PR and the power of the written apology

by | Feb 15, 2018 | Analysis, Public Relations

“I’m sorry.”

They are two of the most powerful words in the English language—and used in the right way, they can control the fallout of the most damaging personal and professional mistakes.

But deployed badly, they can precipitate the final shove into the abyss.

January 2018 has seen H&M, Catherine Deneuve and UKIP leader Henry Bolton’s girlfriend Jo Marney all make public apologies ranging from prostrate pleas for forgiveness to weasel-worded excuses.

H&M came under fire after a picture of a black boy modelling a hoodie featuring the slogan “Coolest monkey in the jungle” appeared in its catalogue

The retailer apologized quickly, humbly, comprehensively and publicly on social media and its website—but still fell short for those outraged in the first place.

The reaction was unforgiving. Twitter users suggested that a lack of diversity had led to the original error. South Africa stores closed as protests erupted.

But thanks to speed and sincerity, the apology headed off even more serious repercussions such as international boycotts.

Silence would have been catastrophic—the lack of an obvious apology on its UK Facebook page alone sparked furious comments.

Catherine Deneuve may have benefited from keeping quiet when she criticized the #MeToo movement

The French actress was the most prominent figure to sign a letter stating: “Rape is a crime, but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or clumsily, is not…”

Critics said she had scorned victims of sexual abuse and she subsequently apologized. But her “désolé” was very carefully directed at the victims of “hideous acts” and “them alone.”

Deneuve, who shuns social media, issued her apology through French newspaper Libération.

Those who backed Deneuve’s original position used Twitter to bemoan her caving into criticism, while those who had slated her dismissed what they described as a “semi apology.”

The lesson here: if you are weighing in to a controversial topic, think through your argument with care.

One suspects that Deneuve herself dismissed the whole affair with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders.

A duo who can’t shake off their reputational demise are UKIP leader (at time of writing) Henry Bolton and his ex-girlfriend Jo Marney

Marney sent racist phone texts, including the claim that “black American” Meghan Markle would “taint” the Royal Family.

Marney responded with a statement certain to be remembered as a classic by connoisseurs of the sorry-not-sorry mea culpa.

Her opinions were “deliberately exaggerated” to make a point and had been “taken out of context.”

One can only imagine the background circumstances that provided context—brainstorm for an Alf Garnett reboot, perhaps?

She later tweeted that she loved “black music and black artists”—a spin on the cringeworthy some-of-my-best-friends-are-black racist defence.

Unsurprisingly, her ham-fisted response inflamed a bad situation and led to more flak on social media.

Bolton—who left his wife for Marney days before the texts emerged—has refused to apologize for his poor judgment.

But both his party and the public have aimed another powerful two-word Anglo Saxon phrase at them. Sadly, this one is not printable in a respectable publication.

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