Last week, former congressman, Jesse Jackson Jr., was charged with conspiracy, making false statements, and mail and wire fraud. This is serious stuff, requiring a serious statement. Fortunately, Jackson has a brilliant lawyer, who issued the following apology on his client’s behalf:
Over the course of my life I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties. Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made. To that end I want to offer my sincerest apologies to my family, my friends and all of my supporters for my errors in judgment and while my journey is not yet complete, it my hope that I am remembered for things that I did right.
Leave aside the grammatical error (“none of us are” should be “none of us is”), as well as the semantic sloppiness (“all of my supporters” should be “all my supporters”) and lack of commas. The statement is succinct, thoughtful, and shrewd—especially when compared with how Jackson blundered his last spin in the crisis chair. This time around, the congressman nails it. Here’s how Jackson succeeded this time:
1. He begins with a Big Picture reflection that paints himself as an everyman. He says, in effect, “We all make mistakes.” Who could disagree with that?
2. He doesn’t point fingers or refer to extenuating circumstances. Instead, he embraces his culpability without qualification.
3. He doesn’t dance around the elephant. Instead, he walks straight up to it and apologizes, directly and earnestly.
4. He doesn’t rely on adjectives to make his point. Instead, he writes with nouns.
5. He closes by asking people to remember him for the good he’s done, and refrains from self-indulgently citing examples. This understated, upbeat note thus effectively shifts our final focus.
My only disagreement: Jackson’s misdeeds aren’t mere “errors of judgment,” as he claims. Self-dealing and theft are crimes.
Anyone can apologize. Indeed, we all do from time to time. But to do it well—to extinguish the fire rather than re-ignite it—ultimately requires the one thing that PR pros can’t fake: sincerity.
For example, in the past month alone, the Atlantic has apologized with frankness, humor, and transparency for its Scientology advertorial. Maker’s Mark has apologized with heart, brio, and class for almost diluting its bourbon. And a leading environmental activist has apologized with honesty and courage for spearheading the movement against genetically modified foods.
Study these examples, together with Jackson’s. Even if you’re not Larry David, chances are, you’re going to need to say “sorry” sooner or later.
Jonathan Rick is the president of the Jonathan Rick Group, a digital communications firm in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @jrick.
A version of this blog post appeared in PR Daily.