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Wells Fargo and Ellen Make it a Week of Weak Apologies

From Seth Arenstein, writing for PR News:

It’s shaping up to be a week of apologies. First, there was Ellen DeGeneres’ joke-infused apology for months of allegations that the “Be-Kind” lady’s show houses a toxic work environment. Moreover, talent and staff claim Ellen is unkind. In the opening monologue of her first show back from summer hiatus Monday (Sept. 21), Ellen addressed the issues. Sort of.

Similarly, Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf apologized this morning for a June 18 memo. The June memo read in part: “While it might sound like an excuse [for failing to reach diversity goals], the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from.”

Reuters’  and reported about the memo in an exclusive yesterday (Sept. 22).

At least Ellen and Scharf made the right PR crisis move. Both addressed their situations. Scharf gets the edge for moving promptly.

[Update, Sept. 24, 2020, 10am ET: Hulu apologized today for promoting a Breonna Taylor documentary moments after the controversial grand jury decision. Facing a tidal wave on social, Hulu acted promptly and apologized authentically, admitting its error. Its direct, simple language contrasts with the apologies of Ellen and Wells Fargo.]

Apology During a Talk Show

Purely as a piece of communication, Ellen’s semi-serious monologue was excellent. Owing to the jokes and other devices, most of those watching at home–except disgruntled former and current Ellen staffers–almost forgot about the awful press surrounding Ellen and her show. The monologue worked less well as an apology, though.

As crisis communicators know, an apology’s tone is critical. Ellen’s body language made her delivery seemed forced and the addition of quips into a serious speech upset the apology’s tone.

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