When an apology doesn’t apologise: when should you say sorry?

Why do people who work in media and communications find it so hard to say 'sorry'? Brett Galvin of The Mint Partners reckons it's time we build a culture around owning our mistakes.

Stand up. Take it on the chin. Everyone can see you made a mistake. No one is dead. Take responsibility. If you don’t, then watch the trolls take you down.

Communication crises can be stopped in its tracks quickly and effectively with swift honesty and the firm hand of integrity.

brett galvin - the mint partners

Whether you are Chris Gayle, Eddie McGuire or Sonia Kruger, a simple, “I made a mistake, I am deeply sorry and this is how this situation will never happen again…” is a far greater sentence than “I’m sorry that that was the way it was perceived”.

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From Eddie McGuire on the great non-apology to Caroline Wilson for his calling for her to be drowned, to Chris Gayle’s “There wasn’t anything at all meant to be disrespectful toward Mel, or offensive. If she felt this way, then I am really sorry for that…” through to Sonia Kruger’s “I have a lot of good friends who are Muslim, but…”. We have a country full of people in the spotlight saying something while saying nothing at all.


The industry’s latest “sorry, not sorry” show-down was between a job candidate and a potential employer (subsequently spilling out into a social media frenzy), the apology reading: “the comment was made to make her feel more comfortable”… the apology was made due to the potential employer pointing out the colour of her skin.

By not stopping at ‘sorry’, the apologiser has taken no responsibility for anything. It seems that the majority of non-apologies come when there is some sort of social media brouhaha. A private post can become very, very public in a matter of one or two shares.

SurungiThis can then become a bit of an internet sensation with meme’s being created, putting the incident firmly into the vernacular.

Kruger and Gayle felt the heat almost immediately, where as McGuire went a week without a second thought on his comments, before they were brought back up and played out through social and mainstream media, which goes to show that even when the moment has passed, you can still be held accountable well into the future.

news kruger

Some of McGuire’s colleagues who were discussing the hopeful drowning on air, came out with a solid apology straight away, and guess what? People aren’t speaking about them. They’ve moved on.

We work in an industry that is client / media / stakeholder / people focused. We need to build a culture around ownership of mistakes. Our teams want a people-focused culture and autonomy in their roles, but if we, as agency leaders, are not going to hold ourselves accountable, then how do we expect that from our people?

There is no denying that in real life communications between adults, sometimes things are said at the spur of a moment that doesn’t necessarily reflect the views or the stance of either the person saying it or the organisation that they are representing. It is how the individual and the company handle the response in the wake of something like this being said, that shows the true heart of the organisation.

Statements are drafted and crafted by PR departments and legal counsel, often diluting the situation so as not to make a bigger deal of it, but in the drafting, editing, rewriting and, finally, the delivery, the statement is often devoid of any heart, remorse or indeed apology.sorry note

It’s okay to make mistakes. But one must simply say ‘sorry’. There is no need for any editorialisation of what happened. It was just a bad decision at a terrible time. Yes, by all means go ahead and state your hiring charter (women in leadership, ethnic diversity, etc). But honestly, when the time comes to apologise – just do it.

Through failure success can be bred but the person making the mistakes must be prepared to learn from them. Feedback, after all, is vital to anyone’s future success.

Everyone needs to stand up and be held accountable. No one needs to be fired for saying the wrong thing. They just need to apologise. A no questions asked, take-responsibility-for-my-actions, apology.

Otherwise if just feels a bit like an apology from a 13-year-old with rolling eyes.

Brett Galvin is the managing director at The Mint Partners


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