Whether or not we like it, things don’t always go as we plan – both in life and in business. Being human means making mistakes and having the occasional reputation-threatening slip up. These things happen almost inevitably, which is why crisis communications is one of the most valuable aspects of Public Relations.
But what exactly is crisis communications? To put it simply, it’s a way for a company, business person, and/or celebrity to say “I’m sorry; I’ll do better next time.”
So…why do we need PR professionals to help us say sorry? Can’t we just do it ourselves? Think about it this way: it’s not always easy to admit wrongfulness and genuinely apologize. You can thank the human ego for that. But it’s part of the PR professional’s job to help you say “I’m sorry” in the most honest and effective way.
An article in Business Week outlines the PR approach to apologies. There is indeed a science to it – a specific formula that combines the perfect amount of humility and confidence, making for optimal communications between the slipper-upper and his/her public. When these steps are carefully taken, amiable endings are more likely to occur.
1. Express Genuine Empathy. When someone has been hurt, regardless of whether it was on purpose or by accident, what they want most is to be understood. They want their pain to be validated. In crisis communications, it is of utmost importance to acknowledge and empathize with the public’s pain. Tell them “I feel your pain too” even before the apology emerges.
2. Own the Message Quickly. Know how and why you are going to say sorry. Do not apologize blindly because that is a sure fire way to appear disingenuous. Instead, know ahead of time what, specifically, your apology will encompass and what you will promise to do in order to repair any damage that may have been caused.
3. Commit to Full Transparency. It’s one thing to say “I’m sorry,” but it’s a completely different thing to say “I was wrong.” Acknowledging your faults and owning up to your errors is an integral part of making a genuine apology. Admitting your wrongdoing can only make your subsequent apology more powerful. So be honest – don’t lie to yourself or anyone else.
4. Put a Face on the Industry. In crisis communications, this statement is synonymous with “look me in the eye.” It’s more personal. When an industry, corporation, or large business gets in trouble, one singular person must step up to the plate and apologize. This makes the public feel more intimately connected with the industry/company itself. Being able to attach a specific person with the actual apology makes for a more human experience.
5. Train the industry’s spokespeople. PR professionals can’t always apologize for you, but they can train you to apologize for yourself in the best way possible. It is incredibly important for the face of an industry or company to both personalize the crisis message and deliver said message to the public effectively.
So if (and likely when) you find yourself in a pickle, you can count on your friendly neighborhood PR professional to give you a hand in these five areas.