How to apologize to the world

A followup to my earlier post this week, about the PR disaster generated by a PR company, the one formerly known as Strange Fruit PR (ugh!).

In that blog, I quoted their non-apology for the fiasco, and then wrote what their apology should have looked like.

By contrast to that non-apology is the REAL apology from GreenPeace.

GreenPeace did something really horrible: to get the attention of delegates and the press attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Peru, Greenpeace activists went to site of the historic Nazca lines in Peru and laid out massive yellow letters reading “Time for Change: The Future is Renewable.” The area around the lines is strictly prohibited, and anyone who gets a permit to walk in the area must wear special footwear, because foot prints could ruin the area. Greenpeace trampled ancient, undisturbed grounds – they harmed something environmentally. Deputy Culture Minister Luis Jaime Castillo of Peru said, “They are black rocks on a white background. You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years. And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all.”

Bad. VERY BAD. This is the apology Greenpeace offered:

We take personal responsibility for actions, willing to face consequences.

Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused by our recent activity laying a message of hope at the site of the historic Nazca Lines. We are deeply sorry for this.

We fully understand that this looks bad. Rather than relay an urgent message of hope and possibility to the leaders gathering at the Lima UN climate talks, we came across as careless and crass.

We have now met with the Peruvian Culture Ministry responsible for the site to offer an apology. We welcome any independent review of the consequences of our activity. We will cooperate fully with any investigation.

We take personal responsibility for actions, and are committed to nonviolence. Greenpeace is accountable for its activities and willing to face fair and reasonable consequences.

I will travel to Lima, this week, to personally apologise for the offence caused by the activity and represent the organisation in any on going discussions with the Peruvian authorities.

Greenpeace will immediately stop any further use of the offending images.

THAT is an apology. It takes full responsibility, it never makes excuses. Well done. Staff at a certain PR company in Austin, and many politicians: take notice.

Also see:

Handling a social media faux pax/ (kudos the American Red Cross)

2 thoughts on “How to apologize to the world

  1. Eli Nelson

    Reading this definitely make me think a lot, because I came to your site through googling “greenpeace nazca lines non-apology”. When I read their apology, I just see a standard non-apology tactic of apologizing for “offense” rather than acknowledging any actual harm, and some of what they say gives me the impression that they feel most sorry for the damage to their reputation! They even start trying to negotiate, giving conditions for how they will pay back for their mistake with stipulations like “independent review” and “fair and reasonable” consequences. Bring that up right after they’re supposed to be apologizing cheapens the message to me. I don’t know though, is some of this language somehow necessary in some way for legal reasons? Odd how different people can have such different reactions to the same message. Actually, I found Anne Leonard from Greenpeace US’s apology to have a much more appropriate tone:

    1. NGO Comms manager

      100% agree with the comment above, and in fact I came to this page through the exact same google search as Eli Nelson.

      GP International’s apology is lame lame lame – they focus on their image rather than the damage done (“it looks bad” is a stunning quote); their timeline webpage ( while a good endeavour also has some appalling wording (“Photographs circulate in the media claiming that the protesters have damaged the site. It is impossible to tell from the photographs whether the marks indicated are new or not.”; it talks of “accusations” by the Peruvian government), and you’re left with the impression that all that matters is first and foremost the fact this was a PR disaster, plus whether or not these people violated internal ‘protocols’ (Naidoo says they did and then promptly says we’ll see whether they did, although in his defence this seems to be a transcript from a live media interview).

      I also read the Greenpeace US apology before coming to this blog, and I also thought that this redeemed the organisation at least a little. THAT is a real apology. Almost seems like there are some internal politics going on that are preventing one bit of the huge Greenpeace machine from eating too much crow, if you ask me.

      Another interesting response – not an apology, you’ll notice – that I thought was well crafted was the one issued by rail company Thalys that runs the trains between Paris and places in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany after one of their staff stopped 2 women from kissing on a train platform. Unfortunately for that fool, one of the women was a digital campaigner so Thalys promptly became the target of an online campaign by Anyway, they responded quickly, decisively. They didn’t apologise, which they arguably should have done at least to the woman concerned, but they deftly deflated the PR crisis in one communication.


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