Sorry seems to be the hardest word – but not this time!

About the author

Chris is a lecturer, media trainer, crisis communication consultant and coach. Her in-house roles have included the global position of Director of PR for Barclays. Chris leads the CIPR PR Diploma and Crisis Comms Diplomas. BA Hons, CAM, MCIPR

Crisis-ridden executives everywhere will feel we PR pundits are never satisfied. Sepp Blatter, Fifa’s President says ‘sorry’ at least 11 times in today’s press conference during which he announces that he will appeal against a ban by his own organisation’s ethics committee that could see him effectively side-lined from football for the rest of his life. But has he even begun to get the messaging, let alone the need for atonement right? So when isn’t ‘sorry’ enough?

  1. When it’s simply too late. As one crisis communications observer commented the cheque you write today will always be the smallest. A crisis situation creates an information vacuum and a need for order. This means for the organisation or person at the centre of the crisis quickly taking charge of the narrative is absolutely key if you are to have any control over how the story develops and limit the damage to reputation which otherwise grows by the day or even hour.
  2. Lacking in audience focus. A sorry that will be appreciated by your stakeholders is one that is rooted in their understanding and fears about what has happened. Good messaging comes from walking in the shoes of those who have been affected by the crisis and addresses the meaning they have attributed to what has happened. You can seek to influence who will be seen as ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ but simply trying to cast yourself or your organisation as purely the victims is unlikely to be credible and will in most instances be seen as an attempt to evade responsibility.
  3. Breaks the key ‘C’ of the five ‘C’ model. If you have ever studied crisis communications you will probably have come across the five ‘C’ model of successful crisis messaging which means addressing the issues of: Concern, Clarity, Control, Confidence and Competence. The first ‘C’ of ‘Concern’ is crucial. It sets the tone, it shows empathy, and it demonstrates a level of humanity which is so important when attempting to regain trust (a key crisis communications objective.) In many instances even before the full facts of a crisis are known then ‘Concern’ can go a very long way indeed in filling the information vacuum.

A well-constructed and well-delivered apology will lay the foundations for the resolution of a crisis situation. But get it wrong and your crisis messaging can become the crisis in itself.