Sunday, October 9, 2016

[Crisis Communications Strategies] Donald Trump's Apology that Was Not

30 days before the US Presidential Election is to take place, NBC News released a hot mic video where Donald Trump admitted using his celebrity status to approach women, "grab 'em by the p---y," and recounting an unsuccessful attempt at seducing one of the show's married co-hosts. Sensing the serious impact that the video had on his chances at the ballot box, Donald Trump made a surprising and unprecedented apology while declaring that he would not quit the race.
 
As crisis communications practitioner, two elements must be present in a mea culpa for it to be effective - sincerity and contrition. If we analyze Trump's apology these two elements are missing and his apology will at best fall on deaf ears.
 
donald trump apology

 
Sincerity. The dictionary defines sincerity to mean the absence of pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy. By claiming that he has "changed" when he continues to attack former Miss Universe Alicia Machado hints at deceit. Additionally, what makes Trump's apology less sincere is Donald's parting comment that Bill Clinton has done worse things than him. This final comment alludes to hypocrisy as it shows Trump failing to acknowledge the seriousness of his own actions and negates the original intention of the apology. In short, while Donald has literally said the words of an apology, the underlying tone contradicts it.
 
Contrition. In a crisis, people know that words are cheap and, in the case of a Presidential Election where the stakes are high, PR speak will always prevail. As such, people judge the sincerity of an apology by the contrition that is offered. Contrition is important as the public expect you to "pay" for your mistake. In this case, Trump made no offer of contrition and by ending his apology with the line "see you at the debate on Sunday" demonstrates his flippant attitude that life goes on for him. This lack of contrition further reinforces the message that Donald is not sincere in his apology.
 
Lesson Learned
 
As a PR Agency in Singapore, we always advise our clients to apologies in situations where they are wrong. We however also advise our clients that any apology must be sincere. If, for whatever reason, the client cannot apologies with sincerity, our recommendation would then be not to do so. A half-hearted or insincere apology will create a crisis of its own and the aftermath may be something that the client cannot recover from. One simply has to look at the failed apology during the Anton Casey hoo-ha back in 2014.

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