Like a carpenter who utilizes an arsenal of powerful tools with extreme caution – because they hold enough power to, you know, accidentally saw off a finger or a hand – PR professionals carefully craft statements and key messages for the brands that we work for because they too can potentially “cut off” something valuable to a company – like an entire target audience. The statement “we made a mistake” is one of the most powerful declarations a brand can make, but as with all powerful things, it must be used carefully and with precision.
In a recent video for the Public Relations Society of America, Virgil Scudder, an executive communication coach and crisis expert, discussed the art of an apology, pointing out that “apologizing at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons is a sign of strength.” He even concludes that it is “often a business necessity.” I completely agree.
In this video, Scudder also lays out five key steps that can be taken in an apology to reverse negative feelings and help restore the company’s reputation. Interestingly, they are closely aligned with steps I discussed in a previous blog post for defusing an emotional customer.
Scudder advises that the apology must:
- Be timely
- Be specific to whom you are apologizing
- Be sincere in admitting the wrong that was done
- Offer a reason for the wrong-doing
- Include a pledge that it won’t be repeated
- Offer some remedial action to those harmed by the mistake
With today’s technology and the ability that people have to follow every move that a company makes – as well as to voice concerns, mistreatments and company blunders on user-review sites and through social media – mistakes are often broadcasted immediately and picked up by multiple outlets simultaneously. Brushing mistakes under the carpet is absolutely not an option anymore, and yet, the public is so tuned into today’s public brands that the tiniest moves will be critiqued, even when they may have good intentions. A well-planned, timely and authentic admission and apology can cast an unbelievable power over a potentially negative situation, but “with great power comes great responsibility” (thank you, Spiderman) to follow through on what you say you will do – to learn from your mistake.