You might as well call 2017 the year of public apologies: Companies, leaders, celebrities, and athletes alike had to issue mea culpas for mistakes and missteps all year long.
Some of those apologies were better than others. A good handful of them were particularly egregious.
Here are the three types of horrible apologies that dominated 2017, and what made them so bad:
1. Tried to change the topic.
Unsurprisingly, three of the worst apologies of the year came from high-profile sexual harassment and abuse cases: film producer Harvey Weinstein, chef Mario Batali, and actor Kevin Spacey.
Weinstein, in a rambling and somewhat confusing statement sent to the New York Times, never explicitly acknowledged what he was apologizing for. Instead, he misquoted rapper Jay-Z and announced he’d be funneling his “anger” and resources toward taking down the National Rifle Association. It was a mess.
Batali’s apology, while significantly more coherent, followed a similar roadmap. He only referenced the sexual misconduct accusations leveled against him as “mistakes.” At the end, he wrote: “ps. in case you’re searching for a holiday-inspired breakfast, these Pizza Dough Cinnamon Rolls are a fan favorite.” Not the time or the place for a recipe, Batali.
Spacey’s apology seemed the most intentionally disingenuous. In a statement released on Twitter, he quickly pivoted from discussing his sexual abuse of actor Anthony Rapp to coming out as gay–a clear attempt to alter the headline and distract from the issue at hand.
When you’re apologizing, don’t try to change the subject. People will see right through it.
2. Tried to minimize the blame.
Remember Fyre Festival? Back in April, the music festival in the Bahamas co-created by rapper Ja Rule turned out to be an unmitigated catastrophe: Fans paid thousands of dollars to land in what one attendee called a “disaster tent city.”
Rule immediately took to Twitter and made one crucial misstep in an otherwise sincere apology. “NOT MY FAULT,” he wrote in all-caps. That may end up proving true: Both Rule and his ex-partner Billy McFarland have been sued, but only McFarland has been arrested on criminal charges of fraud. In the context of Rule’s apology, though, it doesn’t matter. Mid-crisis isn’t the time to play the blame game.
Senator Al Franken did something similar when his sexual assault of journalist Leeann Tweeden became public information in November. His initial response started with this sentence: “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann.”
Franken’s first instinct was to cast doubt on the story (Spacey’s statement did this, too), despite photographic evidence of him groping a sleeping Tweeden. He later released a stronger apology, but the damage was done.
Own up to your mistakes. Otherwise, it’s like you haven’t apologized at all.
3. Waited too long for the apology to sound sincere.
Ah, United Airlines. You had a year to forget.
A host of PR nightmares was headlined by security guards beating up Dr. David Dao and dragging him off an overbooked plane in April. Later that day, United CEO Oscar Munoz offered this to Dao and others removed from the same flight: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate those customers.”
A full day later, he released an updated statement on Twitter, taking responsibility and calling the event “truly horrific.” It would have been a fine sentiment, if not for the hefty time gap between his first response and the one presumably written by his PR team.
Football star Cam Newton, quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, did the same thing after laughing at a female reporter for asking a football-specific question at a press conference in October. “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” Newton said from the podium.
The reporter, Jourdan Rodrigue, found Newton in the locker room after the press conference and gave him a chance to apologize. He didn’t.
Four days later, Newton called a press conference to apologize–and again, his words would have been perfectly sincere if he hadn’t clearly waited to craft a statement with his PR team.
If you know you’ve done something wrong, apologize immediately–and from the heart. Waiting to compose the “perfect” response will make you sound inauthentic, and that’s barely better than not apologizing at all.