottom line.  You can hope for the best, but you better prepare for the worst.  

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