Today I was browsing my twitter feed and came across a blog post on PR Daily detailing how to give a genuine apology by going back to the basics. The post highlighted the following elements that need to be adhered to when creating an apology:

  1. Acknowledge what you did wrong.
  2. Take responsibility for your actions.
  3. Acknowledge the impact your actions had on others.
  4. Apologize for having caused pain or done damage.
  5. State your future intentions and repair the damage.
  6. Above all else, do not make excuses.

While I agree with the six elements listed above, there are other factors that should be considered when faced with negative backlash. The first factor is actual genuineness in your response to the public. The PR Daily post mentioned that people tend to apologize only when they’re forced to, which bleeds any note of genuineness in apologizing.

Many companies have never learned how to properly issue an apology, with United Airlines one of the most recent organizations to have blundered in handling their PR crisis. United engaged in several common mistakes through issuing non-apologies, placing blame elsewhere and shirking responsibility for what happened.

It’s incredibly important to apologize like you mean it; don’t just say something that you think the public wants to hear. Say it or craft it with sincerity. Admit that you made a mistake (if you did make a mistake) and be timely in issuing a statement.

United initially didn’t admit fault in the situation (although this may be due to legal implications) but they also didn’t show any concern for the injured passenger, which would have strengthened their apology statement. Instead Oscar Munoz, United’s chief executive, said that United employees “followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” and accused the passenger of being “disruptive” and “belligerent” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Timeliness is incredibly important; in my BP Oil Spill post I mentioned that 28 percent of reported crises spread internationally within an hour and over two-thirds spread within the first twenty-four hours. An apology is the first step in recovering from a crisis and it needs to be issued quickly. United lost $600 million in total market value within a 24 hour period due to how quickly the incident spread on social media.

If you’re going to issue an apology, you need to get it right the first time because if it isn’t sincere, genuine or appropriate the negative backlash will only continue to snowball, causing subsequent apology statements to not hold as much impact. According to the Institute for Public Relations, if too many executives in an organization show concern, an apology might lose its effect; however, there is more to be lost from not showing concern/sympathy than for showing too much concern/sympathy.

“I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way,” Munoz said in another statement. “I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right. It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

This would have been a more appropriate and genuine apology in comparison to the initial response that Munoz gave and it may have lessened the negative backlash that United received from the public.

Although I’m an outsider peering into the corporate world, it sometimes baffles me that giant organizations are unable to properly handle a PR crisis or issue a genuine apology in a timely fashion. The PR Daily blog post does a good job in highlighting key elements that should be considered when creating an apology, but as simple as it sounds you should apologize like you actually mean it. Don’t just say something  to appease the public or stakeholders in the company; be genuine.


What are key considerations that you make when you’re apologizing, whether its on a personal or professional level? What could United Airlines have initially done that could have averted some of the negative backlash that they received on social media? Let me know in the comments below!