This first appeared in CorpComms, November/December 2013

Sorry shouldn’t be the last thing you say in a crisis

1.     Don’t be afraid of saying sorry. In recent years we’ve seen a near epidemic of corporate and institutional scandals.  It has been remarkable how difficult it has been for businesses simply to say they are sorry when things go awry. If things go wrong, don’t be afraid of apologising

2.     Put your explanation in context. A well-phrased apology can earn you the right to explain your side of what’s happened. It can be a simple and disarming recognition of having let people down, providing you mean it. Like a picture, it can be worth a thousand words of explanation

3.     Move the story on. Too often the lack of an apology will become the sticking point that keeps a story in the news. Alternatively, apologising can help everyone involved, inside and outside the organisation, to move on and put the past behind them

4.     Challenge the legal team. Often the legal team may try to block an apology lest it be interpreted as admitting liability, accepting responsibility or setting precedent. Phrased well, it doesn’t have to mean accepting any legal liability

5.     Get past the hubris. At other times corporate hubris may be the sticking point. Executives may genuinely feel the business is not responsible for what has happened and so don’t believe they should apologise. That may be true, but and can appear arrogant or mean spirited, or both

6.     Get ahead of the game. The best way to avoid apologising is to avert a crisis in the first place. Get the operations, management and legal teams together regularly to review potential risks, informed by a clear view of what the press, public and social audiences could make of an issue. Then prepare