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Communicating in a crisis – make the public apology count

Learning from your mistakes is often painful, especially when it knocks some shine off your reputation.

Learning from the mistakes of others is a much better option.

Our Head of Communications Tim Archer analyses a very public apology by international fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana:

Dolce & Gabbana | Crisis Communications

Background
Late last year D&G ran a campaign on social media to promote an upcoming fashion show in China. The marketing videos they broadcast in China were widely criticised for being lame, culturally insensitive and the reinforcement of stereotypes.

In the social media backlash that followed, it appears Stefano Gabbana may have entered into a war of words with a member of the public on Instagram. The alleged messages were vile and degrading comments that outraged the Chinese public.

D&G said their Instagram had been hacked, but that was met with a large degree of scepticism.

In the face of a major reputational crisis in the world’s biggest marketplace, D&G issued a video apology.

The script
The wording of the apology is not the main problem here. As a written statement, it is not terrible. It takes ownership of the issue, expresses genuine remorse and provides a sincere apology.

However, I would mark it down heavily for the use of the word “if”. This word should be banished from any public apology. Saying “sorry if we made mistakes” totally misses the point.

It is also a little trite to suggest they understand Chinese culture because they have been to its cities.

The video
This is where this apology goes wrong.

Even before they open their mouths, Roberto and Domenico’s body language is terrible. They appear bored and uncomfortable. It looks like their PR people have dragged them to the table against their will.

The setting also creates a barrier between them and their audience, with the exclusive looking room, gold walls and big table between them and the camera.

They appear to be reading from a script, which makes the words insincere and hollow. It would have been more genuine if they spoke off the cuff, from the heart, in their own words.

If a script is unavoidable, then a good quality autocue is critical.

The final words in the video are in Chinese – “we are sorry”. However they are tacked on the end with a crude edit. If you want to try connecting with an audience in a foreign language, do it in a way that shows you have actually remembered the words, without relying on an editor.

Finally, it is interesting the video didn’t repeat the claim that their Instagram account had been hacked. Remember, in the absence of information, people will assume the worst, so any apology needs to address the elephant in the room.

Result:
As a public apology in a crisis, this video is a failure. It disregards the basic principles of crisis communications – transparency, empathy, credibility, consistency and authenticity.

Score:
3/10

Tip:
If you need help preparing for or responding to a crisis, get in touch today.

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