In the era of cancel culture, companies and businesses would be wise to take caution when taking sides, speaking up on inflammatory and sensitive issues, and aligning themselves with specific political movements or public figures. But when a company makes a public blunder or finds itself in a scandal, there are necessary steps they need to take to make things right, and not just to rehabilitate their reputation. Here is a step-by-step guide for businesses and companies that need to bounce back after a PR blunder or corporate scandal and want a fighting chance against permanent cancellation.
1. Be honest and transparent.
The last thing your business needs to do is to cover up the truth, especially if people have been hurt or harmed by the blunder. The benefits of sweeping your mistakes under the rug or covering them up with more lies will never outweigh the rewards of being honest about what transpired. As long as you hide key information, the more evidence will pop up against the company and the people behind it, and more criticism will arise.
2. Apologize properly.
There are five things an apology is not:
- Appeasement. Your company is not apologizing so that the public will stop criticizing you. We apologize not to save ourselves, but because it’s right.
- Condemnation. It’s not the other party’s fault they felt offended. So avoid using statements like, “I’m sorry you felt that way.”
- Justification. A real apology doesn’t share the blame or implies complicity in the other party.
- An opportunity for excuses. Clearly and objectively explain what happened without excuses. It doesn’t matter if what happened was “not aligned with the company’s values,” or if it were “just a mistake,” or if the person who committed the blunder “wasn’t a higher-up.”
- A time for self-promotion. Now is not the time to enforce why your business or company deserves support or engagement.
- Asking for sympathy. Avoid using statements that emphasize how much your company and the people behind it are hurting. A true apology is focused on the victim or the party that was offended or hurt.
A good apology, on the other hand:
- Gives up the illusion of power by expressing remorse and humility.
- Confesses to the blunder without sugarcoating it or using flowery words to lessen the offense. (“We were wrong when we…”)
- Takes ownership of the mistake committed. Instead of saying statements like, “We made a mistake,” a true apology says, “We take ownership and responsibility for what happened.”
- Recognizes the consequence of the blunder and shows empathy and compassion for the people that were hurt. List down how the mistake or blunder hurt others, and express sympathy for them.
3. Atone for the mistake.
Get your legal counsel involved, no matter what PR crisis your company is facing. Regardless if it’s just your run-of-the-mill social media blunder or something as serious and sinister as sexual harassment, your company will benefit greatly from legal advice. In many cases, it’s a necessity.
After consulting with your legal team, inform your audience about your institution’s steps to right the wrong committed. If it involves a third-party investigation or holding those responsible accountable, don’t hesitate to communicate it with your audience and the wronged parties. One of the reasons long-lasting change rarely occurs is that institutions would rather protect the powerful than those offended or victimized.
4. Tell your audience about the steps the company is making to set things right.
One of the key steps of winning your audience back is by taking steps to course-correct. No matter how sincere or well-written, an apology never means anything if it’s not backed up by action or lasting change. So if it means donating to charity, or holding the perpetrators accountable, or refunding people who were duped or disappointed by your product or service, then don’t hesitate to do it to show your commitment to doing right by your customers. If it involves re-thinking the company values and structure, don’t hesitate to consult consulting firms like the Miick team to help you re-calibrate and start over again.
5. Do business as usual.
Unless the blunder results in the company’s bankruptcy, there’s no reason not to keep operating and doing business as usual. Even after a blunder or a scandal, if your product or service is genuinely good and there’s a need for it, there will always be a market for what you have to offer.
Accountability, Not Cancellation
Doing right by your customers is not about curbing cancelation. It’s about being held accountable. In a highly competitive business landscape filled with conscious consumers, businesses need to do right by others and not just for profit.