Will Apology Tours Work for J.C. Penney and Political Candidates?

Client #9
Client #9

It seems like everyone is embarking on apology tours, from retailer J.C. Penney to New York Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner – he began sex tweets again – to San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who is being sued for sexual harassment by staff members.

Even the disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is running for New York City Comptroller. He resigned as Governor when it got out that he was frequenting prostitutes.

What’s going on? What makes companies and politicians think they can wipe the slate clean? When did apology tours become a forum for failing companies and fallen politicians?

We Made a Mistake

J.C. Penney began its apology tour in May. After losing a third of its customers and firing its CEO, the company aired a commercial apologizing to customers that it made a mistake in its new pricing and style selections. It promised to give customers what they want and invited them to come back.

The commercial only ran briefly, inviting customers to weigh in with their feelings on the company’s Facebook page.

While sales have increased somewhat, analysts say that the next quarterly earnings report will tell the tale of whether J.C. Penney had a successful apology tour.

Political Bad Boys

In recent days the national press has had a field day going after New York Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who resigned from Congress two years ago after admitting to tweeting sexually suggestive photos of himself. He was exposed again during his Mayoral campaign for continuing the practice after he left office.

Tears of a Weiner
Tears of a Weiner

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, accused of sexual harassment, apologized and announced he is going into treatment…but not retirement.

Both Weiner and Filner have refused to quit. But you’ll fall even further when you don’t keep your word. Weiner’s campaign manager abruptly resigned after the new revelations of his bad behavior and Weiner is plummeting further in the polls. A majority of San Diego voters believe Filner should be recalled if he doesn’t resign.

Former New York City teacher Peg Brunda said what many New Yorkers are thinking when she confronted Weiner. “Had I conducted myself in the manner in which you conducted yourself, my job would have been gone,” she said.

The dictionary defines apology as “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” But synonyms for the word are quite telling – “alibi, excuse, defense, justification, and plea.”

If companies and politicians are using the apology tour as an alibi or justification for their behavior, it’s not going to work.

How to Apologize

First, an apology needs to be sincere and truthful. It has to come from the heart.

You’ve got to apologize for your past behavior, say what you’re going to do to correct it, and then stand behind your words.

Apologizing isn’t enough. Actions count. Keep your word and do what you promise.

Once elected, politicians are expected to be leaders, representing their constituents with a commitment to integrity. But they can only lead if they command respect from the people they’re leading. People will not support a politician who lies to them.

There is no coming back from a fall from grace. John Edwards learned that when he had to drop his bid for the Presidency after it was discovered he had fathered a child out of wedlock.

You can’t escape bad behavior. Social media and the 24/7 news cycle makes that impossible. So avoid the apology tour altogether by saying and doing the right thing from the start.

Think before you act because everything you do today is recorded for posterity.

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  1. Great post, as always. One thing I might add is “do NOT discuss how difficult this has been for you.” People don’t want to hear you boo-hoo about how your bad judgement and negative actions have had a negative impact on you. In fact, many will believe you got what you deserved. Limit your words to how your actions negatively impacted others.

    The advisers to BP’s CEO should have counseled him to this effect during the Gulf oil spill. And even though his statements yesterday weren’t an apology, I believe A-Rod erred yesterday by discussing how tough this last month has been on him.

  2. I agree that apologising isn’t enough. In Weiner’s case he apologised, resigned and had a chance to win the mayoral race until he blew it. For me there are four steps a person or company should follow:
    1. Admit mistakes;
    2. Show empathy;
    3. Tell them you listened and acted;
    4. Show them why they should come back.

    I cover it a little more here if you’re interested: https://www.jrmyprtr.com/how-to-make-an-apology-ad/

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