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

Why Ryan Lochte’s Lies Matter

Ryan Lochte’s attempt at an apology for lying about being robbed at gunpoint was no apology at all. Instead it was more subterfuge that suggests a gaping hole in his character, it demonstrates an undeniable level of cowardice.  

We live in a pretty forgiving society.  Everyone makes mistakes.  We pay the price, hopefully learn from it, and move on.  When it comes to strategic communications in times of crisis, the idea to alleviate the problem.  Lochte’s statement has exacerbated the issue.

The non-apology issued by Lochte suggests that he thinks the gold hanging from his neck exonerates him from his frat-boy behavior. It also suggests that he is alone or perhaps just surrounded by people who see no future for the swimmer (how else to explain that attempt at an apology?).

Olympians occupy a special place in sports – more than representing a team or themselves or sponsors, they represent their country. The rampaging of a gas station bathroom by Lochte and other American swimmers reflects poorly on all Americans.

Their actions are the embodiment of the Ugly Americans.  Not only did the swimmers vandalize a small business owner, they then attempted use Brazil’s reputation for crime as a getaway scheme and position themselves as the victims.

Lochte and Co. need to sincerely apologize.  No more statements.  They should meet with the media to explain exactly what happened and express their heartfelt regret for their actions. This is their chance as Americans to show the world they not only made a mistake but they are willing to completely own up to it.

At this point, few people really care about the swimmer’s reputations or what happens to them — they need to do the right thing on behalf of their country.  It’s an opportunity to show the world that they are winners and not cowards.

Lochte has played second fiddle to Michael Phelps his entire career.  Phelps was able to successfully rally back from a career threatening mistake. He owned his errors and seems to have become a better person for having endured. Lochte has the chance to again follow in Phelps footsteps.  We will if he is man enough to do so.  

New York Times: Ramsey Poston comments on Kurt Busch Allegations

Nascar’s Kurt Busch Is Focus of Domestic Assault Inquiry







(online version can be found at: New York Times )

Add Nascar to the list of sports organizations now having to manage domestic violence accusations against one of their stars. The police in Dover, Del., released a statement Friday saying that Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup champion and the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet for the high-profile Stewart-Haas Racing team, was under investigation on suspicion of domestic assault.

The Associated Press reported that the accusation had been made by Patricia Driscoll, the president of the Armed Forces Foundation in Washington, D.C., and a former girlfriend of Busch’s, and that the episode had taken place Sept. 26 in Busch’s motor home before a race at Dover International Speedway. The police indicated that the accusation had been made Wednesday.
Busch, who is in Avondale, Ariz., preparing for a Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, denied the charge through a lawyer, Rusty Hardin.
“This allegation is a complete fabrication by a woman who has refused to accept the end of a relationship, and Mr. Busch vehemently denies her allegations in every respect,” Hardin said in a statement.
Busch participated in practice at the Phoenix racetrack on Friday. Spokesmen for Nascar and Stewart-Haas Racing both wrote that they were gathering facts and had no further comment.
That is standard procedure for Nascar. The Cup driver Travis Kvapil was arrested on charges of assaulting his wife in October 2013 and never faced a suspension, even after The Sporting News reported that he had pleaded guilty and had been sentenced to probation and community service.
Nascar’s reaction is in contrast to other sports leagues, which have removed athletes from competition while they were involved in domestic violence investigations and before legal proceedings were complete.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who reached a plea deal after assaulting his fiancée earlier this year, was suspended indefinitely after video of the episode became public. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy have been placed on the N.F.L. exempt list while legal proceedings continue in their domestic violence cases. They are being paid but are not allowed to compete.
Defenseman Slava Voynov of the N.H.L.’s Los Angeles Kings was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested last month on domestic assault charges.
Ramsey Poston, a former managing director of communications for Nascar who helped the organization with crisis management after the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, said: “It used to be that sports leagues, when there was an issue, would let law enforcement fully investigate an issue and then, based on that, take appropriate action. In the post-Ray Rice world, I don’t think sports leagues have that luxury anymore.
“Obviously it is far, far too early to begin to speculate about what might have happened,” Poston added. “I can’t see a basis for them to take any action, especially take him off the track. However, Nascar should be asking questions and potentially conducting their own investigation.”
Busch is the second high-profile driver at Stewart-Haas Racing who has faced a criminal investigation in recent months. Tony Stewart, Busch’s boss and an owner of the team, was investigated in Ontario County, N.Y., over his involvement in the death of the sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on Aug. 9.
Ward had left his racecar after a crash to confront Stewart on the track and was fatally hit by Stewart’s car. Stewart was not charged in the death.
Busch has a long history of confrontations with drivers and members of the news media, on and off the track.
He was suspended for two races by one former team, Roush Racing, in 2005 after an arrest on charges of reckless driving before a race at Phoenix. He lost his job at Penske Racing in 2011 after a verbal confrontation with a broadcaster. After threatening a reporter at Dover in 2012, Busch was suspended by Nascar.
Relegated to driving for smaller, less competitive teams for two years in part because of his volatility, Busch is in his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing. He made the 16-driver field for the playoff but was eliminated in the first round.
The playoff has prompted a series of postrace fights among drivers in contention, including a melee last week at Texas Motor Speedway. Nascar has not penalized drivers for fighting, and the confrontations have brought greater attention to the sport.
The accusation against Busch comes at a time when Nascar is trying to promote its playoff.
The Phoenix race will cut the field of drivers in the championship chase to four from eight heading into the Nov. 16 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Lance and Oprah Left Viewers Disappointed

PR Observations from the Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah Winfrey
lanceinterviewEmotionless admission: Lance Armstrong admitted that he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to win each of his seven Tour de France championships.  He referred to himself as a flawed man and admitted to lying.  However, he did so without much emotion or contrition, which made him less believable to many viewers.

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Lance Armstrong’s Chance to Save His Reputation

Five key elements to look for in his interview with Oprah Winfrey


In a crisis situation people want to know what happened, why it happened and what is going to be done to fix it.   Lance Armstrong has taped a long and apparently in-depth interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which he admits to the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).   If Armstrong is to begin to repair his reputation he most assuredly needed to open up to Winfrey and explain what happened, why it happened and what he will do to make amends.
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Can the NFL Keep Control of the Bounty Scandal?

The NFL revealed recently that its Security Department concluded a “lengthy” investigation determining that players on the New Orleans Saints and its defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, orchestrated a “bounty” program designed to injure opposing players and knock them out of games.

Immediately, the story spread throughout sports-talk radio and online media becoming a hot topic of discussion.  Soon it was revealed that similar programs were customary in Washington and Buffalo where Williams also coached.
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