Crisis PR 101: Admit Mistakes, offer solutions, by Larry Eder

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

A couple of months ago, I was checking out a video featuring an interview with Mark Parker, CEO of Nike , relating a phone conversation with Steve Jobs. Jobs had noted that Nike made great product and crappy product. The key, from the zen Apple master, was to stop making crappy product.

A little bit of  full disclosure here. I have never owned a PC. Since 1985, when my friend, Danny Ferarra, then, associate editor at Runners World, had the amazing patience to teach me how to use an Apple (SE), I have never used nor owned a non Apple computer. In 1989, I ran through airports across the country with a sixteen pound Apple laptop (had about 16 Mgs of RAM), as I launched a company for IDG, Monadnock
Custom Publishing.. My company beta tested Quark.

At a recent issue Steve Jobs had presenting Iphone technology when the wi fi network at the convention was overloaded, Jobs was given kudos for handling it like a champ. Well, Steve, has handled it like a champ. At the Software Writers Convention in San Diego in the spring of
1989, Steve was launching NEXT computers, and he had system errorts, but Steve persisted and showcased NEXT operation system. I know, I was there, in the crowd. I have nothing but admiration for Mr. Jobs. 

We are Apple geeks. My sister, Kathy, worked at Apple back in the 80s and early 90s. I have the Iphone, the first one, and have used it sending pictures from the Great Wall in China, and it effectively helps me run my business needs as I travel and keep up with our 23 print publications and 28 websites at the Running Network. I use the iTunes on my phone to keep me company on my evening walks around my travels. Some nights it is Robin Williams, somenights, it is John Prine, and some nights, on especially tough days, listening to Elton John's Honky Chateau is just what the doctor ordered.  

I must admit sadness over how Apple has handled the recent Iphone 4 screwups. The facts are simple: Apple, kings of design, tried to gain some room and moved their attenna out of the cavity of the phone. A bit of a gamble, but without gambles in design, without calculatted risks, most of modern technology would have not developed. This time, there was a bit of a glitch. When Apple Iphone4 users move their hands near the bottom left of the phone, they cut off the anttenna. Things happen. In reality, most iphone users would forgive the miscue. If only Apple's Mr. Jobs had remembered his conversation with Mark Parker.

First, Apple denied the issue as devotees purchased 1.72 million in 48 hours. Then, Consumer Reports suggested simple corrections, one, with duct tape (there are old nuclear reactors, somewhere functioning thanks to duct tape), and one with a iphone case.

Mr. Jobs had a press conference, said how sorry he was, but here is the huge error: APPLE STILL DID NOT SAY, WE messed up! Steve just could not do it. From the bottom of his nice New Balance running shoes to the uniform of blue jeans and mock black turtle neck, Mr. Job's world class intellect failed him in a historic opportunity. Apple has been the un corporation
for decades. However, Apple's response to the iphone4 issue was pure corporate public relations bs, and it did not have to happen.

Apple will provide the iphone case for free, Apple will refund folks who bought their own cases, but Apple did not admit that it made a tactical error in placing the antenna outside the phone cavity! Why not? Apple has done millions of things that work, added to design, technology, communication, the economy, etc, so what is so bad about admitting a mistake, especially if one has the remedy?

Our word for today, RBRers,  is hubris. We alll have done this, hell someone accused me of a world class act of hubris in a text commentary we were having a month ago. Humans are imperfect. And corporations rely on human capital. None of the zillions who have purchased IPhones would have been upset with Apple admitting taking a design chance, and for once, it not working out. The admitting of the error would have gained Apple huge positive pr among normal humans. Now, Apple just looks like any other technology company. (And for Apple devotees, some who go so far as to require potential dates to also use Apple products -check out August Fast Company issue).


How do we learn from Apple's mistake, and apply it to the running biz? Do your best to hold your relationship with your consumer as a sacred trust, and when there are problems, try to
stuff the habit to deny guilt right away. Listen to the complaint, and, ask for some time to respond thoughtfully. Satisfy the consumer, make sure that the consumer is happy and satisfied. You want that consumer coming back, again and again.   


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