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.
A version of this blog post appeared in Fast Company on October 4, 2012.
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 like-minded friends would compose the primary audience, 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—(1) an apology, and (2) a promise to do better—both of which he did with aplomb.