half-hearted apology feature

A Half-Hearted Apology is a Kiss of Death

‘The Kiss’ has dominated news headlines around the world, sadly overshadowing the remarkable and laudable victory of the Spanish Women’s football team in the Women’s World Cup.

half-hearted apology

As ever, we comment on the media lessons rather than the rights and wrongs of an argument.

And the media lesson from this debacle is as old as the hills: if you are going to make a public apology you have to be contrite and make it credible, otherwise, you are simply throwing fuel on the fire of public outrage.

On 21st August Luis Rubiales the Spanish FA President, put out a video in which he appears contrite and in which he apologises – sort-of – for grabbing and kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips, in the moments after the Spanish Women’s Team won the Football World Cup in Sydney.

An Apology Of Sorts

It is quite difficult to find a full version of that apology video, but the Daily Mail provided this clip with a helpful translation.

As we can see in this early reaction, Rubiales says the words ‘I was surely wrong’, but then goes on to say ‘it was spontaneous without bad faith’ and that he has ‘no other choice but to apologise’. He also eventually says, ‘I am sorry because this has tarnished the celebration.’

It is an unscripted, rather rambling video, and while the tone is somewhat regretful, the words clearly seek to mitigate and minimise the offence. And in the end, he apologises for tarnishing the celebration of the victory, not for the kiss itself.

You do not need to be a PR genius to know that this apology will not draw a line under the affair, but instead will give it another round of frenetic news coverage.

Had it been a full genuine apology, with the explanation of being carried away in the moment, there was a chance the storm might have passed.

Car Crash Press Conference

However, Rubiales’ next public move, an extraordinary press conference in which he speaks for 30 minutes, ensures this story will run and run. In front of a large and apparently mostly embarassed audience, the President of Spain’s Football Association explains the moment of euphoria that prompted him to kiss Hermoso, but in the next breath launches an attack on ‘false feminism’. He says he has been accused of sexual assault and that he will defend himself in court. Then after 17 minutes of what again seems a rambling and self-pitying monologue, he says that he is being ‘hunted’ for something that was consensual. With incredulity he reports he is being asked to resign, despite having delivered the best management in the history of Spanish Football! And then we get angry repetition of ‘I will not resign’, followed by reports of social assassination and (presumably metaphoric) murder.

Everything in this press conference tells the world that there is no genuine apology. Luis Rubiales does not believe he has done anything wrong and, what is more, he is prepared to turn on the woman he grabbed so publicly, in order to distract from the storm. A car crash of a speech.

The Lessons

So my takeaways, for anyone unfortunate enough to have to make a public apology are as follows:

  • Make the tone of any apology contrite
  • Use a script, don’t allow yourself to ramble and get carried away
  • Keep it short
  • Do not seek to dilute the apology or the offence
  • Resist the temptation to blame everyone or anyone else
  • Put away the arrogance that allows you to think you are so clever, important or successful that the offence does not matter. If you have to apologise in public it does matter.
  • Don’t show your anger

Last week I wrote about a different Press Conference Playbook. This Press Conference had no playbook. Or if it did the key speaker tore it up. It could not have been more disastrous: for Mr Rubiales, or for The Spanish Football Federation. I am not sure I have witnessed a more public car crash.

The Fallout

That same day, August 25th,  81 players declared they will not play for Spain again with Rubiales still in post — including all 23 players in the Women’s World Cup squad.

The following day Rubiales was suspended for 90 days by the international body FIFA. On the 27th the Spanish FA announced an internal investigation and on 28th Spain’s top criminal court announced an investigation into whether the kiss amounted to a count of sexual assault. And just for good measure Rubialis’ mother began a hunger strike. At the time of writing there are a few more chapters to play out but the conclusion appears inevitable.

Photo credit: YouTube




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