The merits or lack thereof regarding Chip Wilson’s comments during a recent Bloomberg TV interview not withstanding, when the public takes umbrage with statements made on behalf of a brand there are ways to apologize and ways not to apologize.
The Lululemon athletica founder’s Nov. 8 YouTube apology posted to the Lululemon Facebook page is a lesson in the latter. Even the company he founded was careful, in response to media inquiries about Wilson’s video apology, to distance itself saying the posting was, “Chip’s reaction and statement – Lululemon did not issue one.”
The YouTube mea culpa – of sorts – starts with Wilson declaring he is “sad.” With his very first words, he failed in his attempt. Any media advisers working with him never should have let him say it. The public doesn’t care if he is sad. They do care if he takes ownership of what he said. They do care if he regrets having said it. They do care if he declares his comments as being wrong, hurtful or even ill-considered. And they do care if he apologies to those whom he might have offended. Simple and direct apologies in circumstances such as these are important. When the public is angry, don’t quibble. Apologize succinctly and with sincerity.
Second, his message seems targeted at those who work for Lululemon, and not the customers and general public he was perceived as having insulted in the Nov. 5 Bloomberg interview.
Third, aside from the distracting background gong you hear at the 10 second mark, Wilson is clearly reading from cue cards. If you want to look disinterested, disengaged and scripted during a public apology, the best way to accomplish this trifecta is to read off of cue cards into a camera.
Wilson was ill-advised in the making of this video. His lack of media training (often disregarded by businesses until – and even after – a crisis erupts) is evident in both the Bloomberg interview and in his video. Imagine how beneficial media training now seems to executives at Lululemon in retrospect. The initial damage might never have occurred.
Taking a step back from the specifics, the message is entirely wrong – as perhaps was the venue (Facebook). When messaging to employees or other internal stakeholders, keep that message out of the public eye. If you are apologizing to your loyal customers, do exactly that as plainly and sincerely as possible.
The public will generally forgive a brand and its spokespeople if they react quickly, with great care and sincerity, and if they clearly apologize and take responsibility for their words or actions. Anything less usually only compounds the problem, as Wilson has aptly demonstrated.
Effective apologies come in many forms. Unfortunately for Wilson and the brand he created, his YouTube effort is not among these forms.