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#10 The Price of Apology: Apology Framework in the Age of Cancel Culture

“If you care, I don’t think you do care. I think you care about your image, you don’t care about us.” 

This enraged statement by Mike Paul, who happens to be a crisis management consultant, was broadcasted on public television in response to BP CEO Tony Hayward’s public apology to those affected by the oil spill.

That was back in 2010, before the massive rise of social media.

Today, with platforms like Facebook, Reddit and X (formerly known as Twitter), anyone can post their opinions.

And in the blink of an eye, a single post can rally people to ‘cancel’ your business. 

This can potentially lead to your corporation’s sudden collapse.

It’s a crisis scenario most companies are sadly not prepared for.

Cancel culture is real.

The public no longer accepts individuals who don’t take accountability for their actions.

They seek some form of atonement.

So, this begs the question.

What constitutes a sincere apology when someone in the public eye seeks forgiveness?

In today’s newsletter, we examine 5 historical crises from the past century, how apologies were offered to the public, and the aftermath of those situations.

Additionally, we’ll also look into the strategies behind crafting effective public apologies, and how to articulate them.

5 Historical Crises:

Margot Käßmann

In 2010, Margot Käßmann, former Chairperson of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), was caught drunk driving. She publicly apologized, emphasizing regret for violating her moral values. Her apology appeared sincere, yet she resigned from her EKD position, reflecting her commitment to ethical standards. Despite the positive reception of her apology, her reputation suffered due to the incident.

I am shocked at myself that I could have made such a grave error. I know how dangerous and irresponsible drink-driving is. I will of course assume the legal consequences.- Margot Kaessmann

Read the whole newsclip:

Bill Clinton

During his presidency in the late 1990s, Bill Clinton was revealed to have had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In a televised address in 1998, he acknowledged the relationship and apologized. While supported by his wife, Clinton faced impeachment proceedings and criticism for lying. His approval ratings initially dipped but rebounded post-presidency. The affair remains a defining aspect of his tenure.

“Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.”- Bill Clinton

Watch the whole clip:

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

In 2011, former German politician Guttenberg faced allegations of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. Initially defensive, he later admitted to the error and resigned as Federal Defence Minister. His public apology emphasized accountability and learning, but the scandal critically harmed his political reputation and prompted a hiatus from active politics.

I was so arrogant to think that I could square a circle …. I wrote a dissertation that was obviously flawed.

Read the whole newsclip:

Jan Ullrich

Professional cyclist Jan Ullrich faced persistent doping allegations, culminating in suspension during the “Operación Puerto” scandal in 2006. Ullrich eventually admitted to using performance enhancers, which tarnished his image and led to the annulment of several victories. In 2013, he admitted to doping with his own blood but argued against it being cheating since others did the same. His career remains shadowed by these controversies.

“I know that that was a big mistake that I regret very much. For this behavior, I would like to sincerely apologize to everyone – I’m very sorry. Looking back, I would act in certain situations during my career differently.”

While Ullrich apologized for his dealings with Dr. Fuentes, the exact content of the apology on his personal website is no longer available.

Click here to learn more:

Oswald Grübel

Oswald Grübel, CEO of UBS in 2011, resigned following a scandal where a UBS trader incurred significant losses from undetected risky trades. Grübel publicly apologized, accepting responsibility for the bank’s oversight failure. His resignation was perceived positively, showcasing his integrity in addressing the bank’s shortcomings.

Gruebel did speak out for the first time since the loss was revealed, mentioning that the loss couldn’t have been prevented if someone acted with criminal intent, emphasizing the inherent risk in their business. 

The information about Gruebel’s resignation and statements can be found in multiple sources, but a formal public apology may not have been issued.

Click here to learn more-

How to Write the Perfect Public Apology.

Researchers have found that good apologies generally share certain elements and thoughtfully considering these factors can help you make amends in a wide variety of situations.

This guide lays down a structured approach to public apologies, factoring in the unique challenges they pose.

Here are three fundamental questions to reflect upon:

  1. Does your apology exhibit understanding and compassion?

Lay down your emotions. Set aside defensiveness; although challenging, this vulnerability underscores the apology’s sincerity. Avoid rationalizing your actions; instead, strive to grasp the affected party’s viewpoint.

  1. Is there genuine remorse, beyond mere acknowledgment?

Clearly Acknowledging wrongdoing indicates that you know exactly how you messed up, and it can give the public faith that you’ll behave differently moving forward.

  1. Are you providing a thorough explanation instead of merely skimming over the details?

It’s always helpful to indicate exactly how you’ll change and what you’ll do to repair the damage caused by your offense. Researchers call this the “offer of repair,” and it’s often rated as one of the most critical parts of an apology.

Now, before taking any steps, it’s advisable to first seek guidance. Ideally, you’d want to touch base with the following two entities prior to making any public statements:

  • Engage PR/Crisis Communication Experts: They can help refine your message, ensuring it’s well-received.
  • Consult Legal Counsel: Given the potential legal ramifications of public statements, having your apology vetted legally is prudent.

Apology Framework:

  1. Acknowledgment and Responsibility: Recognize the mistake and its impact and accept responsibility without deflecting blame.
  2. Understanding the Affected Party: Seek to comprehend the hurt caused, possibly by engaging with the affected party and reflect on how trust or expectations were breached.
  3. Expressing Remorse: Offer a genuine apology, showcasing regret for the adverse effects.
  4. Offer of Repair: Propose tangible or symbolic amends and pledge to avoid recurrence and outline steps to ensure this.
  5. Maintaining Open Dialogue: Remain open to discussing the incident and your apology, showing a commitment to reconciliation.
  6. Follow-Through: Uphold promises made during your apology and demonstrate a sustained commitment to change and rebuilding trust.


Apologies aren’t a magic eraser; they’re your way of saying, “I messed up, and I get it.”

The best “I’m sorry” is just your opening act in making things right.

When you goof up in the public eye, your apology needs to show you’re not just passing the buck. If people see you’re facing the music, you’re on track. But if your sorry sounds hollow, well, it’s time to rethink and try again.

Whenever you’re ready there are 3 ways I can help you:

  • Build a comprehensive crisis communication handbook.
  • Seek expert advice for ongoing crisis mitigation.
  • Train and prepare your team for potential crises.

Not sure if your issue is a crisis? Reach out to

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Join 175K+ readers of the Clifftide Times. Every Wednesday morning, we send insights from historical crises and our experience in assisting companies with crisis communications.

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Join 175K+ readers of the Clifftide Times. Every Wednesday morning, we send insights from historical crises and our experience in assisting companies with crisis communications.

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