Business PR Strategy

When Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

Posted by Deborah | March 23rd, 2015 | No responses


If you’re a Liverpool fan, you’d have received one in the last 24 hours, courtesy of Steven Gerrard.

If you’re a Redhill cyclist, yours came from Easyjet over the weekend.

And if you’re a Clarkson fan….well, you’ll be waiting to find out whether it’s he or the BBC who’ll deliver one this week.

So what are we talking about?
Ah yes, the humble apology.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked by clients – and interested business leaders and trainee marketeers – about where I stand on whether it’s a potential PR disaster to admit you’re wrong and apologise.

It’s as if society tells us that to apologise often shifts us to the bottom of the pile and forever stamps the label of ‘traitor’ upon our foreheads.

Last week I was invited for a moment of time with the CEO of one particular business, and his first question raised this very issue.

“Surely it’s like having a car crash,” he said.

“You’re always advised that you shouldn’t get straight out of the car and admit you’re at fault – because your insurer might be able to battle the case in your favour…”.

I knew where he was coming from. I’d heard that said before (albeit not as a comparison to a PR disaster).

But like it or not, the impact of an apology on your brand in the context of PR activity is altogether different.

Sure, make sure you know the facts before you go blindly issuing an apology for the sake of it, BUT, the very provision of a Sorry can go a long long way to create empathy and tolerance (if not full forgiveness) from your customer or client.

Say you run a business which has failed to get the client’s products to them on time.

Is it better to stay quiet and ignore their social media attempts to bad-mouth you for your ineffectiveness?
Of course not.

Far better to issue a swift  ‘We’re sorry to hear of your issues and will be looking into this matter immediately’.

Yes, it might well turn out the customer hadn’t ever ordered express delivery and you’re not the party at fault, but you’re acting quickly and calmly and showing a willingness to explore who is really responsible for any perceived issue.

So, here’s some top tips to consider if you’re facing something of a PR ‘issue’ and think your best marketing tactic might be an apology:


  • Ensure you know the facts about the complainant and their annoyance. Better to slightly delay a response (or issue a holding one) until you’re armed with the right information.
  • Decide what form of communication is best for that apology. Do you use the social media channel in direct reply to your customer, or is a broader response needed? Should your website be updated? Should it be a wider apology issued to the media for mass consumption?
  • Don’t apologise without intent to act. If you’re going to say sorry you need to also have an intention in mind about what you’ll do next. Chat to your marketing team or external PR advisor about how you plan to offer recompense (are you issuing a voucher code or a gesture in some way?).
  • Learn lessons. No point apologising and then being back in the same boat next month. Learn the lessons from your need to apologise and raise the bar on your service to ensure it never occurs again.
  • TRY NOT TO NEED TO APOLOGISE IN THE FIRST PLACE. Of course, the best option by far is to be great at what you do and not need to say sorry. But hey, very few of us (or our brands and businesses) are perfect!


And for those of you who hadn’t heard why Steven Gerrrard needed to apologise:

And for those of you who hadn’t realised why the Redhill cyclists deserved an apology:


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