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After six weeks of canned sound bites and verbal gaffes (courtesy of BP’s Tony Hayward) regarding the Gulf Coast oil spill, I’d like to extend a sincere thanks to President Obama for getting real in an interview with the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer.  Obama said he has been talking with Gulf Coast fishermen and various experts about the spill because “they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”

While I wouldn’t want a president to deliver the State of the Union laced with profanity, a little candor replaces decorum nicely in some situations.  This oil spill is an enormous mess with no end in sight and Obama’s comment effectively sums up the sentiments of the American people.  Sometimes, the most effective communications are those that legitimize feelings, even if they don’t solve problems.

However, there is a limit to how “real” a president should be: Exhibit A.  (Whoomp! There it is.)

Posted by Katie Denis, Account Executive (@katiefoxdenis)

The views expressed in this post (especially this post) are mine alone and do not reflect the views of Vehr Communications, LLC.

Bottom of the ninth.  Two outs.  The stadium holds its collective breath waiting and hoping for a pitcher’s Holy Grail – the perfect game.

This was the scene in Detroit last night before umpire Jim Joyce blew the third-out call that relegated even Ken Griffey, Jr.’s retirement announcement to a postscript.  Joyce’s egregiously bad call stole a perfect game away from Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, there is no doubt about that, but it is the aftermath that interests me.

After reviewing the replay, a clearly distraught Joyce admitted that he screwed up – badly and irreversibly.  “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce said simply.

Almost invariably, admitting a mistake and apologizing for it is the best crisis communications strategy.  But the trick is you have to mean it.  Joyce did.  He could have defended the indefensible or chosen not to comment at all, but instead, Joyce offered Galarraga the only thing he could – an honest apology and acknowledgement of his perfect game.

The right words can soften the blow of just about any mistake.  Sure, Joyce’s name will now be mentioned alongside Don Denkinger and Rich Garcia.  And yes, 500 anti-Joyce Facebook pages and the website www.firejimjoyce.com sprung up within minutes of the call.  But the way Joyce has owned his error is doing a lot to mitigate hatred.

To his credit, Galarraga was a class act, both during the game and after.  No one would have blamed him for pulling a Jimmy Dugan, but Galarraga had a remarkably mature perspective on the evening’s events.  “I got a perfect game.  Maybe it’s not in the book, but I’m going to show my son the CD.”  (Okay, he probably meant DVD, but give the guy a break – he was just robbed of a perfect game!)

Posted by Katie Denis, Account Executive (@katiefoxdenis)

The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the views of Vehr Communications, LLC.

Sunrise over an oil-soaked beach on Grand Isle, Louisiana. (John Moore/Getty Images)

It’s been 45 days since the Gulf Coast oil spill, and I think it is safe to say things have gone from bad to worse. We’ve seen the failure of top hat, junk shot and top kill, and we are waiting, fingers crossed, to learn the outcome of saw and cap.  With each passing day and fix failure, I keep going back to the words in a post I wrote three weeks ago: Words have weight and the wrong ones can bring quick and easy ruin.

On Sunday, BP CEO Tony Hayward issued an apology that went awry:

“I’m sorry. We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”

I imagine that Mr. Hayward is very tired and under tremendous stress; however, his personal circumstances do not excuse that remark, especially not for the families of the 11 men who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.  The following day, Hayward issued an apology for his apology on Facebook:

I made a hurtful and thoughtless comment on Sunday when I said that ‘I wanted my life back.’  When I read that recently, I was appalled. I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Those words don’t represent how I feel about this tragedy, and certainly don’t represent the hearts of the people of BP – many of whom live and work in the Gulf – who are doing everything they can to make things right. My first priority is doing all we can to restore the lives of the people of the Gulf region and their families – to restore their lives, not mine.”

Saying nothing about the time that lapsed before this statement was issued and its glaringly obvious observations, I have one real question.  Is Facebook the appropriate outlet for an apology?

In the case of Hayward, I would say absolutely not.  His initial comments were run on major news outlets like the Today Show and CNN; responding on Facebook comparatively trivializes his apology.

I’m not discounting the power of Facebook and its 400 million users, and if Hayward had initially said he wanted his life back on Facebook, then it might be the appropriate place for his apology.  But that isn’t the case.

I spent the last five days on the Gulf Coast wondering not if but when the oil would reach Florida’s shores.  This morning I woke up to the news that the oil’s spread to Pensacola is “imminent.”  The ill-advised sound bites and verbal blunders I’ve written about don’t matter when compared to cleaning up this mess.  I sincerely hope it’s soon.

Posted by Katie Denis, Account Executive (@katiefoxdenis)

The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the views of Vehr Communications, LLC.