Image Repair Strategies Why apologia tactics often fail
Simple Denial • Key Characteristic: Did not do act (or act did not occur, or act isn't harmful). • Example: In response to the charge of marketing for special pricing a company spokesperson announced “Coke does not charge McDonalds less than it charges other companies.” • Comment: The public discounts any denial
Denial by Shifting Blame • Key Characteristic: Claiming that it was someone else who did the misdeed. • Example: After a major scare over the discovery of cyanide deaths, a company press release claims that Tylenol did not put poison in the capsules, but instead some crazed individuals did. • Comment: The public discounts any denial
Evade Responsibility: Provocation • Key Characteristic: Claiming that the act was in response to another's offense. • Examples: 1. Defendant claims he only hit the victim after the victim hit him. 2. Company leaves town because of increased labor costs. • Comment: Claims of initial offenses are distrusted without evidence. Responses to provocations are seen as a weakness.
Evade Responsibility: Defeasibility • Key Characteristic: Claiming the “contract” or situation is null and void because of a lack of information or ability • Example: Employee claims not to have received the email about an important meeting. • Comment: Seen as begging the question about why the person failed to assure being self informed.
Evade Responsibility: Accident • Key Characteristic: Claiming that the event was merely an unintentional accident. • Example: “Gee, officer. I just did not see the other car until it was too late.” • Comment: Seen as begging the question about why the accused failed to assure proper care and safety. Accused is still held liable for any problems or damages.
Evade Responsibility: Good Intentions • Key Characteristic: Claiming that the event was the an unintentional consequence of a well intentioned effort. • Example: A company accused of running up unneeded additional expenses claims that the problem was the result of a larger desire to better serve the customers. • Comment: Seen as begging the question about why the accused failed to protect the rights of the victim.
Mortification • Key Characteristics: Apology. Admit responsibility. Express regret. Accept demand for restitution and punishment • Example: A political candidate acknowledges a history of personal failures and accepts responsibility for making amends • Comment: The accused tend to want clear parameters on punishment and restitution. Public tends to willingly forgive over time after appropriate amends.
Reduce Offensiveness:Bolstering • Key Characteristic: Attempt to shift attention to the good characteristics of the accused. • Example: A student accused of plagiarism responds with describing his or her contributions to the classroom environment. • Comment: The public dislikes this expected and easily detected tactic.
Reduce Offensiveness:Minimization • Key Characteristic: Claim that the ‘problem’ is overstated or normal. • Example: After a major oil spill at sea, the oil company claims that damage to the environment was minimal and even ‘natural.’ • Comment: The public strongly distrusts an accused making assertions that victims did not really suffer.
Reduce Offensiveness:Differentiation • Key Characteristic: Claim that the act is falsely labeled • Example: Joy rider claiming that the car was not “stolen” but only “borrowed.” • Comment: Responses vary with public willingness to ignore offense. When done with finesse, the public will willingly accept and appreciate the new label.
Reduce Offensiveness:Transcendence • Key Characteristic: Claim that the act is less important than larger and more immediate matters • Example: Corporation claims that exporting jobs is justified by the public demand for low prices. • Comment: Responses vary with the vested interests of the public.
Reduce Offensiveness:Attack the Accuser • Key Characteristic: Attack the accuser for having a suspect motivation. • Example: An employee claims that a supervisor’s accusations are actually an attempt at distracting others from his or her own incompetence. • Comment: The public tends to dismiss such shifts in issues as desperation ploys.
Reduce Offensiveness:Compensate • Key Characteristic: Without admission of wrong doing, the accused shifts from a defense to dealing directly with the perceived damage and offering compensation. • Example: A theme park manager says “We are sorry for the discomfort you experienced. Here are two ‘front of the line passes’ for your next ride. • Comment: Tends to silence victims but may create a sense of injustice in the minds of third parties.
Corrective Action • Key Characteristic: The accused announces a plan to solve or prevent any probable recurrence of the problem. • Examples: 1.An over-the-counter-drug company announces a new seal and packaging that will allow detection of tampering. 2. A person with a perceived problem places himself or herself in a rehabilitation program. • Comment: Corrective action is to most effective image-repair tactic. The public cares more about repairs than they care about who actually did what or when.
References Benoit, W. L. (1995). Accounts, excuses, and apologies: A theory of image restoration discourse. Albany: State University of New York Press. Benoit, W. L. (1997). Image restoration discourse and crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 23, 177-186.