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Get the apology right the first time

Over the past year several executives accused of wrongdoing have stepped up to the mic and completely bungled their apology making their situation in most cases far worse.  In recent months the blunders have come fast and furious. We’ve heard a string of poorly executed apologies (in some cases, excuses) among powerful men accused of sexual harassment such as Harvey WeinsteinKevin Spacey, and Charlie Rose. Companies such as AppleEquifax, and most recently Starbucks have been criticized for not adequately addressing corporate shortcomings.


The poster child for botched apologies remains United Airlines. You’ll remember in 2017 when a passenger was violently dragged from a plane. The passenger, Dr. David Dao refused to give up his seat on the overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky because he had patients to see. Video of the incident went viral and was covered in a continuous news loop over a two day period.

In his initial statement, United CEO Oscar Munoz was unsympathetic to the passenger and made no mention of the actions by his employees to have the passenger removed by security. “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” he said. “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.” Using a robotic and sterilized word like “re-accommodate” in an emotionally charged situation backfired on Munoz and incited further backlash against he and the airline.

Soon after releasing the apology he sent an internal memo to employees saying that the United employee’s actions were “necessary” and that he “emphatically” stood behind them.  The letter was  immediately leaked to the media and public outrage raged on.

The next morning Munoz tried once again to get the apology right. The words were powerful, seemingly sincere, and appropriately addressed the “horrific event.”  Munoz took “full responsibility” and promised to make positive changes. It’s a very good apology but so much damage had been done and was made worse by the initial response. The damage was done and made worse by blunders in the C-suite.

Tuckahoe Strategies has counseled clients for many years that the most effective way to make an apology is to do these three simple things: say it first, say it all, and, say it yourself.  Here’s how to get the apology right the first time.

Say it first – In a crisis, silence is a killer.  The executive or company found to have committed wrongdoing must be first to speak and make the apology. This allows the executive to take control of the narrative, which provides the best chance for a positive outcome. Those who wait, allow the critics the first shots to damage the reputation of the executive and possibly the entire company. Speaking first can be the difference from playing offense or defense…and its always best to be on offense.

Say it all – In apology situations, there really is only one shot to get it right (if you are apologizing for a second time then something has gone terribly wrong). The apology should attempt to put the matter to rest and should not raise additional questions. It should be a turning point where the focus shifts from past infractions to positive changes coming in the near future. The apology should take full responsibility for the wrongdoing without any equivocation. Finally, in the spirit of saying it all, if there are remaining issues that have not yet been reported by the media but soon will, it’s usually a good strategy for chief executives to get ahead of it and reveal the information on their own terms.

Say it yourself – When the business is on the line, when there is one chance to get it right, it’s time for the apology to come right from the horse’s mouth. That often means the CEO. Some are reluctant to utilize the CEO in crisis situations but in the day and age of social media and instant news cycles people want to hear directly from the boss.  Doing so can demonstrate sincerity, transparency, and commitment to addressing the problem.

The American public is remarkably forgiving. They tend to go back to business as normal once they are reassured that issues have been explained and resolved. But that is less so when companies fail to be sincere and don’t address issues moving forward.

Click below to read our Ebook on how to manage a corporate crisis:

Crisis Communications Manual

Are you prepared to manage a crisis? Download the crisis communications manual to get answers now.

Manage Your Crisis with F.A.C.T.S.

A crisis is anything that threatens your business and can result in financial loss, tarnished reputation, or legal/regulatory action.

When faced with a crisis, the most important decisions are often made within the first 24 hours, and sometimes within the first sixty minutes. If your company doesn’t have a crisis communications plan in place, it needs one.

Crisis Just Ahead sign with a bad day.jpegCorporate crisis communications plans don’t necessarily have to detail every single possible crisis situation on the planet, but they do need to include a process for how crises should be managed.

At a minimum every company and organization should have in place a crisis team (to include senior executives), a method for the team to communicate in the event of a crisis, and basic steps for how to address a number of likely scenarios. Click here to download Tuckahoe Strategies’ .

Tuckahoe Strategies has developed a proprietary methodology to help clients manage crisis situations. The methodology can be described using the acronym FACTS that spells out which steps should be taken in the first hours of a crisis:

  • Find out what happened from sources closest to situation. Accurate information is essential when it comes to crisis management. Bad information tends to move quickly between many sources in crises, so it is important that the facts are established by credible sources even if it means taking a little more time in the heat of the situation.
  • Assess the damage/fallout. It is important to be able to make a determination about what has happened, what it means, and to whom. Is it a two-day problem or a two-year problem? How does it affect your corporate reputation? Your customers? A social media listening tool should be activated to capture and analyze intensity of chatter and sentiment. The crisis manager needs to pull from many sources to be able to understand the severity of the situation in order to effectively update the crisis team.
  • Consider available options. At this stage the crisis team should be assembled (as per the corporate crisis plan) and updated with current information about what happened and who is affected. While it is important for this team to take quick and meaningful action, it is just important that the team does not overreact either.
  • Take action where appropriate. At this point the crisis team has assembled and the crisis manager has provided an update on the facts and current reaction, it’s time to make decisions. What action the company takes (or doesn’t take) will set the tone for the remainder of the situation. It’s not necessary to attempt to resolve the entirety of the crisis at this stage, but swift, reasonable action will put the company in control and in the driver’s seat.
  • Speak as the authoritative voice to key audiences. Say something! Sometimes, just letting your key audiences know that you are aware of the situation and on the job is enough as a first step. Silence is a killer. If you are not controlling the message then surely someone else will – often with wrong information.

These basic steps will help you prepare your company for how to manage a crisis. Is your company ready for a crisis? Click the button below to download our manual for crisis communications.



For a free Crisis Assessment or more information contact Ramsey Poston at or by phone at 202.656.1698.



Is this “On the record?” A Media Interview Guide for Lawyers

Attorneys are often pressed into service to speak to reporters about their client’s case. Doing so can be a fruitful opportunity for the lawyer to support the legal strategy by setting the record straight on behalf of the client and to communicate with his or her intended audiences. However, it’s a dangerous proposition if the lawyer doesn’t understand the media ground rules.

Before engaging any reporters the lawyer spokesperson must understand the difference between “on the record” and “off the record” and everything in between. Here’s a rundown of the ground rules for speaking with reporters.

Is this on the record?

On the record – Everything said to a reporter is just that, “on the record.” The reporter is free to report everything said with direct attribution to the lawyer spokesperson. This is the most desired situation for the reporter because he or she can substantiate their reporting with direct quotes. Additionally, most editors and publishers are demanding on record quotes because they make a far more credible news stories. In this day of so called “fake news,” the media are fighting to protect their authority as a trusted source of news resulting in greater transparency.

Off the record – None of what is said can be used in anyway in any news story by the reporter. Reporters hate “off the record” because what is said to them is pretty much useless. There are a couple points that all interviewees must be aware of before attempting an “off the record” discussion with a reporter. First, and this is vitally important, “off the record” cannot be claimed retroactively. This is a classic mistake. The spokesperson, while engaged in an interview, provides a great deal of information and then says, “…but that is off the record.”  Nope. “Off the record” must be established and agreed to by the reporter in advance of what is said.

The other aspect of “off the record” is that while the reporter cannot print/broadcast the information, there is nothing stopping the reporter from getting a different source to put the same information “on the record.”  So, proceed with caution. We regularly advise clients, “If you don’t want it reported, don’t say it.” In other words, it’s usually best to avoid “off the record.”

On background – Everything said to a reporter can be reported, but there is no direct attribution to the spokesperson. Spokespeople often choose to go “on background” because they might not be authorized to speak on the record or for other reasons wants to shield the source of the comments. Quotes “on background” can easily be recognized in stories that include quotes from unnamed sources. For example, you might see something like this in a news story: “The president was very upset about coverage in the mainstream media,’ said a White House source.” This quote is attributed to an unnamed source but the reporter tells you he or she works in the White House, which would suggest the person has direct knowledge of what the president said. There are different levels of attribution. Reporters, and their editors, want to describe the source as specifically as possible. Attribution such as “a White House source” is pretty vague, while “…according to ‘a member of the president’s cabinet,” is much more specific.  Attribution is also something that must be clarified and agreed to by the reporter before the interview starts.

Deep background – Is the same as “on background” except for attribution cannot connect the source in anyway to the story.  Again, deep background must first be agreed to by the reporter. Whereas “on background” the reporter might attribute a quote to a “White House source.”  Under the rules of “deep background” the reporter can only say something like, “…according to a source familiar with the situation.” The farther away attribution gets from the name of the source the less compelling news stories received by the reading public, which makes editors loath to use sources on “deep background.”

These basic journalism rules are important to understanding how to best navigate an interview. For more information about how to manage communications during a crisis click the button below.

Litigation Communications Best Practices

Media Savvy Lawyers Provide Clients Complete Package

Lawyers often live in fear that the legal strategy will be sunk as a result of something that is said in the media. It’s a reasonable fear if there is no coordinated communications strategy. This is what often leads to those corporate quotes that read, “we don’t comment on pending litigation.” Such a statement is no better than “no comment” which is practically like saying “I’m guilty,” at least that’s how it’s often heard by some audiences.

video cameras poised outside of a courthouse.jpeg

Some lawyers and executives consider the “no comment” option the safe option. Perhaps, but what message does it send to the company’s key stakeholders? A company that doesn’t defend itself in the media could quickly lose support from within. An information vacuum can lead to internal panic, loss of market share and an overall tarnished reputation.

Media savvy lawyers, however, understand a good communications plan can provide “air cover” for high profile litigation as well as protect the company’s brand long after the legal process is completed. As laid out in our litigation communications manual, a strategic communications plan, executed properly, reaches jurors, judges and regulators with precisely the right message to advance the case. Reaching these audiences can be a benefit on the legal front, after all, these audiences read and watch the news like anyone else.

Beyond the legal realm, consistent communications can bring clarity and help calm fears for other vital audiences.Those audiences include employees, customers, shareholders, vendors and partners. They are the key audiences that make a brand successful. It’s important to communicate with them and control the message. If left in the dark, audiences tend to speculate and that’s where negative online chatter and rumors begin. Consistent messaging, in-sync with the legal strategy, delivered through traditional media and social media can help change the tide of public perception. For companies that have endured negative media coverage leading up to litigation or from a crisis, a sound communicaitons plan can also help it pivot from being on defense to offense. 

Lawyers who appreciate the power of the media also know that web searches are forever, which is why a brand, organization, or executive embroiled in high profile litigation should launch a smart media plan. Once the dust settles it will be important that when the client is “Googled” that readers will find information conveying their side of the story. If stories pushed out as part of a media plan are picked up by highly ranked publications, then the client’s best messages should be well represented on the first page of a Google search. That’s good for the overall brand.

Regardless of what happens in court, a good strategic communications plan will most certainly position the client in a more favorable light than those who go with the “no comment” approach. For more information download our Litigations Communications Best Practices.


Managing Campus Unrest on College Campuses During the Trump Administration


Part three in a three-part series focusing on communications challenges for brands, advocacy organizations and educational institutions amidst a Trump Administration.

Colleges and universities were faced with immediate reaction from the surprising election night victory by Donald Trump. Students gathered on campuses across the country to peacefully protest. But, not all protests were peaceful as some protesters spilled into the streets with chants of “Not My President and “No Racist USA.” In some locations police arrived in riot gear to maintain order.

University presidents made statements to their student bodies primarily by way of email, calling for calm, understanding, and acceptance. Within a couple of days, the demonstrations dissipated and students got back to class.

However, there might be more to come. President-elect Trump has shown no signs of slowing down on his inflammatory rhetoric that mobilized supporters and angered opponents. Like the rest of the nation, the student population is politically divided, and the divide could spell trouble for college administrators for years to come.

To manage protests following Election Day, several college administrators created a number of events in an attempt to pacify students. Those events included activities such as “post election recovery meetings.” Some offered “arts and crafts” gatherings, while one university provided therapy to calm frayed nerves.

In the 1960s, college campuses were hotbeds for political protests but students were mostly unified in protesting the war in Vietnam and in support of civil rights. As Trump takes office, college administrators need to have a plan to manage ongoing angst on campus and the potential for intra-student conflicts.

There are already examples of the potential dangers to come. At the University of Virginia the word “terrorists” was written on the door of a dorm room where two Muslims lived following the election; at California State University a Latina student and Trump supporter reportedly received harassing texts such as “Is it fun being a racist now,” and “When Trump is raping you are you still going to want him for president?”

If Trump makes good on his campaign pledges, then school administrators should brace for what could be unprecedented campus conflict. Envision implementation of his immigration plan that could single out or deport students and their families; imagine the backlash if abortion is outlawed in certain states and if that includes “punishment” for women as he suggested; and think about if Trump continues his rhetoric on the Second Amendment.  Any (perhaps all) of these scenarios present the potential for significant issues on campus that could adversely affect students’ ability to receive a high-quality education and potentially damage the reputation of the school for years to come.

Colleges should be working now on strategic communications plans to manage Trump-related contingencies.  Those strategic plans should include steps to further engage with students, regular student meetings to monitor the student body pulse, and specific messages to address key issue areas, including immigration, abortion, health care and guns.

Social media channels should be used to not only push messages and monitor the tone and volume of discussions taking place on campus, but to engage with students. This is an element missed all too often.  Social media engagement promotes better dialogue and powerful information-sharing.

Protocols should be established to monitor campus incidents and a plan should detail specifically when action is required. Strategic plans should answer the following questions in advance: When should we tweet? What should we say?  When should the president get involved?  When is a statement necessary?

Another important step is to coordinate with local media to ensure they know who to contact if or when a serious incident occurs.  The communications team should also coordinate with the public outreach personnel for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies so that ground rules are established and lines of communication are open.

The coming years might test the ability of colleges and universities to maintain order on campus.  Those with well-developed communications strategies will have a better chance at mitigating – or even avoiding –  crises.  These strategies and tactics might also assist with promoting compassion and unity among students, faculty and staff, and the community.


The End of Advocacy. Time for Advocacy Groups to go to Defense


Part two in a three-part series focusing on communications challenges for brands, advocacy organizations, and educational institutions during the Trump Administration. 

The only certainty of a Trump Administration is uncertainty. During the Republican primary campaign, one of Donald Trump’s opponents characterized him as the “chaos candidate.” Those who cannot become adept at functioning amidst chaos will be penalized during a Trump Administration.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the establishment and policies he vowed to radically change. Immigration – build a wall. Abortion – punish women. Climate change – a hoax. Affordable Care Act – repeal it. Trade agreements – renegotiate.

Many advocacy organizations rely on federal funding that Trump and the Republican controlled congress can affect. For liberal organizations, such as those, which promote reproductive rights, environmental stewardship, and fair and humane immigration policies, it is critical to be on alert as these are areas about which candidate Trump was very vocal.

Following Trump’s stunning Election Day victory, DC’s advocacy organizations quickly huddled among themselves to figure out what a Trump Administration means to their causes. Many groups are scrambling to understand the new world order. Meanwhile, some leaders emerged with a brave face. Some privately rationalized that it would be “okay” and that Trump would moderate his stances.

Then Trump began announcing his cabinet picks.  One-by-one the news hit harder and harder for defenders of key social issues. Moderation simply is not a word associated with Trump.  His cabinet picks doubled-down on his campaign rhetoric.

Senator Jeff Sessions – Attorney General – is a conservative U.S. Senator from Alabama. Sessions has pledged to overhaul immigration. He was previously denied confirmation for a federal judgeship in 1986 – by a Republican-led Senate – because of racially charged comments he made.

Tom Price – Secretary, Health and Human Services – is a republican member of congress from Georgia and a surgeon who has led opposition to the Affordable Care Act. He wants to repeal the law and replace it with a plan that favors private health insurance companies. He introduced legislation that would deny government funding to health care plans that cover abortion.  He is also in favor of privatizing Medicare.

Betsy DeVos – Secretary, Education – is a billionaire education activist who is a staunch proponent of vouchers under the “school choice” slogan.  The idea diverts tens of millions of federal dollars to private schools.

Scott Pruitt – Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency – Oklahoma’s attorney general and staunch opponent of EPA’s major initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Air Act.  

Organizations are now forced to pivot from “promoting change and moving forward” to a considerably more defensive position of “defending the status quo.” For many advocacy organizations, there is still so much progress to be made but that must now be put on hold.  Success should now be based on not losing ground.

Defending ground is not as appealing as moving forward, but make no mistake, a Trump Administration will usher in sweeping changes. Women could be denied medical procedures like abortion; our working immigrant population could be decimated; public education could be gutted; and, health care could be placed back in the hands of the insurance companies and private markets.

The negative outcomes of these dramatic policy shifts could include: an increase in suicides and imprisonments in the case of abortion rights; a loss of production in valuable sectors such as construction, food production, hospitality, as a result of immigration reform; implosion of the public education system as we know it; and, a return to uncared for patients, unaffordable medical procedures, and soaring costs to individuals if the health care law is repealed.

The “stand-and-fight” positioning is the only logical approach. In light of the prevailing policy headwinds, advocacy leaders must now reconsider plans to advance their agendas. Now is the time to dig in and protect the progress that has been made over recent years.  The goal now must be to defend the land you have.

This shift requires a strategic communications approach that must accomplish three things: first, advocacy groups must remind their members and donor bases of their successes accomplished over time; second, the strategy should outline the realities and possible consequences that are possible as the result of the new administration; and, third, it will be critical to create a specific action plan that can be concisely and compellingly communicated to stakeholders.

It’s a mistake to simply use the Trump threat as a fundraising tool. Organizations should be prepared to empty the “rainy day fund” to get their message out. This includes, for example, a significant bump in online advertising; creation of meaningful events that attract major media coverage; and, elevation of media relations to ensure there exists a nationwide network of spokespeople that can effectively advance the message.

Conservative organizations, too, need to be on alert and proceed with caution as Trump has proven to be unpredictable, at best.  Many of the issues cited above are traditionally associated with progressive groups however, conservative groups can be negatively affected by a rollback of current policies.

These shared interests presents the opportunity for coalitions of “strange bedfellows,” between progressive and conservative groups working together to defend the same ground.  For example, not all business organizations traditionally associated with conservative values are excited about the prospect of a massive drop in the workforce that is likely with the approach to immigration reform that President-elect Trump has espoused.  Similarly, many industries desperately need predictability in public policy. It’s difficult to enter into contracts and agreements that often span decades when you don’t know what the playing field will look like just four or eight years from now. Broad coalitions could be built on immigration, trade, climate change, and other issues that benefit both progressive and conservative organizations.  The most effective coalitions are the ones that represent the broadest number of people.

Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States on January 20, 2017.  Organizations that take a “wait and see” approach will be making a mistake.  Now is the time to dig-in and take action to defend the progress that has been made.

Part three, will focus on how colleges and universities can managing campus unrest in the Trump world.