By Chris Gilmour

People are offended, either by something you said or something your organisation did.

There are calls for you to make an apology. The Press is having a field day at all the outrage and bluster.

This is a full-on PR crisis and those around you are worried about how the public perception of your brand will be affected.

Crisis communication is necessary to dig you out of this hole. Isn’t saying sorry the quickest and easiest way out?

Elton John sang that sorry seems to be the hardest word. But when it comes to crisis management, in my opinion, people are far too quick to throw out an apology.

Let me explain why.

Any crisis management team worth its salt would advise against being bullied into an apology.

Saying sorry is an admittance of guilt, to some extent. And no matter how much you explain your actions, many people will not look beyond the headline “Company says sorry for massive cock-up”.

So if there’s an explanation for what happened, if there’s no reason for people to be offended, if there is a misunderstanding, save your sorry for a time when it’s really needed – and simply explain.

I would point to the case of MSP John Mason. His tweet about having another go at Scottish independence caused an outcry. 

Whoops! What John meant by his analogy was that you shouldn’t be shy to ask a girl out on a date after she’s turned you down once. Or that a proposal of marriage may take a couple of attempts to be successful.

But he was accused of trivialising rape culture.

His explanation, I would argue, is enough without saying sorry.

He said: "If there are two or three meanings to something I'm afraid some people just always go for the worst one.

“I have to say, if you look at it, if people didn't understand what I meant then they could certainly have asked me, but to assume that it's something much worse... people who know me, I'm not going to joke about sex, let alone rape."

In this day and age, people are quick to be offended at so many things. And while we should never seek to tell them what they can and can’t be offended about, we can give a measured response which doesn’t involve grovelling for forgiveness.

In this sort of circumstance, a phrase such as “I never meant to cause anyone offence.” or “I wouldn’t dream of adding to the distress of rape victims” means the message is much more likely to spread, and quench the flames of a fire which threatens to rage out of control.

Corporate apologies, in particular, should only be made if the organisation has truly messed up.

Take train operators for example. They say sorry every five minutes – on social media in particular where commuters regularly go on to rant about delayed, cancelled or even noisy trains.

“We apologise for any inconvenience” is a phrase used so often that it’s become meaningless to people, and doesn’t sound at all sincere, but just some guff companies trot out to placate an angry customer.

What is much more effective for a complaint is to let the person know their concerns have been heard, explain why the situation is happening, and what you are doing to rectify the problem.

In cases such as this, an apology is not necessary… 

A far better response for this would be “That is frustrating. We are making signs more prominent and will alert staff to keep an ear out in the quiet carriages.”

Save your “sorry” for when it’s really the company’s fault. The general public’s noise level is hardly something you can control. Likewise with poor weather affecting trains, or vandalism on the lines. Business transparency is generally more appreciated by customers, who want an explanation, rather than a weakly trotted out apology.

An apology shouldn’t always be the first part of your crisis plan. Better to assess the level of responsibility for what has happened before jumping in with a sorry and making your brand look culpable.

Successful crisis communication will always take a quick appraisal of the situation before making a decision on what action is necessary.

Sorry is a part of your weapons arsenal. But don't be afraid to withold it for when it’s really needed.


For help and advice, call our crisis management experts now on 0800 612 9890.