The VPM Blog

The one thing PR Pros need to get right

Posted by Don Crow on Nov 19, 2014 1:21:00 PM

Within one week (and it’s only Wednesday), we’ve seen gaffes by a couple of brands. Although these are becoming more common place with the fact that nothing we do today is safe from being watched, listened to by airplanes, or shared for all the social media world to see, it’s become blood sport to watch the apologies.

Our first is Dave & Buster’s tweet and their attempt at Taco Tuesday humor gone afoul:


This thing of beauty was alive and kicking the internet in the junk for almost 41 minutes before being deleted. It then took the PR team (presumably), with an assist from legal, and probably a few revisions from the guys on the top floor of Dave and Buster’s headquarters 54 minutes to tweet an apology!

And listen, as far as apologies go, this one isn’t exactly 54 minutes worth of Twitter prose:


We can debate who actually spent almost an hour on the apology later, but my questions to the PR Pros are:

  1. What should have happened here?
  2. What is the process in your organization to recover from an embarrassing social media post?
  3. And this one is rhetorical (hint, hint), but shouldn’t there be a process on both sides of this equation?

I’ll even take a stab at answering #3: For starters, your process should include a social media editorial calendar that key decision makers actually read, and a rapid response team on the backend with access to appropriate channels to issue an apology or statement. Because let’s face it, Taco Tuesday happens all over the world, and last I checked, Tuesday wasn’t a recent entry to calendars. #PriorPlanning

For our next, and arguably the most damaging brand slip of the week I present: Uber executive suggests a smear campaign against journalists.

Now I won’t go into who Emil Michael is, or what he does for Uber, or did for Klout, or even his ties to the Defense Department, but I will go into his "apology."

“The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach,” Mr. Michael said in a statement. “They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.” Uber has said that the private dinner was supposed to be considered an off-the-record affair.
Nairi Hourdajian, an Uber spokeswoman, said: “We have not, do not and will not investigate journalists. Those remarks have no basis in the reality of our approach.”

So we’ve got Mr Michael issuing his own “regret” statement, followed by Uber’s spokesperson(s) saying this should have been, “off-the-record” and then going on to try and assure us all that Uber isn’t going to investigate journalists. The whole affair was documented by BuzzFeed staffer Ben Smith.

Consistent between Executive and PR team? Not really.

Controversial? Well, it’s Uber for crying out loud. Even a quick search reveals they’ve been a hot mess in the PR department for some time now.

I’m not suggesting a process would have fixed the Uber scenario the way it might have at Dave & Buster’s, but I am calling into question how the PR team at Uber responded. Let’s face it, executives are going to say things, “off-the-record” during their affairs. While you can’t predict, you can prepare.

Issuing statements and apologies which further stir the pot isn’t going to help, especially if the target of the offending remarks are journalists!

If aspiring PR Pros are using your apologies and statements as case studies in classes across America, and your peers are tearing you apart in the comments of all these articles, then don’t you think it’s time to learn how to write a proper apology?

And that ladies and gentlemen is the crux of this plea: the one thing PR Pros need to get right. Right now, is learning how to write an apology for the brands / people / organizations you support.

My simple formula for how to issue an apology, which trust me has worked because I’ve apologized an awful lot in my life, is this:

  1. Take responsibility and be accountable: “I’m sorry I said journalists should be targets.”
  2. Acknowledge you’ve screwed up and that it’s going to cost you: “I’m sorry I said journalists should be targets and I know this is going to hurt the reputation of the company I dearly love working for.”
  3. Ask for forgiveness and offer to make things right: “I’m sorry I said journalists should be targets and I know this is going to hurt the reputation of the company I dearly love working for. I should never have let any personal frustration spill over into my professional career. I’d like to invite [fill in the blank journalists] to Uber’s office for a personal tour by me, followed by a no-holds barred interview with me. I’ll even personally pick up the tab for the [invited journalists] to ride to our headquarters using Uber.”
  4. STFU. Or more politely said, ‘stop talking.’ Don’t use this as an opportunity to lay blame, shift the focus, or anything other than leave it as the sincere apology you need to make. Let the apology rest. When questioned in subsequent interviews, just say, “I’m truly sorry. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

And here’s my suggested apology from Dave & Buster’s. Feel free to comment below and let me know your versions and opinions.

I’m sorry I posted an ignorant and offensive tweet. I tried to be funny and failed. This Tuesday, anyone who visits D&B named Juan eats free [Notice it is 140 character friendly too!]

One thing. Just this one thing PR Pros. Please start working now to get it right.

P.S. If you practice using the apology model in your personal life, not only will those around you respond positively, it will become easier to do it in your professional life too.

P.P.S. Yes, you may use this as the foundation for executive training at your organization for, “How to give an apology without sounding like an overpaid jackass.”

P.P.P.S. I'm really offending the writing etiquetee goddesses right now, but #whatever - if you think my thoughts on this are of value and you'd like to talk, click the button below:

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Topics: PR

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