How (not) to apologise – Oil, Uber and Ball Tampering

Everyone makes mistakes.  In fact, human error is possibly one of the biggest causes of business failure today.  How you respond to an error can be the difference between disruptive and disastrous.

A poor apology can do further and irreparable harm to your reputation.   However a well-constructed apology delivered genuinely will not only minimise reputational damage but may even raise your profile in a more positive way than ever before.

Let’s first look at how not to apologise.

CEO of BP, Tony Hayward was responding to a massive oil spill in March 2010 and delivered one of the worst corporate apologies I have ever heard.  His words were:

We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I want my life back.”

The next day he had to ‘apologise for his apology’ but the damage was done.


More recently we have seen some rippers in the news.  Let’s take the Stefanovic brothers’ apology after being caught talking about their colleagues on loud speaker in an Uber.  In his apology Karl Stefanovic said:

 “[Peter and I] talk a hundred times a day and hardly ever about work.  But we did, and the conversation was recorded. And we are sorry. I was angry with myself at first that I could be so stupid… I’ll be taking cabs from now on.”

Most commentary around this called it a ‘carefully constructed apology’ but I disagree.

Karl said he was angry that he could be so stupid – because he said those things or because he got caught?  And saying he will be ‘taking cabs from now on’ isn’t an apology.  It is like saying “I’ll continue to talk about my colleagues but it won’t be in an Uber in case I’m overheard”.”

Maybe Channel 9 and its audiences are more forgiving but it doesn’t sound sincere at all for me.


On the flip side (excuse the pun), former Captain of the Australian Cricket Team, Steve Smith, has apologised for his role in the ball-tampering scandal.    He issued a full and heartfelt apology accepting full responsibility and demonstrating genuine remorse.

“I don’t blame anyone. I’m the captain of the Australian team,” Smith said. “I made a serious error of judgment and I now understand the consequences. It was a failure of leadership. Of my leadership.”

Not only will Smith be forgiven but media reports are claiming Smith should “expect a standing ovation when he next walks out to bat in an Australian uniform”.

Whoever scripted that one deserves a pat on the back.

So what can you do to make a good apology?

Be credible

The apology has to come from the person who made the error or the most senior person in an organisation where a company issue has occurred, not read out by someone unrelated to the issue.  The apology must have meaning and demonstrate genuine remorse in the content and the delivery.

Take responsibility

Own your mistake, take responsibility and acknowledge the damage or hurt caused.  Apologise for what you did, not just the effect it had.  For example, don’t say “we are sorry if we offended anyone” – it implies you may not have offended anyone.  In addition, you haven’t apologised for the actual error.

Don’t make excuses

“It was out of my control” or “I didn’t know this was going on” will simply not cut it.

Take action

Commit to further investigation, more resources or training, stricter standards – whatever it takes to fix the problem, reduce the risk or prevent the situation from ever occurring again.

Timing is everything

Don’t sit on an issue hoping it will blow over. There is so much wrong with that approach.  Respond as soon as possible, preferably within the first hour but only if you have all the facts.  A prompt response is recommended before speculation and rumour take over.

Use the right channels

If it broke on twitter, apologise on twitter but don’t limit your apology to one medium.  You need to go where the banter is in order to respond effectively.

Seek legal advice

If the error could result in legal action then seek the advice of a professional.  I would recommend running any statements by a lawyer as a precaution.


If you do it right, not only will a good apology set you on the right course again but can potentially see you in a better position than when you started.  You may retain and even gain new customer loyalty in the process.

What Journalists Want

If you want to know what gets a journalist buzzing then read on. If your story doesn’t meet at least one of the criteria featured, go back to the drawing board.

Conflict – When you go home tonight and watch the news I guarantee that apart from the fluffy good news piece at the end, just about every story in the news is likely to contain some element of conflict: war, politics, big corporate vs little guy, murder, violence, cheating and the list goes on. Conflict makes news, that’s a fact. But of course, we don’t want our story to be one of conflict so keep reading for more ideas. 

Access to good spokespeople – an emphasis on ‘access’ and ‘good’. Journalists have deadlines and quite often they are hot on a story which will stop dead if the spokesperson is not available. Journalists want access to good spokespeople – that’s people relatively high up in the organization, have significant knowledge of their company or the issue at hand who have good media interview skills. If you put forward the story and you don’t have access to a good spokesperson, it’s highly likely the story won’t even get written. If it’s a story that the journo is investigating and you don’t have access to a good spokesperson, then you are just sending that journalist to your competitor. 

Exclusives – journalists want exclusives or first exclusives but only if it’s going to help sell their paper or get more viewers/listeners. If it’s a story that is likely to be in a section at the back of a newspaper, it’s probably not important enough to negotiate an exclusive. 

Revolutionary/change – something that will change the way we think or live. Enough said. 

Celebrity profile – go on, try to open a women’s magazine that doesn’t feature a celebrity, I dare you. OK so Miley isn’t our desired spokesperson but find the right one (and ensure they are the right fit) and you may just have a winner. 

Good quotes – if a quote from a person high up in an organisation is compelling enough, the media will run it. Think predictions, trends, breaking news…… 

Great photographs – how many times have you stopped to look at a story because of the photograph? People will notice a visual first, then headline, then text. 

Road Testing – (current affair style specials) X brand washing powder vs Y brand washing powder. However, to put this forward you must be confident with your product. 

Proximity/ Local angle significance – Let’s use an overseas event as an example – if there is an Aussie involved you can guarantee the story will get covered here. Think local which could be suburb, city, state or national. 

Warning – this could happen if…… 

Timely – use what is currently in the news to propel your story further.

Apply at least one of these to every media pitch to give you story more news value.


Why your reputation matters now more than ever

So you think you have a squeaky clean reputation and are immune to negative talk and speculation?  Pushing out positive messages like a well-oiled machine will assist your company in being seen in a positive light but have you thought about what isn’t in your “control” such as comments by others about you/your company, posting of photos you didn’t mean the world to see or private information that ends up on the internet?  It isn’t just what you post that forms your reputation but what other people post about you.

You could think about it the same way you would go about making a purchase decision.  You might read information that the company has written about a product but then ask others or go to public forums and online reviews only to find that there are faults and frustrations with the product and how it performs.  As a representative we can say all the positive things you like but from a public perception the public is more likely to believe a stranger online.  Why?  Because a third-party endorsement has far more credibility than what a person or company says about itself.

There is nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide and what goes online stays online. We all watch and cringe as a video goes viral of someone doing something that will not only tarnish their reputation now but stay with them forever as a label they will want to forget.  And it just gets worse.  They lose their job, their place on the sporting team, their relationship breaks down and others start distancing themselves.

In the words of Warren Buffet: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.  If you think about that you’ll do things differently”.

So how can you ensure you continue to be perceived in a positive light?

Apart from avoiding doing something really stupid – with or without the influence of drugs or alcohol – there are steps you can take to manage your reputation online.

There are three key actions to live by:

Listen and monitor what is being said online about you / your company.  Do an online search online looking at news, images and videos.  For a more comprehensive search there are a load of paid solutions for monitoring social media but to kick off set up a Google alert in yours or your company’s name.

Create positive content consistently.  Do things that help build your reputation – writing expert articles, sharing good and relevant content and get better at mastering media interviews.

Address negative sentiment.  So someone has made a negative comment on your /your company’s Facebook page?  Before you hit that delete button, think about how you can turn the situation around.  That negative comment may be a common thought so countering it with facts may not only sway the person who wrote it, but others who are reading it and thinking the same.  Nothing smells more than a company trying to hide bad reviews.

It is always good to have a crisis communications plan ready to roll out in the case of unforseen issues.

In all cases, whether it is your professional online networks or personal online networks there is only one rule – Do not say or do anything that you don’t want to see in print (or on TV, or online or…..).

So what is your reputation worth?  Would you spare ten minutes a day to manage your reputation?  Because that may be all that is required to stay on top of how your reputation is tracking.

Five Steps to Mastering Your Next Media Interview

You have agreed to do a media interview so now you have to face the firing line, so to speak

Regardless of whether you are launching a new product or responding to a crisis, the objective of any interview should be to promote your brand/company in a positive light and to get the best possible outcome from the interview.  Here are five things you can do to master your next media interview.

1) Preparation is key.  Start by making a list of every possible question a journalist may ask including a ‘worst-case-scenario’ line of questioning and devise ideal responses to ensure you ready for any question, including the tricky ones.

As Henry Kissinger, a master of interviews, once remarked during a press conference whilst Secretary of State, “Does anyone have any questions for my answers?’

2) The journalist is asking the questions but you are the one managing the responses. There is no point in participating in any interview if your key messages aren’t communicated.    A solid understanding of your company’s key messages and thinking of different ways to say the same thing provides the foundation to get your message across (almost) regardless of the question asked.

3) Investigate the publication or media program beforehand – it will help you understand the type of questions that may get asked and even more importantly the audience reading, watching or listening so you can pitch your answers accordingly.

4) If the interview is conducted on television or radio, use your body language and tone of voice to create a positive impression. Viewers are likely to read into body language despite your response, which may be positive, so shifting in your seat nervously or buying time by reaching for that glass of water will tell the audience things that may work to contradict your response.

5) The interview itself is a great opportunity to establish your credibility, build rapport with the interviewing journalist that will hopefully develop into an ongoing relationship.

Last of all, try to relax and enjoy the interview –it is likely to be the one of many and each interview is a valuable learning process.

Five things you must do in a crisis

A crisis can impact your company in a variety of ways and should normally pass, but the critical question to consider is will your company’s reputation survive.  These sure fire tips will help you navigate through a crisis and emerge with minimal harm to your reputation.

1. Prepare!
Do you honestly believe in your working life nothing bad will happen that could put your company or its reputation at risk?  The difference between a reputation being destroyed or preserved will be in the preparation.  A crisis management plan and a crisis communication plan are both essential to manage a crisis and continue your ability to deliver.  When the crisis hits there is no time to sit down and write a plan of action.  Preparing plans in advance will mean you can concentrate on managing, and where possible containing, the crisis.

2. A good spokesperson
A poor performance in the media can do considerable – sometimes irreparable – damage to your organisation, your professional standing and goodwill with stakeholders and audiences.  A crisis will be challenging enough to deal with at any one time, so having a media spokesperson who holds a senior position in the business, has knowledge of the crisis and the company’s policies AND be able to handle the tough questions, is vitally important to how this crisis will play out in the media.  The spokesperson should have undergone media training to handle these situations (but not 5 minutes before the story is breaking).

3. The essential holding statement
When ‘it’ hits the fan you must be ready to talk.  This is not the time to bury your head in the sand.  What you say first in a crisis sets the tone for the entire ‘event’.  You must be ready to come out with a holding statement at the very least.  This means acknowledging the problem, demonstrating compassion and talking about your course of action ie what steps you are taking to resolve the crisis.  The holding statement must end with the promise you will be back in touch with the media/public at a defined time to deliver further information.

4. Staying in the limelight
Ok so this doesn’t sound so appealing when you have a crisis on your hands but if no-one has the facts then speculation fills the gap and this could be your worst nightmare.  Your next few deliveries to the media/ public need to be updates of what you know, what you don’t know and what further action you are taking.   The more co-operative and visible you are, the more likely you/your organisation will be viewed as trusted regardless of the situation.  You only have to picture a company /spokesperson going to ground to understand what message that sends.  Remember if the media can’t get the story from you, they will find someone else and that may not be the perspective you want featured.

5. Be honest, open and transparent
People will forgive human error, mistakes or even poor judgement but they will never forgive a calculated lie.  Enough said!!
See the process through and in rebuilding your company’s brand after the crisis, adhere to the above tips to retain or win back stakeholder confidence.

The Essential ‘C’s’ of Communicating in a Media Interview

Your performance in a media interview has the ability to shape public impressions and perceptions of you and your organisation.  You can make or break your reputation with a good or poor interview.  The seven C’s of communicating in a media interview will help make the whole interview process smoother and help lead to a more favourable result:

First impressions are everything. In the first 30 seconds we meet someone we have already formed an impression.  Keep this in mind when preparing for your interview and make sure you dress, act and speak appropriately for the situation.

State the reasons why you are here talking today – the reasons that brought you to the interview as well as the message you want to convey – what is important and why.

What you say must be relevant to the audience. Only share facts that are relevant and meaningful to the audience.

Speak clearly and lose the jargon.  The interviewer must be able to understand what you are talking about. Make sure the words you use mean the same thing to the audience.

Repeat key messages. What do you want to say and how many different ways can you say it?  Repetition achieves infiltration and understanding.

Make sure your message is consistent with other communications that are being said by your organisation.

Capability of audience
The interviewer must be aware of the audience capabilities. The least effort required understanding the message, the more effective it will be.
With these key points in mind you will be rewarded with better, clearer communication and the ability to maximise your story potential.  Remember – preparation is king.
Henry Kissinger was a master at interviews and was once overheard asking confidently at a news conference “Does anyone have any questions for my answers?”

The Seven Deadly Sins of Television Interviews

In the world of news there are a multitude of sins that can have an adverse effect on the person being interviewed and/or the organisation they represent.  Some sins are worse than others but regardless they will all lead to a bad experience that can leave a reputation in tatters.  Below are seven of the most deadly of all sins when it comes to television interviews.


  1. Sloth – the avoidance of any work or in this case pre-work.  Going into an interview without researching the journalist, the program or who watches it is like kicking a ball without having any idea of where the goal post is.  We’ve seen it happen before unfortunately… The interviewee says little of interest to the audience or has lost them through jargon and irrelevant information.  Amends:   Do (or delegate someone else to) some research on past programs, watch a few, get an idea of the program and the host’s tone, then formulate your messages accordingly.
  1. Gluttony – overindulgence. This takes the form of going on and on about yourself and/or your organisation without consideration for what the audience might be interested in.  Amends:  Find a medium between what you want to say and how it is relevant to the viewing audience. Give the audience something over and above product/service information to leave them feeling informed, not sold to.
  1. Wrath – anger and/or uncontrolled feelings of hatred.  Getting heated in an interview – no matter how hostile the question – is a really bad look – it says ‘guilty’, ‘defensive’ and nothing good about your personality.  Amends:  Develop and practice answers to the questions you don’t want to be asked.  If you are prepared well enough, you will be in control when the tough questions are asked.
  1. Envy – resentment of what others have.  This is slamming the competition and being negative about what others are doing.  Amends:  Practice talking about your strengths and how you are different from others without needing to point out their flaws.
  1. Lust – an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.  You want your 15 minutes of fame and you don’t care how you get it – so you call yourself an expert when the truth is you aren’t an expert at all.  You are asked a question you have no idea about but you answer it anyway.  Amends:  Only agree to speak about what you know and let the journalist know your areas of expertise in advance.  If someone in your organisation is better equipped to do the interview, then let them step up. If you do find yourself in an interview where you are asked something you don’t know, then be honest and tell the journalist exactly that.
  1. Greed – desire for material wealth.  You have just forgotten the golden rule of PR, which is to ‘make aware or inform’ not sell.  You are so caught up with your sales spiel you don’t realise the journalist and the audience have switched off and you will most likely never be invited back as a guest.  Amends:  Develop a conversational language style which allows you to talk with your audience not at them.
  1. Pride – excessive belief in one’s own abilities. The original and most serious sin of all.  It is the belief you are so good at what you do you don’t need any help.  You may know your topic but if you have not had extensive experience or training in being interviewed you could do irreparable damage to yourself and your organisation.  Amends:  Get professional media training.  Don’t ask your work colleagues to do it -they will be too afraid to tell you the truth.  Get outside help and do it BEFORE you do the interview.