Crisis media management: Seven organisations who mastered the corporate apology

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Seven organisations who mastered the corporate apology

Many organisations have difficulty apologising.

Some simply don’t want to admit guilt while others sometimes issue apologies which come across as insincere and weak, as if they are being delivered through gritted teeth – the ‘sorry for any offence / inconvenience’ line is a particular offender.

And bad apologies can exacerbate the issue particularly if the organisation is in a crisis media management situation.

But if you get it right, an apology can be a great opportunity to show customers that you really do care and that you speak ‘human’.

We’ve rounded up some of our favourite corporate apologies to help and inspire you next time your organisation needs to say sorry.


American Airlines

2017 saw a glut of damaging stories triggered by video footage of passenger conflict on aeroplanes.

The most memorable – and poorly handled – was the one which featured a bloodied passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight.

Not long after that incident footage emerged from an American Airlines flight which appeared to show an employee challenging a passenger to hit him after an argument about a stroller.

With passenger and airline personnel relations firmly in the media spotlight at the time, there was huge potential for reputational damage.

But the airline prevented a PR tailspin by responding quickly with an excellent statement.

It said: “We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts. What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers. We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident. We are making sure all of her family's needs are being met while she is in our care. After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip.

“The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.”

It was an apology which contained a lot of what we refer to on our crisis media management courses as the CARE technique – it showed Compassion, Action and Reassurance and backed these points up with Examples.

We learnt that the airline was ‘deeply sorry for the pain it had caused the passenger’ and that it was taking ‘special care’ of her. It also confirmed it had suspended the employee involved and had started an investigation, showing both that it was taking the incident seriously and that it was taking action.

And there was plenty of reassurance as we learnt that the incident did not reflect its values or customer care standards.


Merlin Entertainments

A devastating crash on a rollercoaster ride at the Alton Towers theme park saw the media spotlight fall firmly on Merlin Entertainments in the summer of 2015.

And the company produced a response which appeared both heartfelt and sincere.

In its initial statement chief executive Nick Varney said: “I would like to express my sincerest regret and apologies to everyone who suffered injury and distress today and to their families.”

He then built on this as he fronted the company’s response to the incident with a range of both national and regional radio and television interviews.  This included one particularly hostile interview on Sky News which you can see below.



In these he spoke about how he was ‘totally devastated’ and said that his ‘heart goes out’ to those affected.

We learnt that the company was reviewing its safety procedures across all its similar rollercoaster rides and that it was ‘determined to find out what had gone wrong so that it doesn’t happen again’.

And Mr Varney stressed his company's previously good safety record.

As with the American Airlines incident it was a response full of CARE.


Apple and Adidas

Corporate apologies don’t always need to be lengthy and detailed.

When singer Taylor Swift criticised Apple for not paying artists’ royalties during a trial period for its new music streaming service, the tech giant responded quickly and effectively using just two tweets.

Eddy Cue, the company’s Senior Vice President of Internet and Software Services, took to Twitter less than 24 hours later to, confirm it was changing its policy.

There was no formal statement or press release. Just a few short messages in the language its customers would use.



Similarly, when Adidas sent a congratulatory email to runners for ‘surviving’ the Boston marathon, just four years after a terrorist incident  at the same event, it quickly took to Twitter to issue an apology which appeared both authentic and sincere.



Airbnb found itself in a crisis media management situation when a host’s home in San Francisco was trashed and the incident drew media attention throughout the US.

The company’s initial response to the incident was poor and saw the host refute claims the company was ‘doing everything it could to assist her in her time of need’.

But then CEO Brian Chesky posted a blog post which contained the honesty, openness and sincerity the incident demanded.

He admitted ‘we really screwed things up’ and went on to write: “We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure she felt safe and secure.  But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we are dealing with the consequences.”

And there was also some action with the apology as it was accompanied by a change in policy with Airbnb introducing a $50,000 guarantee to protect hosts’ property from damage.



It may feel like Netflix currently rules the world at the moment, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing.

It received a lot of criticism when it moved from DVD delivery to a streaming service and tried a system where the two services were different entities with separate billing agreements. 

That meant a 60 per cent price increase for members who wanted both services and they were not happy.

CEO Reed Hastings took responsibility for the issue.

He said: “I messed up. I owed everyone an explanation. It’s clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes.”

As good an apology as this is, Mr Hastings did have to issue one just three weeks later, admitting that two billing systems was a mistake.


New Zealand Police

This was an apology which was completely overshadowed by the ridiculousness of the mistake, but it is still a strong, personal apology.

It came from Karen Jones, chief executive of public affairs at New Zealand Police, after the force’s corporate Twitter account posted a tweet about how hard it is to tell someone their family member had died in a car crash and illustrated it with a gif or actor Steve Carell saying ‘this is the worst’.



Ms Jones went way beyond the force’s bland apology tweet when she spoke to the New Zealand Herald. She said: “We feel terrible about this mistake, as we put victims at the heart of what police do.

"Social media is a hugely important channel to NZ Police and we appreciated the prompt feedback we got from members of our community who pointed out the inappropriateness of the tweet.

"We are extremely sorry and will learn from this."


*Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a checklist to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our journalist-led crisis communication and media training courses.


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