THIS WEEK’S BIG QUESTION: Is there any PR mileage left in the humble apology?

Richard Branson apologised last week for the performance of Virgin Trains

Richard Branson apologised last week for the performance of Virgin


Will Whitehorn


’Apologising is incredibly important. Leaves on the track can be a good

reason for things going wrong but it is still good to apologise while

you tell people. Rather than blaming Railtrack, Richard takes the

approach that the public doesn’t care who is responsible. It is still a

rarity to see people apologise in this country. There is still a blame

culture but that has never been Virgin’s way.’

Max Clifford

Max Clifford Associates

’It all depends on the person and what they’re apologising for. For

Richard Branson to apologise is fine. He just confirmed what everyone

knew - that Virgin Trains had messed up. It has got to sound totally

genuine and be given for the right reasons. The British can’t abide

arrogance. Humility goes a long way.’

John Antcliffe

Smithfield Financial

’Apologising is quite fashionable. But people who think it is a panacea

to sort out their problems are wrong. Saying sorry can be an effective

way of diffusing criticism but to be successful it must be unqualified,

offered promptly and sincerely. An apology isn’t always the right

option. After a major mistake or failure in service, the public can look

for a resignation. Then an apology is seen as an attempt to avoid


Roddy Kennedy


’I don’t set much store by what I call the ’processed cheese’ apology:

the PR apology through an expensive agency. An apology has to be


People imagine that the appearance of candour is often sufficient to

earn public goodwill and there is something coy about that. Put right

whatever it is you apologise for and ensure it doesn’t happen again. We

have said that we were not perfect in the past in general terms which is

true of every organisation and probably every person.’

Jeremy Reynolds

Prudential Corporation

’Sir Peter Davis (group chief executive) apologised to the Treasury

Select Committee. He said: ’yes the Pru did mis-sell pensions in the

mid-1980s and we want to put it right.’ That’s far healthier than

denying wrongdoing. Trust is incredibly important to a brand and people

respect you for being honest. The PR job is not to promote the apology

but the fact that there are now very strict systems to make sure it

won’t happen again.’

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