Nearly a year ago, Shauna Lake, a longtime news anchor for the Salt Lake City CBS affiliate, experienced the effects of a high-profile mistake after a Utah State Highway Patrol officer pulled her over for suspicion of driving under the influence and arrested her after she failed a field sobriety test.
She later plead guilty to a reduced charge of "impaired driving, a class B misdemeanor, in place of the class B misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence she originally faced."
The incident should stand as a reminder of a few key points for communicators. First, we are all susceptible to making mistakes and facing the consequences. Second, the higher your public stature in your community or among your key publics, the greater your consequences seem to be.
After the media fallout of her arrest and after a week of being off air, Lake returned to her anchor post and began the newscast with a two-minute apology. As a result, she has been widely accepted back by her colleagues and the public following the embarrassing incident.
Her experience, and how she handled it, can be summed up in four key areas worth remembering:
- Accept Responsibility – The public is often willing to forgive mistakes if the person is prepared to take responsibility for their actions. Case in point, during Lake’s on-air apology she said, “I made a serious lapse in judgment. I drank alcohol after I got off work and then I chose to get behind the wheel of my car.”
- Express humility wrapped in courage – Lake expressed deep regret during her emotionally charged apology. And while it might not be evident to viewers, she exercised great courage in making her sincere apology during a prime time newscast to her entire audience. “It was selfish. I could have hurt someone else or myself,” she said.
- Offer a real and sincere apology with no conditions – Your audience can’t and won’t accept your apology unless it is sincere – genuinely authentic. “You have invited me into your home night-after-night for 23 years,” said Lake. “You have trusted me, and considered me your friend and for that, I am so sorry.”
- Accept the consequences – It’s tough to provide a sincere apology if you are unwilling to accept the consequences. Lake hopes she can regain the trust of her audience. Many have already given back their trust, but she is willing to face the fact that many might not. “I also know that some of you are very angry and disappointed with me, and you have every right to be. What I did was wrong,” she said. “I just hope over time, night-by-night, you can learn to trust me again.”
We have seen the public time and time again refuse to accept the apology of business leaders or other high-profile people. Sometimes this is due to grievous actions or crimes that have a detrimental effect. For example, it may have been an entirely different story for Lake if her mistake had caused an accident that hurt people.
It is not a guarantee of success, but communicators facing these situations would be wise to advise their clients on the side of honesty, sincerity, and courage – following the four steps Lake expressed with her apology. Doing so increases the possibility they may experience what Lake expressed, “this has been the most painful and challenging experience of my life. However, I believe it might possibly turn out to be the most defining experience of my life as well.”
An early version of this article appears on the blog of Snapp Conner PR.