Writing up an apology, whether it’s to a colleague, a client or the general public, is always going to be a painstaking exercise. But entirely necessary to maintain your reputation, and keep those consumers coming back.
The most important part of any apology is always the actual words ‘I’m sorry’ themselves, however there are other factors to consider as well – what time to publish your apology, which platform should you choose, how long should it be, how specific?
We’ve handpicked 5 examples of how not to write a public apology from the past year, to showcase just what to avoid when writing your own statement of regret.
Jennifer Holliday and the Trump Inauguration
One of the most recent apologies to hit the headlines has to be the letter released by Broadway star Jennifer Holliday after she initially accepted a performance at Donald Trump’s Presidential Inauguration Ceremony. Considered to be a long-time LGBT ally, Holliday came under fire from her fans during the public announcement that she would be performing one of her iconic songs at this most controversial concert.
Prior to cancelling her performance, she claimed that she ‘didn’t realise the political significance’ of her actions, and that she ‘didn’t have a dog in this fight’, despite being a Clinton supporter herself. It was only after the abuse she received from her supporters, with many telling her that she would never sing again after this performance, that her letter was published, now maintaining that she ‘hears’ the LGBT community, and ‘feels their pain’.
Holliday’s apology, whilst certainly emotive, could’ve instead refined itself to a more professional statement – as, although the situation itself was one of personal feeling, performing is, technically, her job. And no matter which career sector you fall into, when apologising for a business decision, a voice of professionalism should still be maintained.
It’s also always better to avoid attacking those who either drew attention for your mistake, or forced you to rectify the situation. Holliday actually described the fans who opposed her performance as having written ‘ugly, hateful comments’ in an attempt to change her mind, a direct reference which almost cancels out her originally gracious apology. Stick to apologising for yourself, your mistake, and its consequences – rather than forcing the spotlight onto someone else.
Tom Hiddleston and his Golden Globes Speech
Tom Hiddleston, best known for his role as Loki in Marvels Avengers, has recently become the subject of a social media storm following his bluntly ‘self-congratulatory’ speech, following a Golden Globes win.
After receiving his award for starring role in the recent drama series, ‘The Night Manager’, Hiddleston, although visibly nervous, began to tell a story in which several relief workers in South Sudan thanked him for making the show. The ‘young doctors and nurses’ had binge-watched the programme during a shelling attack the previous month, and whilst Hiddleston might have intended to simply highlight the need for further war aid in the country, he instead congratulated himself on ‘bringing relief and entertainment’ to struggling people.
In the apology issued on Facebook the following morning, he agreed that his speech was ‘inelegantly expressed’, and illustrated twice throughout the text that ‘nerves got the better of him’. Whilst the timing of this apology was certainly apt, there are always cases where an apology isn’t actually necessary at all – or can be condensed down into a neat 140 character Tweet. In his apology, Hiddleston again mentions the UNICEF organisations he was trying to promote, which although charitable, feels a little like overkill.
Amazon and the Indian Flag Doormat
An issue that raised its head back in 2016, Amazon have been criticised for their lack of action following the sale of controversial Indian doormats – featuring images of religious deities, Hindu symbols or the Indian flag.
Despite the majority of sales coming from a handful of Canadian sellers, Amazon itself was held responsible by the Indian community for these offensive novelty gimmicks, eventually leading to the personal involvement of Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs. After threatening the Amazon staff members with the refusal of Indian visas, and rescinding any previously issued visas, the company released a statement ‘regretting the offense of Indian sensibilities’.
Although the publicised apology email to Ms Swaraj argued that the blame actually lies with the third-party sellers, Amazon immediately withdrew the offending products and invited the Minister to discuss India’s potential with their officials in person. Whilst a personal apology is always a more genuine approach, when your mistake offends an entire community or religion, it shouldn’t be left to the victimised representative to share your words.
In this particular situation, where Ms Swaraj had specifically demanded Amazon tender an ‘unconditional apology’ to resolve the situation, it’s easy to identify that the author of said email didn’t actually provide this. They did admit ‘regret’, but at no point did they apologise or even use the word ‘sorry’. When it comes to rectifying a difficult situation, there’s no benefit to dodging the exact requirements, as it can only create further consequences.
Conal International Trading, Inc. and the Swastika Boots
In a story that began on social media but soon reached broadcast news, a Reddit user posted a photograph of the print his new Polar Fox boots had left in the snow – unmistakably resembling the Nazi Swastika symbol.
The company behind the boots, Conal International Trading, Inc., upon discovering the viral image, immediately attempted to rectify the situation by issuing a statement of ‘sincerest apologies’, claiming their ‘design was not intentional’ but instead ‘a mistake made by our manufacturers in China’.
Again, Amazon comes under fire here, as the boots were purchased through the retailer’s online store, however the majority of negative responses to this particular story placed the blame back on the Chinese manufacturers. This is perhaps the largest mistake in the apology, in that, even with the controversial shape being identified as a symbol of hatred, it is another racial community who took the fall. Passing blame, indirectly or not, is not a smart move when sincerely apologising. If a mistake was made, with your name or brand even remotely associated with it, the blame is on you and it’s a wiser move to own up and move on from it.
Katie Hopkins and the Mahmood family
Katie Hopkins, ex-Apprentice contestant and opinionated journalist, has perhaps provided the worst example of an apology in recent months – particularly considering it wasn’t actually written by her.
In a story spread over two weeks of column articles in 2015, Katie shared her thoughts and theories on the reasons as Muslim family were refused from boarding a plane to Disneyland, using their names, housing location and a flimsy, unintentional tie to an extremist Facebook group to highlight them as potential terrorists. And it was only after a year of harassment, distress and general embarrassment for the family, and their eventual clearance of extremist intentions, that the Daily Mail published an apology to them.
This apology raises several worrying issues – the most notable one being that the statement was publicly released at 2am in the morning, a deliberately quiet period for social media users, perhaps with the intention that few people would spot it. Where possible, share your apology to the mass – taking responsibility for an offensive or upsetting action shouldn’t be a sneaky exercise. It was also written almost a year after the original column was published, at a point where most would’ve forgotten about Katie’s words. The article itself has been taken down, so the offending statement can no longer be repeated.
Written from the Daily Mail as a representative, rather than Katie herself, the statement closes by explaining that they have agreed to pay ‘substantial damages and legal costs’. Whilst the inclusion of this information does help with public opinion, it makes no move to suggest that such offenses won’t happen again, with no preventative measures being put in place to stop future upset.
Any apology worth saying is worth saying right – you should include a direct apology, show a deep understand of how your mistake affected the public or the individual, and explain how you want to prevent such an upset happening in future. Post it in a format that fits to your brand, and at a time where the majority of the offended community will be able to see it. Avoid the mistakes made by the celebrities discussed, and you’ll be in the clear before you know it.