When NOT to Apologize

Back in 2014 (when this post originally aired) a Vice Chairman of Samsung Electronics Co. released an apologetic statement to the Associated Press and other news outlets, expressing their remorse to builders of the tech giant’s chips who had been stricken with cancer, and offering compensation to the affected employees and their families.

Oh but wait.... Samsung also said the apology did not mean it concedes a link between the chemicals used in its chip factories and cancer and other diseases. 

Rather than a form of sympathy, understanding and good will as it was intended - their response came off more as a mea culpa for something that they may have had a hand in - but then quickly denounced any part of....? Confusing.


Now, this was a 'touchy one' for me as I don't believe in truth stretching or SPIN for the sake of concealment nor should the subject matter be taken lightly. But I do happen to enjoy the cultivation of perception and the potential of evolution through the spoken/written word. So I'll call this, "an exercise".


The company's statement had come after years of pressure from workers, civil groups and government put on the Samsung Corporation to "apologize" for their role in employee health-related issues.

With so many years to come up with a statement, I just think it should have been thought out a little better. To me, all this statement does, in its current form, is drum up a slew of questions, finger pointing and further suspicion towards the company - it also leads me to believe that their PR communications person must have been off that day!

I am all for the forthcoming, no spin, Triple 'A' Approach to Crisis Communications (Accessibility, Action, Accountability) but in this instance, their actions perhaps pushed them over to the side of Admission on the disclosure spectrum; a little too far over. 

Was this a language issue? Did the nuance of their statement get lost in translation? Perhaps. 

But I may have put forth these considerations before rushing to the podium:

1. Research, and reveal - By providing a bit more of a back story to the nature and (very few) relevant details of the workers' illness, it would not only humanize each employee but provide broader landscape as to the history of each employee that was affected and their environment and influences, outside of work.

2. If you are going to say "sorry", then apologize - but leave NO DOUBT as to what exactly you are owning up to. In this case it could have been something more specific such as:

  • Lack of research and foresight into setting up the facility/work environment.
  • Not properly addressing earlier worker concerns or formalized complaints

3. When discussing compensation - frame it in a way that highlights the companies mandate to 'take care of their own' and how the fate of employees and their families is the overall number one concern, regardless of the circumstance or incident in question.


I certainly don't like to trivialize such a heavy and important topic, and I am thankful each day that I have a hand in selecting clients with values and business endeavors which I fully support and am proud to promote. But I have been in the biz long enough to know that sometimes, the PR machine needs to come out and someone inevitably has to crank the wheel.