Do corporate apologies always work? Asks Moushumi Dutt
28th June 2018
It seems to be the season for corporate apologies. By Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg over the sharing of user data for example. But do these really work, is there a choice not to make one? How does an apology fit into the overall PR strategy at all? Some of the questions this month's PR Parables tries to answer.
Yes, it seems the floodgates of corporate apologies are overflowing, it was the right time to seek views, opinions and comments from the PR fraternity on their views. The question is, does a five letter word, sorry, exonerate you from your misconduct which has serious implications and negatively impacts almost all your stakeholders, internal and external. The bigger issue is also that do corporates get advised to “say sorry” just so that they manage to get some redeeming grace from what could become a big blown disgrace. Without being “sorry”. A statement is released, a tweet is issued and video clips go viral. Is that what goes towards regaining the mighty reputation you had before the crisis. Maybe. Maybe Not. And surely unless indeed the apology is backed by and seen as being a sincerely meant “I am sorry” with corrective action being taken across audiences, this one “sorry” will create a colossal damage to the corporate reputation which like Humpty-Dumpty can never be put together again.
PR is all about right action, the Raj Dharma
Rahul Rakesh, a senior communications consultant, opines that an apology should not be a strategy. Instead, he sees it as a sign of one's sincerity. He says, " Seeking forgiveness should be a part of the action plan. The moment it becomes a strategy, it's not sincere and it's for a business motive. Sooner or later people will get to know about it and the bad PR it will bring may turn out to be a PR / corporate nightmare. Hence a mere apology can never be the strategy.
Rakesh stresses that saying sorry “should not be a strategy. It's a sign of one's sincerity. Dharma says apology should be followed by prayashcheeta - right action followed by remedial action.
Swapan Dholakia, head, communications & outreach, Shark ID, says that it doesn't matter who is delivering the corporate apology. Apologies will need to come from the very top, backed by credible actions on the ground - putting money where the mouth is, is far more important than ever before. Hurried and bad thought through apologies for public viewing is definitely a poor strategy and a foolish thing to do. Swapan adds that the abundance of media options on tap, makes the delivery options equally tough, there is perhaps no right answer as to which is the perfect podium from where an earnest and honest apology can be rendered. The other complexity he points out is in the nature of the scam, the cheating and the letting down your people. Everything has taken on a gigantic proportion. And it definitely doesn’t make it any easier for a corporate to tender an apology and believe that all is done and dusted, as you are under the scanner the moment you submit an apology. You or your organization falls from grace, some degree of scepticism sets in as well. And the very act of an apology exposes you and you are viewed with suspicion.
Everything has taken on a gigantic proportion. And it definitely doesn’t make it any easier for a corporate to tender an apology and believe that all is done and dusted, far from that, you are under the scanner the moment you submit to an apology. You or your organization falls from grace, some degree of scepticism sets in as well.
Given that corporate apologies have kind of become a fashion statement and it is a double-edged sword, it comes at the cost of losing credibility and people are just not willing to take things at face-value. Hence apologies will need to come from the very top, backed by credible actions on the ground - putting money where the mouth is. So in this context, the sincerity of the apology and the on-ground actions to prove that you are correcting the wrong done, become the two guiding principles, and as Rakesh mentioned earlier, it pretty much boils down to the eternal truth of accepting responsibility and owning up if you have slipped.
As I wrote in an earlier PR Parable, when a CEO of an IT MNC messed up the career of a bright young PR professional, there was no apology of any sorts instead the 2nd in command called the CEO of the organization where the young PRO worked and apologized on behalf of their CEO, the CEO held his ranks till he left the country on his next posting. This was a no apology or an apology for an apology. A corporate shielded its CEO and his dark actions. And the wrong went on to remain wrong. Forever.
Moushumi Dutt is a corporate communications veteran. PR Parables is her attempt to give back to the PR business by sharing her learnings from over two decades of work in the PR business. She can be reached at @moushumidutt.