Can an apology make it all better?

On September 30, 2013, the head of a family-owned pasta giant, Guido Barilla, succumbed to public criticism of a comment he made the previous week, and issued a video apology. In the video, Barilla delicately referenced the highly publicised gaffe he made during an interview with Italian news agency, ANSA, and attempted to make amends with those he had offended. But can an apology adequately redress a PR blunder in this day and age? Can an apology make it all better?


“Yes” says Jeff Chertack, Regional Director, Corporate and Public Affairs, Memac Ogilvy PR MENA

JeffChertackSMALL“Anyone who’s ever apologised to a spouse by saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way” knows the reaction with which a misdirected apology can be greeted”

We’ve all had it instilled in us from an early age that when you do something wrong you should say, “I’m sorry,” and mean it. Somewhere between the playground and the boardroom, this ingrained instinct to own up and accept responsibility for mistakes often goes unheeded. Too often intervening factors, such as legal concerns, misplaced certitude, or, most often, an underestimation of the power of a disconcerted public, win out over an apology. The recent example of Barilla Chairman Guido Barilla shows however, that it’s not just an apology that matters; it’s when you say it and what you say. But if done correctly, and in the right circumstances, an apology can go a long way to setting the course for reputation recovery with customers or consumers.

Today’s consumers, investors and other stakeholders have come to expect more from companies and the executives who run them. An apology is only as good as its perceived authenticity. Anyone who’s ever apologised to a spouse by saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way” knows the reaction with which a misdirected apology can be greeted.

A sincere and humble apology, on the other hand, can be effective in diffusing a crisis. This is especially true in a case where there is responsibility to be taken in an operational issue. An apology that accepts accountability, and is delivered with humility and a pledge for action can actually improve the reputation of a company.

Barilla could have managed the situation more effectively had a humble apology come swiftly, and not seemingly in response to calls for boycotts and social media outrage drummed up by the LGBT community and equal rights advocates in Italy and around the world. In this particular case, the Chairman can’t apologise for his belief system, but should apologise for letting it impact his comments about his customers. Inviting your customers to stop using your product is a third rail of business, no matter the circumstance.

An apology doesn’t require a weepy admission of responsibility on an overstuffed couch during a nationally televised interview. Thanks to social media, executives have more opportunities than ever to get their message out, unfiltered and to the public. YouTube and social media, the very channels that are keeping executives on their toes, can also be the channels by which apologies are made and disseminated.

Of course, steering clear of hot-button political and social issues is the better way to avoid such scandals in the first place. Clear messaging and tough media training can decrease the foot-in-mouth impulse that makes an apology necessary.

In short, executives would do well to remember their parents’ advice, and either apologise when they make a mistake or just not open their their mouths in the first place.

Contact Jeff Chertack at or follow him @JTack


“No” says Jonathan Macpherson, Senior Consultant and Regional Director of India, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, Hill & Knowlton Strategies

JonoSMALL“The public has become cynical. It has seen too many blunders and too many empty apologies for a simple ‘sorry’ to suffice”

Before the advent of a more connected world, when brands used to be less global and social media didn’t exist, Guido Barilla’s comments would perhaps have been limited to Italian media, thus narrowing the audience, and diminishing the scope of offense to his views. Back then, the issue could have blown over with a few letters sent to editors.

Today, that’s not the case. The world is too well connected. The public has become cynical. It has seen too many blunders and too many empty apologies for a simple ‘sorry’ to suffice. Large international brands are falling foul of the power of the public and digital democratisation. They are failing to recognise that the world is a different place than it was before globalisation and widespread Internet access, and that personal views played out in the public arena can cause irreparable damage to brands. They are also failing to learn from others’ mistakes. One of the most famous cases of verbal recklessness actually coined a phrase for CEO gaffes, ‘doing a Ratner’.

Gerald Ratner, formerly Chief Executive of the major British jewellery company Ratners Group, achieved notoriety after making a speech in which he jokingly denigrated the company’s products, causing the brand’s near collapse in 1991. Addressing members of the Institute of Directors in London, he said, “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it’s total crap.”

That one speech wiped £500 million from Ratners’ market value and no amount of apologising made a difference to consumers, who felt let down, even if it was meant as a joke.

Brands and their spokespeople should understand that there are some topics that they should avoid, and that good planning and corporate governance should provide the framework to ensure they know what to say, when to say it and who is able to say it. This doesn’t mean brands will be impervious to gaffes but it should enable them to minimise the risk and prepare well for any eventuality.

Many companies make the mistake of avoiding the issue once they have made an apology and subsequent changes, because they prefer not to have the topic raised again. However, publicly reporting substantiated facts about changes that have been made so far will ensure that consumers really believe that the company has been honest, was sincere in its apology, and has changed its behaviour accordingly.

Will a video apology persuade Guido Barilla’s critics that all is well in the pasta world? I doubt it; there is probably a great deal more that Barilla will need to do to assuage the publics’ ire. You could say that, so far, the handling of the affair is a little undercooked rather than al dente.

Contact Jonathan Macpherson at

PR Account Manager, Sarah Jacotine

Name: Sarah Jacotine

Age: 28

From: Norwich, Norfolk

Current job title: Account Manager, Aziza Communications

When did you arrive in the UAE? July 22, 2013

Where did you work prior? I worked in comms and PR in the public sector back in the UK.  Before that I was a freelance journalist and edited various business titles. I find that it helps immensely when you have worked on both sides of the fence… I understand when a journalist needs something ‘now’, it means yesterday.

Had you been to Dubai before accepting your new role? Yes, I holidayed here in 2009 and 2010. I thought at the time that I could see myself living here, very happily. The beach, the sunshine, the skyscrapers… I was a fan long before I made the leap and became an expat.

What are your first impressions of the media industry in the Middle East? It’s growing, adapting and has fully embraced social media. It still places a great deal of stock in print media though, certainly more than Europe, which I like.

Tell us about your new role… I work with a dynamic team to create and execute strategies for our clients, which include media pitches, events, and buzz-building social media campaigns. Primarily, I oversee all of our accounts and manage our relationships with clients.

What challenges are you facing? The eternal PR struggle of balancing on that fine line of being tough but likeable and being all things to all people, while still having time for strategic planning and minor necessities like eating!

How do you plan to make your mark? By giving the best service I can to our clients to help them realise their ambitions and gain fantastic exposure.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? We immerse ourselves in our clients’ businesses, so a win for them always feels like a win for us. I love that I can be creative and an integral component of other people’s success.

What’s the most exciting thing to happen so far? Meeting our clients straightaway and jumping straight into work has been pretty exciting. So far I’m finding that nearly every day is exciting in some way or another because each one is so different and I’m working across such a variety of industries. No one could ever accuse PR of being dull.

What do you think of the quality of media publications in the region? There’s a huge mix, so obviously the quality varies but on the whole I’m impressed. I love that the industry is doing so well in contrast with the UK and I love the diversity. There really is a magazine for every taste and  interest.

What sets you apart from other PRs? Ask me again in 12 months…

Work calls via landline, mobile or both? I’m always contactable via mobile or landline, plus email, Whatsapp, Skype… the list goes on. I prefer email to begin with so that I can offer my full attention to any request, but I’m happy to jump on a request any way it comes through to me.

Describe yourself in five words… Optimistic, opinionated, adventurous, adaptable, honest.

What’s your most overused saying? Lately, “Don’t forget to stop off at duty free on your way back” – to my husband, who travels a lot for work.

Five things you can’t live without? My iPhone, HBO, Wagamama, holidays to far flung places and coffee – of course.

If you weren’t a PR, what would you be? A travel writer.


Diners Club Magazine to launch in UAE

Diners Club International is to launch a print version of its luxury travel magazine in the UAE this December. Diners Club Magazine will have a 15,000 print run and will be directly mailed to its high-net-worth members across the UAE.

“We’re extremely excited about the launch of Diners Club Magazine,” says magazine publisher, Hanif Saddiq. “Diners Club Magazine will be published quarterly and will cover luxury living, travel, fashion and lifestyle.”

For editorial and sales enquiries, contact

Zaina Shihabi resigns from Mother, Baby & Child

Zaina Shihabi has resigned from her position as Editor of Mother, Baby & Child Magazine, a publication run by CPI Media Group. Zaina has relocated to the UK to pursue her master’s degree but will continue to work on the title until her replacement has been appointed.

“I have enjoyed every minute of my time spent on Mother, Baby & Child Magazine,” says Zaina. “It was a difficult decision to make, but I have followed my heart and am looking forward to continuing my education at Liverpool Hope University. I would like to thank all those who have supported the title since launch and I hope this support is passed to the new Editor when the position is filled.”

Anyone interested in applying for the position can email:

AllDetails Middle East welcomes new PR Executive

AllDetails Middle East has appointed Hania Allahham as Public Relations Account Executive. Hania will join the team to develop and strengthen the public relations activities for luxury hospitality clients such as Corinthia Hotels, Baros Maldives, Le Gray, Wilderness Collection among others, as well as high end lifestyle and beauty brands.

“I am really looking forward to joining AllDetails’ vibrant team and I’m excited to work with such prestigious clients,” says Hania.

Sarah Jimaa joins The Dubai Mall Magazine

Sarah Jimaa has been appointed as Features Writer at The Dubai Mall Magazine, part of NPI Media. Previously Fashion & Beauty Writer at Hello! Middle East, Sarah left to pursue her master’s degree in London where she also worked as a freelance stylist before recently returning to Dubai.

“I am excited about this new role and looking forward to bringing our readers the latest on fashion and beauty in each issue,” says Sarah.

Sarah will be responsible for the fashion and beauty pages, plus gifts, trends, style, travel, gadgets and more.

Contact Sarah at / +971 (0)4 424 3648


Rachel McArthur joins Yahoo!

Rachel McArthur has left Explorer Publishing to commence a new role as Senior Entertainment Editor at Yahoo! Rachel, who previously worked at Emirates TodayEmirates Business 24/7 and wrote a weekly Arab entertainment column for Gulf News, will be managing the entertainment and lifestyle section covering the MENA/GCC region.

The platform has 50 million users per month regionally, and covers subjects including business, finance, sport, lifestyle and world news.

Contact rachel at / +971 (0)4 445 6380 or follow her @raychmofficial.