Why you should say 'sorry' in politics - and in the business world - but only if you mean it

Sorry seems to be the hardest word for both party leaders to say at the moment.

Why is 'sorry' the hardest word for politicians? (pic credits: Dan Kitwood-Pool/Getty Images; Steve Taylor / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Why is 'sorry' the hardest word for politicians? (pic credits: Dan Kitwood-Pool/Getty Images; Steve Taylor / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Jeremy Corbyn has dodged the use of the 'S' word in response to a heartfelt message from the Chief Rabbi on behalf of the whole British Jewish community and presented to him by various interviewers, notably Andrew Neil, in the past day or so.

In the blue corner, Boris Johnson hasn't done much better. He has repeatedly been asked to apologise for his offensive comments about Muslim women, made in his column in the Daily Telegraph last year, but has spurned many opportunities to do so.

And it has really puzzled me why both politicians have expressly gone out of their way to avoid the actual use of the word itself.

Is it really such a bad thing, from a PR perspective, to say "sorry"?

Either someone has been advising the leaders that it is, and that's why they have swerved uttering the two-syllable word of the moment, or, basically, they both lack any empathy.

Or perhaps, as each of them expressly denies, Corbyn is genuinely antisemitic and Johnson is Islamophobic, and they feel they have nothing they need to apologise for.

I've been racking my brains about campaigns built around a public (and genuine) apology and I can't see what the downsides of saying sorry are.

I can't see where apologising really backfired when a brand, company or person says it and means it.

Last year, KFC ran out of chicken; obviously not a great thing for a chicken restaurant to do.

It built a creative and award-winning campaign – who could forget the strapline 'FCK'? – out of saying "We’re sorry" to its customers.

The business recovered and there is plenty of evidence to say that it provided a timely and positive boost for the brand, too.

Going back even further, and in the celebrity world, reality TV star Jade Goody made some horribly racist comments in Celebrity Big Brother 2007 about fellow contestant Shilpa Shetty, a Bollywood actress.

The public turned on her, as did the tabloids and sponsors.

But she saw the light, publicly apologised for her behaviour, appearing in articles and on TV shows to personally express her apology.

Goody made a trip to India to learn more about the culture and apologise to those she had offended. She was genuine about putting a wrong right.

She was even subsequently invited to appear on the Indian version of Big Brother in 2008 and when she tragically died of cancer the following year, she was fondly remembered by the British public.

I doubt this has been said before, or this particular parallel drawn, but perhaps Corbyn and Johnson could take a leaf out of Goody's book.

Graham Goodkind is founder and chairman of Frank 


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