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Brand apologies can be tricky.
All too often we see organisations issue apologies which lack sincerity, sound robotic, attempt to shift blame and have so many conditions applied to them you wonder if they are saying sorry at all.
And while an effective apology can play a crucial role in tackling a crisis media management incident and turning around ill will, a poor one can make the situation much worse.
So it was refreshing this week to see an under fire brand issue the type of apology that will make the right sort of difference.
It came from Contently, a company which offers similar content marketing service to our sister company Thirty Seven – but that doesn’t stop us acknowledging a good apology when we see one.
The brand had found itself in the firing line after announcing that it was going to charge its freelance contributors a 4.75 per cent fee for them to get paid.
It was not an announcement that received a lot of media attention, but those who use the service took to social media to vent their fury.
But earlier this week the company changed its mind and said sorry with a post from CEO Joe Colman.
To the #freelance community: We’re sorry and we heard you. Our services fee was a mistake, and it will not go into effect. More from our CEO @JoeDColeman: https://t.co/PgGELt4ikQ pic.twitter.com/bMz0rkqQBr— Contently (@contently) March 5, 2019
So what did we like about it?
The apology starts with arguably one of the most impactful words that can come from a CEO: “I’m sorry”.
When an organisation feels it should apologise, that apology should be the first thing it says in any statement or interview.
It shows that their customers are utmost in their thoughts, that they understand the severity of what has happened and the impact it has had.
But many organisations say ‘sorry’ right at the end of their statements, which makes it look like little more than an afterthought.
This is how apologies should be done; open, honest and transparent. These three elements can make all the difference in restoring faith. Bravo @contently, I hope other businesses learn from you. #freelance https://t.co/TeOwbuwhM8— Sian Dennis (@sianmdennis) March 6, 2019
Once there has been an acknowledgement that something has gone wrong, an effective apology then goes on to show how you intend to make things better or ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again.
We stress on our crisis media management courses the importance of including action in any crisis media management responses.
And there is plenty of it here.
We learn that Contently has now published a contract with the ‘freelance community’ that will be on its website. It also says it will launch a ‘Freelancer Advisory Board’ to ensure better feedback and that it will be investing in workshops and ‘meetups’ for its freelance contributors.
Specific details like this are great and show that the organisation really has considered how it can change.
If you are going to say sorry, it needs to look like you really mean it because customers will know when a brand is not being sincere.
If it lacks sincerity and sounds aloof or forced, it will do little to win back the trust of customers and potential customers.
The Contently apology sounds genuine and you get the feeling that the words on the page really do come from its CEO.
The final paragraph really showcases this in my opinion.
It says: “The truth is that when you get up running a business for so long. It’s easy to lose track of the ideals that made you start that company in the first place. Your feedback made me see where I went wrong.”
The avoidance of any corporate or boardroom language adds to the feeling that this is a genuine apology. The response feels conversational and human and importantly, it is also easy to understand.
When a brand is in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, it needs to show a willingness to reflect on what is being said and consider the views of others.
Listening is a key crisis media management tool and shows that an organisation is open to scrutiny, either from customers or the media, and is not above being challenged.
This is a theme that comes through strongly in the Contently statement. We learn from reading it that Mr Coleman has read ‘every message’ received on the issue.
He said: “To everyone who voiced concerns over email and social media, thank you. As I spent the past few days reading every message, I realised we need to recommit to the values Contently was founded on: putting freelancers first and helping them earn a living doing work they can take pride in.”
And later on there is a willingness to continue listening. He said: “We also want to hear your ideas on what we can do to better support you. Please share your ideas with us here, and we promise to keep you updated on our plans.”
A big kudos to the #freelancewriting community to speaking up for their rights (i.e. no-one should have to pay to get paid) and a thank you to @Contently for truly listening to its community. #Contently https://t.co/ORar4Aeert— Natalie Taylor (@nctaylor_) March 6, 2019
We stress on our crisis media management courses that the boss doesn’t always need to lead an organisation’s response when it is being criticised in the media or on social media, particularly in an age of confected outrage.
But there are times where it is important that a leader shows they are on top of an issue and are actively involved in trying to resolve it.
Contently’s response on social media could have been anonymous. Many organisations respond on these channels without putting a name to their statement.
But the fact that it is in Mr Colman’s name, adds to it, and creates the impression customers are getting his insight into the issue.
Bravo, Contently, and especially to you, Joe, for taking responsibility in an honest, timely manner. Writers and creatives take a lot of crap and it's really nice to feel seen and heard in an industry that gets tougher and tougher all the time. Back at it! #Leadership https://t.co/sYWe7CJ0L7— Blane Bachelor (@BlaneBachelor) March 5, 2019
"As a result, I didn't truly consider how it would affect ppl who are the backbone of our company"— Evie Kevish (@eviekevish) March 5, 2019
You know what? I have a LOT of respect for you. And to post this on Twitter? What a great CEO. That's why you will continue 2 thrive because of great leaders like Joe. #freelancer
Contently may have caused a lot of anger with its initial fee decision, but there is plenty other organisations can learn from the way it has apologised.
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