Congressman Hits All the Right Notes in Apology

radel Congressman Hits All the Right Notes in Apology

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for US Rep. Trey Radel.

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.


Guest Column: Foul Ball for Toronto Blue Jays

YUNEL ESCOBAR2 150x150 Guest Column: Foul Ball for Toronto Blue Jays

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Yunel Escobar.

Could Yunel Escobar be any dumber?  The 29-year-old starting shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays drew what is generally interpreted as an anti-gay slur into the eye black he wore during a major league baseball game last week. Predictably, his face was subsequently splashed across the media and Escobar and his team’s owners, Rogers Communications, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications providers, seemed to be taken aback by the resulting criticism.

The phrase in question, “Tu ere maricon” is Spanish slang for “You are a f—-t,” but in some contexts, Escobar explained,  it is interpreted as an emasculating insult only. “Amongst Latinos it’s not something that’s meant to be offensive,” Escobar said during a fumbling news conference in which he apologized while insisting he was misinterpreted. “For us it doesn’t have the significance to the way it’s being interpreted right now.”

The Blue Jays PR machine did what PR machines do: Investigations were held, news conferences were called. Escobar offered apologies, all of which appeared disingenuous. Platitudes were shared about cultural differences, sensitivity training, more education for Blue Jays personnel. Escobar was suspended for three games and his salary (approx $90,000 USD) donated to charities. Ouch! Unfortunately, there was never an explanation to the fundamental question: What could he, or his team managers, have been thinking?

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Escobar and the Toronto Blue Jays for this tepid response. In what world is an anti-gay – or even emasculating – slur acceptable?

The PR Takeaway: Crisis Communications templates are nice, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. The Blue Jays (and Major League baseball, for that matter) need to say they are concerned, and ACT like they are concerned. Stiffer penalties and proactive policies that leave little wiggle room for interpretation about what players can wear on the field might be a step in the right direction… First Amendment rights notwithstanding.

How Sorry Are You, Barclays?

 How Sorry Are You, Barclays?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Barclays. (Pictured: Barclays CEO Bob Diamond)

Isn’t it nice to know that Barclays PLC and its subsidiaries have agreed to pay more than $450 million to settle charges that it attempted to manipulate key global interest rates? The announcement of the largest-ever fine was accompanied by much huffing and puffing about market integrity. Everyone agrees; terrible business. Why, even Bob Diamond, Barclays CEO, and his three chief lieutenants waived their bonuses in recognition of the seriousness of the issue.

Barclays said all the right things on the day. It humbly acknowledged the actions “fell well short of the standards to which Barclays aspires.” This was a mea culpa, albeit somewhat measured, given that the Department of Justice is continuing with its criminal probe. This could get uglier, no doubt.

But was that it? Was there a lost paragraph to the announcement? Yes, investigations are continuing, yes other firms are involved, and yes, Barclays has been assisting every regulator it possibly can. Fair enough, but the key question remained unanswered in Barclays’ formal statement. Has ANYONE lost their job or been suspended? Has there been a clearing of the decks?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Barclays for avoiding disclosure of the most important piece of news: Is anyone’s head going to roll?

PR Takeaway: One way to draw a line over bad behavior is to draw a line over bad employees. If the bank is committed to turning a new page in ethics, why not update stakeholders about who was, or will be, fired? Even if previously disclosed, say it again. Waiving a bonus counts for something, but making it clear to inside and outside stakeholders that certain behaviors will not be tolerated goes further. This was an odd omission in a statement that went to lengths to make it clear that these issues won’t happen again.

Did Barclays go far enough by apologising and waiving bonuses, or should heads have rolled? Give us your PR Verdict, below.