I may open a public relations firm named Apologies & Regrets, Inc. I could have made a fortune last week if my clients were Pepsi, United Airlines and Sean Spicer. Each of them created a PR mess followed by various degrees of apologies:
Sean Spicer: The White House press secretary, commenting on Syrian President Assad’s use of chemical gas on his own people, compared Assad to Nazi Germany. “(Even) someone as despicable as Hitler…didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” he told reporters, forgetting that millions of people were gassed in death camps. “(Hitler) was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Spicer deepened the hole by referring to a concentration camp as a “Holocaust center.” As outrage swelled, Spicer apologized repeatedly and effectively, calling his gaffe “inexcusable” and “reprehensible.”
Pepsi: After posting a commercial starring Kendall Jenner to YouTube, the beverage company soon deleted it. The New York Times reported, “Pepsi has apologized for a controversial advertisement that borrowed imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement, after a day of intense criticism from people who said it trivialized the widespread protests against the killings of black people by the police.” The appropriate statement read, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”
United: After video of a passenger being violently dragged off a plane went viral, United CEO Oscar Munez inappropriately apologized for “having to re-accommodate…customers.” He then fueled public anger with a message to his employees, describing the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent,” adding, “employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.” On his third try, Munoz stated, “We take full responsibility and we will work to make it right. I promise you we will do better.” Too little, too late.
Apologies & Regrets, Inc. would advise that “I’m sorrys” are almost always necessary to repair public relations damage. Spicer’s and Pepsi’s timely, sincere apologies may have calmed their controversies while Munez’s slow, inappropriate response has become another case study in “what was he thinking?” Your thoughts?