28 June 2013

Saying 'I'm sorry' is the first step...

He should charge $350 an hour
There sure have been some interesting apologies in the news lately - some good, some mediocre, some really bad.  They're all case studies in crisis communications - a discipline that can be rather lucrative for PR folks like me.

As these stories have played out we've also seen a lot of analysis  of just how well the bad actors have apologized.  As someone who provides counsel in this niche of communications from time to time, I'm often surprised at just how often people mess this up. More specifically, I'm surprised at how often people overthink it.

If you have a preschool-age kid you're probably familiar with Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood - the cartoon evolution of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood from PBS.  They use anecdotes and catchy little songs to help teach our little ones some basic life lessons and strategies.

My personal favorite Daniel Tiger song: "Saying I'm sorry is the first step - then how can I help?"

For brands, individuals, and organizations, crisis communications is really that simple.  The biggest pitfalls in crisis communications happen when people complicate things beyond what you tell 4-year-olds.

Of course I realize lawyers get involved, and there can be a lot of money at stake.  Of course people may think the whole story isn't out there, or even that they did nothing wrong.

In each of these examples, though, someone did or said something clearly wrong.  Kickstarter apologized, changed its policies, and made a more-than-symbolic gesture of contrition. They actually gained esteem as a result.

Ron Lindsay sincerely apologized but did nothing more.  The response has basically been "ok, let's move on," but those offended by his comments have actually suggested a way he could help - supporting a future conference - and I don't know that we've heard anything from Lindsay on that.

Paula Deen used the words "I'm sorry" - but somewhat less than convincingly, and she's clearly not interested in finding out how she can help.  If anything, she seems to think she's the one owed an apology, describing those who have made claims against her as "evil." And she continues to lose esteem - and money.

Seriously, Daniel Tiger's on to something.


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