Five tips to ensure an effective apology during a PR crisis

As Elton John famously sang, sorry seems to be the hardest word (and noughties boyband Blue clearly agree, as they still haven’t apologised for their cover version). However, whether a company is facing a social media blunder or a crisis on a grand scale, sorry is the most important message a brand will have in its arsenal. How it is said, though, is vital to ensure that a crisis isn’t amplified. We’ve put together our five top tips to ensure that a corporate apology is effective.

1. Be Prepared

Just as a company should be prepared for any possible competitive or operational risk, they should also be prepared for any potential scandal or crisis. The worst thing to happen when a crisis hits is for the team to panic and rush a response out. If potential crisis scenarios are anticipated, internal protocols can be established including who needs to be notified, what the internal authorisation process is and who is approved to provide statements to the press. It’s important, too, to prepare for social media backlash, even if a company isn’t particularly active on these platforms. It is guaranteed that when a crisis hits, customers will head straight to social media to get answers – have a strategy prepared, as the immediacy of social media does not allow the luxury of time.

2. Get Your Facts Straight, Be Proactive and Apologise

Take a moment to entirely understand the situation before launching a shotgun response. During this time do not respond to requests for comment with ‘no comment’. Instead be honest, acknowledge the incident, and say that you are assessing the situation. It is still important to offer an immediate apology at this stage, as it shows that you are acknowledging that something has occurred that should not have. This is not the same as accepting liability – a person can feel sorry and regretful about a car crash even if they were nothing to do with the incident.
Refusing to comment at an early stage will cause people to make their own assumptions on the matter and consumers will be more likely to forgive a company if it speaks out immediately, rather than remaining silent.

 3. Be Transparent, Be Accountable, Apologise

Once you are clear about the situation, manage it by taking responsibility, being transparent and, again, apologising. Respond to concerns and questions, but don’t get drawn into arguments. While it may be tempting to deny or ignore a situation, companies should react sincerely and authentically, which is why having a crisis communications plan in place is critical. Offering an honest apology is essential, and it must include details of how policies will be put in place so that something similar cannot happen again. People can tell if an apology is sincere or if it has been drafted by committee, with the shareholders’ interests at the heart – providing tangible ways in which the company can be held accountable in the future will increase trust in the apology and the company.

4. Know Your Audience

It is vitally important to get the tone right when issuing an apology, and a key factor in this is knowing your audience well. A great example of this, and of corporate apology in general, is the very well-known KFC ‘FCK’ apology. The chicken company took a risk by adding humour to its apology for running out of chicken. This self-deprecating approach spoke directly to its audience, who responded positively to its honesty and promise that it wouldn’t happen again.

5. Continue to Monitor and Communicate

Remain alert and monitor activity, particularly on social media, with teams prepped to respond to comments with immediate apologies and predetermined, approved messages.

At The Tonic Communications we can work seamlessly with your in-house team to identify risk areas and provide a toolkit to help mitigate potential issues to avoid a crisis communications situation, help to develop bespoke issues processes and critical paths, alongside preparing reactive/proactive measures to deal with a wide range of reputational and health risks.

Do you want to know how well prepared your company is for a crisis? Download our handy guide, or for a tailored consultation, please get in touch with our team.