The power of the (well-deployed) written apology

"I'm sorry." They are two of the most powerful words in the English language.

Saying sorry sincerely could save you a lot of trouble in the long run, writes James Clench
Saying sorry sincerely could save you a lot of trouble in the long run, writes James Clench

Used in the right way, they can control the fallout of the most damaging personal and professional mistakes.

Deployed badly, they can precipitate the final shove into the abyss.


Also see: 'Sorry' seems to be the hardest word: the PR apologies (and non-apologies) of 2017


January 2018 has seen H&M, Catherine Deneuve and UKIP leader Henry Bolton’s girlfriend Jo Marney all make public apologies, ranging from prostrate pleas for forgiveness to weasel-worded excuses.

H&M came under fire after a picture of a black boy modelling a hoodie featuring the slogan "Coolest monkey in the jungle" appeared in its catalogue.

The retailer apologised quickly, humbly, comprehensively and publicly on social media and its website – but still fell short for those outraged in the first place.

The reaction was unforgiving.

Twitter users suggested that a lack of diversity had led to the original error. South Africa stores closed as protests erupted.

But thanks to speed and sincerity, the apology headed off even more serious repercussions such as international boycotts.

Silence would have been catastrophic – the lack of an obvious apology on its UK Facebook page alone sparked furious comments.

Catherine Deneuve may have benefited from keeping quiet when she criticised the #MeToo movement.
Critics said she had scorned victims of sexual abuse and she subsequently apologised.

But her "désolé" was very carefully directed at the victims of "hideous acts" and "them alone".

Deneuve, who shuns social media, issued her apology through French newspaper Libération.

Those who backed Deneuve’s original position used Twitter to bemoan her caving into criticism, while those who had slated her dismissed what they described as a "semi-apology".

The lesson here: if you are weighing in to a controversial topic, think through your argument with care.
One suspects that Deneuve herself dismissed the whole affair with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders.

A duo who can’t shake off their reputational demise are UKIP leader (at time of writing) Henry Bolton and his ex-girlfriend Jo Marney.

Marney sent racist phone texts including the claim that "black American" Meghan Markle would "taint" the Royal Family.

Marney responded with a statement certain to be remembered as a classic by connoisseurs of the sorry-not-sorry mea culpa.

Her opinions were "deliberately exaggerated" to make a point and had been "taken out of context".

One can only imagine the background circumstances that provided context – brainstorm for an Alf Garnett reboot, perhaps?

She later tweeted that she loved "black music and black artists" – a spin on the cringeworthy some-of-my-best-friends-are-black racist defence.

Unsurprisingly, her ham-fisted response inflamed a bad situation and led to more flak on social media.

Bolton – who left his wife for Marney days before the texts emerged – initially refused to apologise for his poor judgment.

But both his party and the public have aimed another powerful two-word Anglo Saxon phrase at them.

Sadly this one is not printable in a respectable publication.

James Clench is head of entrepreneurs & business at PHA Media

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