Now we follow on our blog post earlier in the week, when g[squared] looked at Donald Trump’s PR disasters. Here are some smarter, better responses Trump and his team could have delivered to some of the crises during his campaign.

Apologize

“I’ve been hurtful and insensitive towards Khizr and Ghazala Khan whose son, Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in action and I apologize unreservedly.”

Personal apology

“Years ago I said things about women and behaved towards women in a way that I know is unacceptable and hurtful, even damaging. I am very sorry, and I will contact these individuals very soon to offer a apology in person.”

Accountability and humility

“I’ve said things during this campaign that I know are unrealistic, and I’ve blamed some people for things for which they are not responsible. The things I said were the heat of the moment and I could have better handled myself.”

Accountability and ownership

“Melania and I apologize to First Lady Michelle Obama for any apparent plagiarism. It was truly a mistake and not our intention to use phrases from Ms. Obama’s 2008 speech. It was our responsibility to check the speechwriter’s work and clearly we failed.”

Focus on the core issues

“I have a vision for the United States of America and these are my proposed policies. I also welcome people from all backgrounds to share their ideas so that we can work together and be successful.”


These better responses were adopted by Air Asia and O2, a national U.K. phone company. Their handling of public relations provides a masterclass in crisis management. For Air Asia the crisis began almost two years ago when one of their flights from Indonesia to Singapore crashed into the Java Sea. All 155 passengers and crew on board were killed instantly. Air Asia founder Tony Fernandes stepped forward and indicated that he personally took responsibility for what happened offered a public apology for the crash. When the victims’ families rejected the initial compensation figure, Fernandes oversaw its increase.

In 2012, phone company O2 had country-wide network problems. Thousands of customers experienced a loss of 2G and 3G network services, crashing mobile, landline and broadband connectivity. Of course, in this age of social media angry and frustrated customers took to Twitter – with the company’s followers increasing from an average of 155 to 13,500 each day!

So how did @O2 turn this into a win? Well, they told it like it was, they were direct, and they owned it. They issued apology after apology. O2 personalized its responses and said sorry to every customer who tweeted @O2’s account. To the tweets that were ugly and even violent, O2 was gracious and rose above that discourse.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the O2 PR crisis story is about trust. O2’s twitter team had the company’s complete confidence. They were able to respond in a personal way. Personality and humour shone through, and the brand’s reputation was restored.

Now, you might not be Air Asia or O2, but that doesn’t matter. Whether it’s a tiny customer service mishap or a full-on crisis, the best organizations, businesses and people apologize immediately and own their behaviour. And while some people are tempted to blame a supplier or an employee (even if they were the cause of what went wrong), when it comes to good PR, your market or audience will remember graciousness, humility and owning it for a long time to come. You’ll be seen as a winner, long after any little problem or big crisis has passed.

And if you want to tell-it-like-it is because you know something is wrong, unfair, or could be improved, go for it. But be sure to plan it out first. Think about your approach, how you’ll communicate the solution you offer, how you want to dialogue with others and how, ultimately, you want your story to be a PR success story.

If you or a team member is a PR pro, you can probably manage your own PR. Alternatively, seek out a seasoned PR professional for advice, especially when times are difficult.