I’m Sorry

30 09 2011

Apologies have been a discussion in PR and crisis communication for years. When do you apologize? How do you apologize? Through what communication medium do you apologize?

Recent news has brought this topic into mainstream discussion once again. One example is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and how he is trying to muddle through the thousands of complaints Netflix customers have about its newest business operations. A recent Washington Post article, The Science Behind Saying Sorry, discussed how Hastings’ effort to address his angry customers is following a familiar script.

In the past individuals have reacted differently to  apologies. Some are effective and some crash and burn. Is there a specific formula for the perfect apology? How do you repent while managing the fact that you are confirming blame? Personally, I would appreciate a sincere apology; one that doesn’t utilize scapegoats. According to a leadership text-book when leaders fail and lose credibility the 6 “As” of leadership accountability should be utilized. Accept responsibility, admit mistakes, apologize, take immediate remedial action, make amends or reparation and pay close attention to the reactions of your followers. This is where Hastings’ apology failed. Although he did say I’m sorry. He was apologizing for not explaining his recent business decision to charge Netflix customers more, but customers were mad that he did not make any remedial action to solve the problem. He did not pay close attention to the reactions of his followers.

Another recent example includes College of Charleston Student Body President, Ross Kressel. Kressel faced impeachment from office for tweeting offensive comments about gays, women  and some of his colleagues. After surviving impeachment he issued an apology via email to the student body. Below is the email sent.


This letter is an apology from my heart for the actions you may have recently read about.  As Student Body President I acted inappropriately and for that I apologize.  I apologize for whatever embarrassment, pain, or suffering I may have caused any of you in my capacity, because that is obviously not why you elected me your Student Body President.  I pledge to continue to work for you, represent you, and create the College environment you desire.  I as well as my colleagues in the Student Government Association welcome your call or email in the future to let us know how we can better serve you.  In the coming days, I will contact you to inform you of some of the major issues that will be addressed during the school year. 


Ross Kressel, President of the Student Body


After receiving this apology by email I began to question if this medium was the most effective means to deliver an apology for such an offensive act. How should apologies be delivered to their publics? Does delivery medium have an effect on the perceived effectiveness of the apology? I would argue that the medium does have an effect of the perceived effectiveness of the apology. As a communication master’s student I can’t help but apply a media theory to this example. According to media richness theory, individuals should match the communication channel to the content of the information. The second major consideration of this theory is the nature of the message that needs to be sent. The scholars that created this theory centered the nature of the message on ambiguity – the possibility of multiple interpretations or confusion. Therefore, the more ambiguous and sensitive the message the richer the medium that should be utilized (with face-to-face being the richest medium). I would argue that Hastings and Kressel should have used a richer form of media to communicate their apology. Would their apologies have been perceived differently if a richer medium were chosen? Do you think email and social media sites are effective mediums to deliver apologies? Does if depend on the situation?

Update on our Pepsi Refresh Project

22 11 2010

In an earlier post I mentioned the year-long social media campaign Pepsi has launched tiled the Pepsi Refresh Project which will donate more than $20 million to charity projects.  My PR class has applied to win a $25K grant for our class client Safe Harbor.  Safe Harbor is a domestic violence shelter in upstate SC that provides shelter, counseling and other services to abused women and children.  The 2 Safe Harbor shelters are in desperate need of revitalization as more than 500 women and children sleep and stay in their 2 shelters a year.  If Safe Harbor wins the grant they will use the money to purchase new mattresses, playground equipment and carpet for their 2 shelters.

To help Safe Harbor win this competition my PR class is leveraging all of our individual social networks as well as Safe Habor’s social networks.  We set up a plan to strategically post on Safe Harbor’s Facebook and Twitter 3 times a week.  We have also asked Safe Harbor to post on their blog about the project and tell others through their email networks.  Individually we have sent emails to our networks, posted on our Facebooks, Twitters and blogs.  We have also tapped into to Clemson University’s networks by emailing departments, campus organizations and even the president to ask them to support our effort and vote daily.  In addition, we sent press releases to local media.  Our press release was published in The Tiger, Clemson University’s newspaper.

So far our efforts have been successful.  We have moved from number 207 to number 85 and continue to climb.  We have to be in the top 10 by November 30th to win the grant.  Please visit our page on the Pepsi Refresh site to vote!  We need your help!

Gap experiences a backlash for its new logo

12 10 2010


Gap's new logo is on the right.


Gap changed its logo from the all capped white letters in a blue box that it has used for two decades to the logo presented on the right.  The president of Gap North America noted that Gap wanted something more contemporary and current while honoring their heritage.  What resulted was a logo pictured here.  Gap’s logo was not received well by its audience and it received quite a backlash.  People said that it looked like something their child could create on clip art or a horrible Powerpoint design. Some even went as far as to set up websites to bash Gap’s new look.  Gap responded to this by stating that they are taking suggestions and feedback.  This week they have ditched the new logo and have gone back to the old.

It seems to me that Gap did not do enough research before changing its brand.  Gap is viewed to many as a traditional “American store.”  Its brand is clean-cut, timeless and wholesome.  If Gap would have done some research before changing its brand, it would have realized how much people liked its old brand and how much its values radiated through it.

However, sometimes scenarios such as this can result in some good for a company or brand.  After all people are talking about Gap and major news sources such as NPR and the Huffington Post are publishing articles about Gap.  Is the worth the small amount of damage to their brand/reputation for the publicity? Is any publicity good publicity?  What do you think of Gap’s new logo?  Please leave your comments below.

A Really Bad Pitch!

24 03 2009

While catching up on my Google Reader I came across a post on the Bad Pitch Blog. The blog post described the worst pitch I have ever read in my life. I couldn’t believe this really happened. Basically the NY Post newspaper received an email promoting a particular dermatologist and their news peg was the death of a real estate reporter at the NY Post. The email even stated that the reporter ignored signs of melanoma and could have prevented his death if he would have seen a dermatologist! I couldn’t believe that this particular PR person used DEATH AS A NEWS PEG! As if this wasn’t bad enough, the pitch email was sent only a few hours after the news paper staff returned from their colleague’s funeral. This was a huge PR mistake and the pitch obviously failed miserably. Note to PR practitioners: Death is too risky of a subject to use as a news peg. I encourage you all to read the post and the pitch letter.

There is WHAT in my peanut butter?!

12 02 2009

A couple of days ago I received an email from Food Lion involving the recent Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak in peanut products.  I thought the email, copied below, was a great example of PR in a crisis.  Food Lion makes sure to let its customers know that they are working with the FDA to stay updated on products that may contain Salmonella.  Food Lion also assures its customers that all peanut products sold at the store have been approved.    They also have a section of their Website dedicated to recalls.  All foods that have been recalled and why are listed on the Website.  Food Lion also guarantees full refunds of all these products. 

 I think that keeping an organization’s publics informed is the most important thing to do in a crisis.  Food Lion’s Websiteand email are both excellent examples of effective means to inform an organization’s publics.  These two tools make customers feel valued and also better establishes a relationship between Food Lion and its customers.  After all, information keeps people calm in a crisis and also makes people feel like the organization cares about them.  What other tools could Food Lion use to handle this crisis?


Dear valued customer,

As you may be aware, the FDA is continuing their investigation into
the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak caused by the Peanut Corporation
of America (PCA), which manufactures peanut butter and peanut paste.
We recently communicated some information regarding this recall to
you and we wanted to give you an update on this issue.

Over the course of the last few weeks several products have been
recalled. Since this is still an active investigation, there may
still be additional products recalled.

We would like to assure you that Food Lion, LLC (including Food Lion,
Bloom, Bottom Dollar, Reid’s and Harveys stores) is diligently
working in cooperation with the FDA to pull all products that may
contain contaminated peanut paste as an ingredient. The safety of our
customers is our utmost concern. A number of products containing
peanut butter or peanut paste have been recalled, including a fe w
from our stores, however, peanut butter sold in jars at our stores is
not affected. The peanut butter being recalled is sold by PCA in bulk
packaging to distributors for institutional food service industry
use. None of the peanut butter being recalled is sold directly to
consumers through retail stores. Information regarding the ongoing
recalls can be found at the FDA web site:

Also, we are updating our web site, http://www.foodlion.com/recalls,
with all products we have pulled. If you have purchased any of the
recalled items, you can return them to a store for a full refund.

Thank you

Good PR

5 11 2008

As I waited in line for 2 1/2 hours to vote yesterday, I heard that with an “I voted!” sticker you would receive a free cup of coffee from Starbucks.  I decided to research this a little further and found the following commercial. 

I though this was an excellent example of good PR.  Not only is Starbucks encouraging people to vote, but it is creating relationships with millions of people.  Starbucks is sharing the message that they care about our country and the people of it.  They want people to be rewarded for voting and encourage people to care. 

After further research I found that Starbucks also is on twitter.  I read through some of their recent tweets and discovered that they were also promoting their vote campaign through twitter.  Starbucks had someone tweet on their behalf and actually had conversations with people.  I was extremely impressed to see the engagement with people instead of promoting themselves simply by tweeting advertising statements.  Starbucks understands that people want to have conversations on twitter not receive spam.  I think the PR team at Starbucks is doing an excellent job of engaging in meaningful conversations and forming relationships with its publics.