I Am Sorry!

I Am Sorry!

Can you say, “I am sorry”? Those are often tough words to get out, but they are critical for success. We need to apologize when something has gone wrong. A couple of weeks back, I wrote about reputation, and to ensure a strong positive reputation, one must apologize when something has gone wrong. I received a lot of feedback on that point, so I thought I would research this a little further and combine it with personal experience.

I know that, when we have done something wrong, we apologize. I was working with Thompson Rivers University last month delivering a full-day workshop for their staff. In the process of finalizing our agreement, I noted a price that I thought I had quoted for the work. It was our typical price for a one-day workshop. But they responded that they thought I had quoted a different price. They checked the email trails, as I did, and we confirmed a lower price. I apologized for the mistake. I said I was sorry. It was an error/oversight through a series of emails, date changes, and different people in the communications, not a grab for more money. I often say “sorry” to my wife (probably not as often as I should). Sorry does not assume guilt—an apology is simply indicating you are sorry something happened and that there are no hard feelings.

Saying sorry, though, needs to be sincere. Often my daughter will say sorry to my wife or me (when forced by the other parent to do so) for something she has done such as being rude, talking back, etc. (the things teenagers do), but it is not truly sincere. It has a tone of anger or sarcasm. An apology must be authentic and sincere, or it is not worth the time or effort.

I looked at times in the past when we have seen incidents in the sponsorship and also the general marketing world where an apology was needed, and was either delivered or not.

  • As a property, have you ever failed to deliver on a promised asset, or the sponsor did not get what you promised? Don’t just do a “make good.” Apologize and say you are sorry (and don’t throw your operations people/fulfilment team under the bus as the excuse).
  • Sorry is simply sorry and should have no suffixes or “buts” after it! (I am sorry, but…)
  • Have you ever failed to deliver on time? Say sorry and give them notice.
  • When Maple Leaf Foods had the listeria outbreak that caused deaths, the CEO and chairman of the board went on the airwaves and said how sorry they were, then went on to say what they were doing about it. Maple Leaf then had to rebuild its reputation and has successfully done so. Many say that was due to the immediate reaction by Michael McCain, and the video and apology.
  • When Dominos in the USA had the disgusting YouTube video posting showing two employees spitting in food before preparing pizzas, their president took to video and delivered a live apology. It was sincere and heartfelt. He apologized, said what Dominos was doing to follow up, the impact it has had on their brand, and how they will have to work even harder to regain the trust of their customers. Dominos has regained that trust. The apology was critical in the process.
  • Likewise, when OB Tampons decided to discontinue the line, they had a surge of negative feedback and concerned customers who could not find alternatives. They had seen a decline in sales, so they decided to remove that line. They learned through their customers who were loyal. OB apologized, gave users free tampons, and resurrected the line.
  • Then there was the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. CEO Tony Hayward never took responsibility entirely. He blamed their contractors, never sincerely apologized, and today, they still have a bad reputation.
  • A lesson learned—always accept more responsibility than was actually yours. In a case like BP, to have said we are sorry and taken full blame noting that their contractors worked for them and they oversaw them (rather than shifting blame or partial blame to them) would have gone a long way.
  • And what about the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes?

The ability to sincerely say, “I am/we are sorry” when something has gone wrong is critical. Elton John was right when he sang, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” but hard or not, you must say it when needed and do so authentically in order to succeed.

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  1. Well said! I am definitely one for apologizing when necessary. My question for you: in your experiences, do properties or brands truly value/appreciate the apology or do they simple “not care” as long as the corrections are made to remedy the situation? Pure curiosity.

    • Josh,

      I think every brand is different. I would say the intensiveness of the relationship would determine how appreciative the brand is. In fact the apology will often strengthen a relationship. But truly there are some scenarios where the brand says “great, fully understand” and that is it. They continue to move forward with (or without) the partnership. But if there is truly a relationship, then the apology matters.


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