6 crucial parts of a PR apology
There’s more to an apology than simply saying you’re sorry.
Without question, the first step to getting past any reputational crisis is
apologizing for the wrongdoing. Research shows that there’s actually
a psychological benefit to true apologies. For the person wronged, she undergoes a feeling of emotional healing.
What’s more, she no longer views the person who wronged her as a personal
Beyond psychology, offering a true apology can often diffuse a situation
that might spiral out of control on social media, in the workplace or in
your business relationships. The perception that you are not only truly
sorry, but that you will learn from your error, eases crisis situations and
can form the basis of you
reclaiming your personal or professional reputation.
3 helpful tips for your crisis comms prep]
What’s the best way to apologize? There’s some science behind that. The
Ohio State University found in two separate studies that there are
six elements to an effective apology—and the more facets you cover, the better your outcome:
Expression of regret
You must actually be sorry for people to believe you are sorry. Sometimes,
communicators fall into the trap of being more regretful about how a
situation has unfolded than about the actions that led to the crisis. You
have to have the empathy for the person or group that was wronged to truly
feel regret for the action, rather than the reaction.
Explanation of what went wrong
More often than not, people don’t want to hear your excuses, but an
explanation isn’t an excuse. Listing the facts and telling your side of the
story in a way that helps the wronged party truly understand can give
Acknowledgment of responsibility
You must own it. The worst apologies come when the audience doesn’t think
you’ve learned a thing from the incident. You know the kind: “I’m sorry for
the reaction this has caused,” or, “I’m sorry some people had a problem
with this.” When you screw up, make sure everyone knows the buck stops with
Declaration of repentance
Once you’ve taken responsibility, you have to show that you have turned
away from whatever shortcomings led to your mistakes. It’s a change of
mindset and behavior.
Offer of repair
If you can fix something, then fix it. It is grating and disingenuous to
make an apology but not take a tangible step to repair the situation. This
is especially true in a reputational crisis. Showing you are taking steps
to repair a situation tells your stakeholders that you are willing to put
in the work to fix a situation.
Request for forgiveness
This is a tricky one. There are some people who will forgive and move on.
Others, particularly in the sharpened-knife cesspool of social media, will
never forgive, or discount your apology altogether. However, you should
always ask for forgiveness. If someone wants to deny you their forgiveness,
that’s up to them and their conscience.
All of the above steps have a common theme: When you’ve screwed up, at work
or at home, how you show the depth of your contrition matters more than
simply the words you say. Be successful and thoughtful in your apology and
you will go a long way toward rescuing the reputation you worked so hard to
Ray Hennessey is the Chief Innovation Officer for JConnelly.
A version of this article originally ran on the