The Anatomy Of The Perfect Apology

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 26, 2013 – 6:02 am

Let’s say you’re a musician who wants to release an album. The problem is that you don’t have any money, and you’ll need to raise some cash for studio time, marketing, and the dude playing bass.

That’s where the website Kickstarter comes in. People with a vision for a new product or piece of art post a summary of their project to Kickstarter, and people who like their idea give them money. Sometimes, those donors receive an incentive for contributing, such as a signed copy of the finished book or a personal visit from the author.

Last month, a man named Ken Hoinsky added his project to the website. He’s a writer who wanted to publish a book on the art of seduction called Above The Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women. He quickly raised more than $16,000.

But some of the advice Hoinsky has dispensed in the past is controversial. Some critics even called his book a “rape manual.”

 

 

The quotes below are Mr. Hoinsky’s: (warning: graphic content)

“All the greatest seducers in history could not keep their hands off of women. They aggressively escalated physically with every woman they were flirting with…Even when a girl rejects your advances, she KNOWS that you desire her. That’s hot. It arouses her physically and psychologically.”

“Sex: Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.”

Many horrified people contacted Kickstarter and asked them to remove his listing. They didn’t. As the outrage understandably intensified, so too did the company’s crisis.

But when Kickstarter finally responded, they did it perfectly. You’ll find Kickstarter’s full apology below, deconstructed to analyze why each part worked so well. It’s a terrific template for a crisis response.

The Headline

“We were wrong”

That unambiguous headline said it all. Kickstarter didn’t give itself any room to hide and took full responsibility from the start.

 

The Open

“Dear everybody,

On Wednesday morning Kickstarter was sent a blog post quoting disturbing material found on Reddit. The offensive material was part of a draft for a “seduction guide” that someone was using Kickstarter to publish. The posts offended a lot of people — us included — and many asked us to cancel the creator’s project. We didn’t.

We were wrong.”

Kickstarter acknowledged the offending post but didn’t linger on the details. After that short set-up, they again reiterated their main message: “We were wrong.”

 

The Explanation

This section of an apology is often the most difficult to get right, since explanations can easily come across as excuses. Theirs didn’t.

“Why didn’t we cancel the project when this material was brought to our attention? Two things influenced our decision:

  • The decision had to be made immediately. We had only two hours from when we found out about the material to when the project was ending. We’ve never acted to remove a project that quickly. 
  • Our processes, and everyday thinking, bias heavily toward creators. This is deeply ingrained. We feel a duty to our community — and our creators especially — to approach these investigations methodically as there is no margin for error in canceling a project. This thinking made us miss the forest for the trees.

These factors don’t excuse our decision but we hope they add clarity to how we arrived at it.”

Their explanation worked primarily because it looked like it was written by thoughtful human beings, not risk-averse attorneys. Beyond being human, their explanation was also couched in values that both they and their users share.

 

The Value Statement

“Let us be 100% clear: Content promoting or glorifying violence against women or anyone else has always been prohibited from Kickstarter. If a project page contains hateful or abusive material we don’t approve it in the first place. If we had seen this material when the project was submitted to Kickstarter (we didn’t), it never would have been approved. Kickstarter is committed to a culture of respect.”

 

The Hard Truth

“Where does this leave us?

First, there is no taking back money from the project or canceling funding after the fact. When the project was funded the backers’ money went directly from them to the creator. We missed the window.”

For many people, this is likely the least satisfying part of their response. Mr. Hoinsky got his money. But they delivered the news in a forthright manner that once again accepted full responsibility: “We missed the window.” Notice that they used active language instead of passive and distancing language (e.g. “The window was missed”).

 

The Remedy

“Second, the project page has been removed from Kickstarter. The project has no place on our site. For transparency’s sake, a record of the page is cached here.

Third, we are prohibiting “seduction guides,” or anything similar, effective immediately. This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works. These things do not belong on Kickstarter.

Fourth, today Kickstarter will donate $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization called RAINN. It’s an excellent organization that combats exactly the sort of problems our inaction may have encouraged.”

Their generous donation to RAINN is likely the most newsworthy part of their response. But don’t overlook parts two and three. Part two demonstrated Kickstarter’s transparency, and part three offered a specific policy change along with an effective date (“immediately”).

 

The Close

Just in case you missed that Kickstarter admitted they were wrong the first two times, they wanted to make sure that you got that they got it.

“We take our role as Kickstarter’s stewards very seriously. Kickstarter is one of the friendliest, most supportive places on the web and we’re committed to keeping it that way. We’re sorry for getting this so wrong.

Thank you,

Kickstarter”

 

What do you think of Kickstarter’s apology? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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