July 03, 2019
by Scott Cesta
Kim Kardashian West, no stranger to media criticism, could teach even the best PR teams a thing or two about how to craft a genuine and effective public apology. Kardashian came under fire recently after announcing the name of her upcoming shapewear line: KIMONO Solutionwear. Widespread cries of cultural appropriation and claims that Kardashian was trying to trademark the word “kimono” led the social media star to issue the following apology:
The statement is concise, effective, and most importantly, it sounds like it’s coming from a real person. Apologies in situations like these tend to come across as either overly contrite or (more often) legalistic and vague. Through her statement, Kardashian reminds us of 3 critical rules for an effective PR crisis response statement:
1. Own up when you’re wrong - even if you don't have the solution yet
Kim Kardashian’s statement comes ahead of her decision of what exactly the new name of her shapewear line will be. There is power in admitting fault. There is even more power in admitting fault before you’ve tied up every loose end and gotten sign-off from legal.
In a crisis, it’s tempting to wait until you have all the facts, but the longer you wait to take ownership over the situation, the more calculated and empty the apology will feel. Worse is attempting to distance yourself or claim you’re not at fault. Think about the heat that Volkswagen brought upon themselves for not being open about their emissions testing, or Boeing’s continuing series of non-apologies as they attempt to remedy the issues facing their fleet of 737 jets. Pulling the name KIMONO before replacing it shows a level of vulnerability and the public will be more likely to feel it as an honest admission.
2. Harness the power of the 1st person
The true kryptonite to any effective PR statement is a cold or impersonal tone. Statements that best overcome this tendency often involve a CEO speaking personally on behalf of the company. CEOs will inevitably gravitate towards certain aspects of a crisis; maybe they were emotionally affected by a comment that a customer made, or they feel responsible for a lapse in judgement. Companies are not a believable “we”. When a PR team writes a statement that attempts to speak as the company itself in the abstract, they create a higher barrier to empathy.
Kardashian shows how to do this most effectively. She uses “I” frequently, and she words things the way she wants to. Casual phrasing like “I so appreciate”, and “thank you for your love and support always” let her voice come through.
3. Don’t fight the narrative – use it to your advantage
Kim Kardashian is a person who has built her brand on radical access to every aspect of her life. She has defined what it means to be truly engaged on social media. So, when she makes the claim that “What’s made it possible for me after all these years has been the direct line of communication with my fans and the public. I am always listening, learning, and growing,” it rings true. This is the reason her apology is truly effective. Kardashian reframes the public narrative that “she’s just a social media influencer,” shifting it to a credible claim that she understands the value at the core of the situation: the importance of listening to your audience.
In a crisis, every company wants to be able to say that a certain value has always been “part of their DNA”. This is an area of crisis comms where corporations most often get it wrong. If it isn’t overwhelmingly obvious to the public that a company holds a certain value (and most of the time, it isn’t), it’s almost always more effective to show rather than tell. Point to past actions that illustrate a time when you actually demonstrated a value- or better yet, show what actions you’re taking now. Use the narrative that already exists about your company to make your point, rather than trying to force a new one.
Kim Kardashian has the advantage of being her own brand. When she makes a statement, she can speak as herself, rather than as her company. Even so, her statement demonstrates a level of candor that many companies cannot seem to rise to when confronted by public criticism.
Now, maybe she could give her husband a few tips on how to do the same.
Scott Cesta is Product Owner of Dynamic Response - a crisis messaging platform powered by maslansky + partners. Reach out with questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org