Posted in executive communication, public relations

Executive apology – the how of it


Lets admit it – every organisation will face a “United” moment in its lifetime… more often,on more than once occasion.

In a world order of mobile camera citizen journalism, instant amplification and going viral of even a seemingly minor misdemeanor by any employee/stakeholder, leadership of organisations must be ready to offer the ‘executive apology’ to contain and limit the reputation damage of any such event.

But the problem in this is, the indifferent and belligerent way in which apologies are tendered by CEO’s or the top brass of the organisation, which only compound to the already crisis situation. Those at the top seldom realize that an apology is a powerful too in causing a rapprochement with the customer universe, and not just a few words in a statement.

Here are a few ground rules for a powerful ‘executive apology’:

  1. Be swift. An apology is best served the moment you realize that there is a potential issue that could blow out of proportion.  For this, there ought to be a default ‘error task’ communication hierarchy in place. Unless the CEO is in the instant know of something that went wrong, may be in a few hours time, there’s no even use of the ‘apology’ tool.
  2. Be authentic. Yes, the leader is under compulsion to protect his team from any wrong doing, and that’s the true spirit of leadership. But a communication to external stakeholders, which most often an apology is, is not a place to show your HR expertise.
  3. Be unconditional. Most important – never make the apology conditional. Like telling the customer was an errand, we put up him, despite that. Blah blah. Saying so, and being perceived as trying to shift the blame, rather than accept responsibility is only going to backfire big time, and add to the communication woes. Its much easier to say, yes my team was wrong, and may be acted so in a pressure situation; however, the same was not acceptable by the high standards you live by – hence an unconditional apology and regret to every stakeholder.
  4. Be personal. More often, keeping a swift response as an excuse, and also saying that this communication is a facsimile, hence does not need a signature et al, the paper on which the communication goes out becomes less powerful. It doesn’t take anything at all to get the letter signed by the CEO, even remotely, or have digital signatures in place. In case of email, the sender ought to be the CEO or the top authority who is offering the apology, and not from any alternate id.

Incorporating these hygiene factors in your apology will make it even more powerful, and serve to contain the already plummet in reputation. Its best to remember that a well written apology is a very powerful PR tool.

Happy apologizing, the right way!




Freelance writer and Independent public relations practitioner - based in Chennai, India. Writes on a spectrum of contemporary issues, news, and just about anything. Offers writer-in-a-box solutions... can be reached at

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