Crisis comms 101: Don’t turn a pothole into a sinkhole

Responses to a PR flare-up vary. Some strike the proper balance of contrition and planned action. Others fall into familiar—and terrible—categories. Here are five awful approaches.

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Certain response patterns turn potholes into sinkholes. Not all of the examples listed below are mere “potholes,” exactly, but they all followed the pattern of taking something lousy and making it even worse. Here are five of the most common apology gaffes:

1. Offering an insufficient first apology.

In “The Media Training Bible I wrote:

Many executives are reluctant to issue a full and unequivocal apology after making a mistake. That’s not because they’re bad or uncaring people. More commonly, it’s a human reaction from a defensive person who feels that his or her well-intentioned motives were misunderstood.

As a result, the executive usually issues a hedged “half apology” that goes something like this: “If you were offended by what I said, then I am sorry.”

That type of “if/then” apology, which places the burden on the offended person rather than the offender, tends to inflame a crisis instead of ending it. The equivocation almost inevitably fails to satisfy the public, forcing the executive to issue a second, more complete apology several days later:

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