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Reputation Management: The art of the apology

By Suzanne Spurgeon  September 15, 2009

To err is human.  Who hasn't done or said something stupid, realized it and then apologized?  No big deal.  Not so fast for those in the media spotlight. There is an art to the public apology.  Not only do the words matter; the timing and location of an apology must also be considered. From Congressman Joe Wilson to Serena Williams to Kanye West, there have been plenty of public apologies offered in the past week.  All three were rude at the very least.  All three realized they had crossed the line.  Or perhaps;  their agents, publicists, colleagues, friends and families convinced them a heart-felt apology is the first step toward restoring their reputations.  Rep.Wilson quickly said he was sorry for calling the President a liar during the President's address to Congress.  But to date, he refuses to issue an apology on the House floor.  Why not go that extra step?  Serena Williams stumbled in her post match apology, but had it right later when she made it very clear to her fans she was wrong.  And tonight Kanye West was given a golden opportunity to set the record straight on The Jay Leno Show.  For my money, his apology appeared real. And credit to Jay Leno for asking a very pointed question and for not letting the rapper off the hook when Kanye sat silent for a few seconds before responding. A personal apology to Taylor Shift is still an important step. 

When your reputation is at stake, no one should be too proud to apologize for being rude, or worse.  A crisis communication expert can advise you on how to word an apology, when to deliver it and how often.  But it must be real.  A half-hearted apology is likely to result in even more public backlash. 


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