One of the big PR lessons of this year is that it doesn’t pay to be too big for your britches. If you represent a company or organization that has behaved less than accordingly, before you begin to explain away the problem or make excuses, you must first apologize. Apology first, explanation second (rationalization never).
Over the weekend, a female sportscaster was treated unprofessionally while doing a story on Mark Sanchez at a New York Jets practice. A Jets coach, as well as some of the Jets players, displayed a lack of tact by making cat calls and other rude gestures at Ines Sainz, the former Miss Spain who now provides sports coverage for Mexico’s TV Azteca.
An NFL investigation is currently underway, but regardless of its findings, the first thing Jets owner Woody Johnson, manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan should have done when this issue went public is apologize. It doesn’t matter whether nor not the behavior of the Jets players amounts to harassment or something less serious – the point is that they behaved with a lack of decorum, and therefore a good old fashioned apology is in order.
(Note: as of today, USA Today reports that Woody Johnson has apologized to Ms. Sainz)
Florida pastor Terry Jones came short of an apology for his threats to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 this past Saturday. He didn’t go through with his plans after urgings from the President, General Petraeus, and other key government officials, but we’re still waiting for the apology he owes the United States Armed Forces as well as people of faith worldwide for putting lives at risk by even suggesting the extremely disrespectful act.
There are a whole slew of people in the headlines we are still waiting on apologies from, but the purpose of this post is not a witch hunt. It’s a reminder that, even though we have the option of denying, deferring, and trying to explain away blame, often the most prudent, and most adult option is to accept responsibility and move on.
Apologizing is no easy thing. When I was a kid, I often had my timeouts extended because I wouldn’t say those magic words: “I’m sorry.” With friends and colleagues, it is still difficult to have the humility to admit when one has fallen short of expectations. It’s our pride and our hubris that gets in the way of an apology, but at the end of the day, people will respect us more if we step off our high horse.
In this industry we talk a lot about ways to preserve, protect, and advance reputations. But when you, or the organization you represent, has genuinely fowled up, you just plain need to fess up.