By reframing a hostile question.
A few days ago, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced a coronavirus vaccine that’s cheap and easy to make. Yet shortly afterward, the company was forced to disclose a critical mistake.
Making matters worse, AstraZeneca chose not to publicize the mistake, as it had done with its initial results. Instead, the company notified regulatory officials and Wall Street analysts in private conference calls.
Predictably, the story soon spread, which prompted a reporter to ask the obvious:
Why didn’t AstraZeneca share the negative news with the public?
If your corporate policy is inflexible, cushion it with compassion.
In March, the federal government announced unprecedented news: It would give every American a stimulus payment of up to $1,200. Yet the check came with a catch: If you opted to have the money deposited into your bank account and your account is overdrawn, then your bank might keep part, or even all, of the payment to make up for your negative balance.
Leave aside, for the moment, whether this action is right or wrong. Instead, consider the diametrically different statements from two of the banks:
Anyone can apologize. Indeed, we all do from time to time. But to do it well — to extinguish the fire rather than re-ignite it — ultimately requires the one thing that even we PR pros can’t fake: sincerity.
Everyone makes mistakes, the saying goes. It’s whether you learn from them that separates the brands that retain your loyalty from the ones you now drive by.
In this context, consider last night’s tweet from KitchenAid that mocked President Obama:
“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he came president’. #nbcpolitics”
Sent from your personal account, where your audience consists of your (like-minded) friends, the tweet would have been par for the live-tweet course: funny and frivolous. However, sent from a corporate channel, the tweet is no longer associated with a person but with a brand—and its products.
The new master of the mea culpa.
Apple and “apologize” don’t usually fall in the same sentence. In fact, Apple instructs its retail employees to avoid acts of contrition as a matter of principle. “Do not apologize for the business [or] the technology,” its Genius manual commands.
Following this playbook, when faced with the debacle that is Mapplegate, Cupertino’s flacks first tried spin. “We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it,” a spokeswoman told AllThingsD. But the brush-off backfired, hard. As Gizmodo put it, “The New Apple: It Doesn’t Just Work.”
Realizing that the story wasn’t dying down, the time came for the CEO to step up. Tim Cook needed to communicate two things — an apology, and a promise to do better — both of which he did with aplomb.