Any public relations counselor and crisis communicator would do well to watch actor Jonah Hill’s apology on “The Tonight Show” last night.  If you haven’t seen it, Hill appeared on the show to promote his upcoming movie.  Rather than launch into his famously funny (to some) banter, he asked host Jimmy Fallon if he could address something first.  Apparently, Hill had been followed and taunted over the weekend by a member of the paparazzi, and he ended up lashing out and calling the photographer a hurtful name for which he wanted to apologize.  What he said and how he said it is truly a PR lesson in how to apologize.

  1. He took responsibility for his actions – If you’re going to apologize, mean it.  If you don’t, don’t bother.  It shows in your expression and inflection on camera and listeners can hear it in your words and voice.
  2. He acted in a timely fashion – Within a day or so of the incident, a sincere expression of apology, backed by facts, was delivered straight-faced by a typically funny guy.  Make sure you say you’re sorry, in a meaningful way, sooner, rather than later.
  3. He didn’t expect anything in return – He said he didn’t “deserve or expect…forgiveness,” even though we all know he could stand to gain support of his new movie by dealing with this situation…I really believe what he said.  Don’t expect repentant actions to reap more benefits than they should.  An apology should be delivered when there’s a wrong, and that’s that.
  4. He chose the right venue – He could have “tweeted” or posted to any number of forms of social media or had another photographer or videographer capture him apologizing.  But, Hill chose a highly-rated show during which viewers could see and hear him at his most sincere.  Perhaps clients or individuals won’t be guests on The Tonight Show, but we can make sure the venue chosen for an apology is the correct one – comments from a lectern at a news conference, a published statement to the media, a hand-written letter or email – consider the options carefully.
  5. He showed respect for others – Even though Hill was called names throughout the incident, he urged viewers to not cast aspersions on others.  Don’t blame others, rather own your part in it and demonstrate grace the way Hill did.

I’m not sure when we became such an “intolerant” tolerant society.  I’ve been called “bubble-headed bleach blonde,” because I was a reporter and weather anchor with light-colored hair; “illegitimate,” by a person who learned I was adopted; and a few other things I won’t mention.  Hurtful, but no lawsuits were filed, nor ruckus raised in the media.  It is more common today for anything that offends to escalate into social or legal action that can rise to epic proportion.  And, it could have gotten out of hand for Hill, just as he has a movie premiere, but he took swift and decisive action.  If some type of negative scenario develops for clients at any level, PR and crisis communications pros would be wise to advise them to watch and learn from Jonah Hill – a lesson in how to apologize.