The public mea culpa is an essential PR exercise. The offender seeks to lessen the sting of a misdeed and engender sympathy not scorn. For the V.A.P. – Very Apologetic Person – it’s never too late to say you’re sorry.
The latest example comes from US Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL), charged Tuesday with cocaine possession after he allegedly purchased the drug from an undercover agent. The self-styled “Hip Hop Conservative” is the first sitting congressman in 30 years to be arrested on a drug charge. He quickly pleaded guilty Thursday and was sentenced to probation.
Radel issued a statement immediately after his arrest. He blamed alcoholism, which led him “to an extremely irresponsible choice” to buy drugs. He invoked his wife and young son and vowed to get help “so I can be a better man for both of them.” Finally, he noted the “positive side” of his arrest, which offered him “an opportunity to seek treatment and counseling” and a chance to set “an example for other struggling with this disease.” If there’s a note he missed, we’re not aware of it.
THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Trey Radel, who wasted no time singing every verse of the mea culpa aria.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Respond quickly and own your misdeeds. Had Radel delayed, the initial news story might have dealt only with his arrest. A follow-up would present his apologia, keeping the story alive. He executed well, copping to a lesser offense of alcoholism rather than a problem with illegal drugs. He proffered his “husband and father” bona fides and turned his arrest into an opportunity – a role model for recovery. He also took a near-instant plea, closing his legal proceedings out neatly. Next step? Take a quiet turn in rehab and emerge with a personal story of redemption to earn leniency in the court of public opinion.