Crisis Management from the Marine Corps

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    A four star apology

    Early last month, the United States Marine Corps issued one of the most concise and effective apologies we’ve ever seen. No, you didn’t read wrong, I said the USMC! Standing the years-long tradition of stodgy communication full of niche terminology on its head, the Marines, much like fellow government agency FEMA, have embraced communication for crisis and reputation management.

    On February 9, a photograph of a U.S. Marine recon group posing in front of a flag bearing an “SS” symbol surfaced and drew national attention.

    Within 24 hours of the crisis breaking, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James F. Amos, issued an ideal response. Here’s the full text, straight from Marines.mil:

    WASHINGTON — On February 9, I was made aware of an internet photo depicting Marines posing with a flag containing a Nazi symbol. I want to be clear that the Marine Corps unequivocally does not condone the use of any such symbols to represent our units or Marines.

    The local command to which the Marines in the photo were assigned investigated this issue last November. They determined that the Marines in the photo were ignorant of the connection of this symbol to the Holocaust and monumental atrocities associated with Nazi Germany. To ensure the Marines involved fully understood the historical use of the SS symbology, a formal instructional class was prepared and delivered by unit leadership.

    In order to ensure that all Marines are aware of the Marine Corps’ position on this issue, I have directed that:

    • My commanders investigate the prevalence of the use of SS or other unauthorized symbols within the reconnaissance and sniper communities.
    • The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps immediately detach from his current duties in Washington, DC and personally meet with every senior Staff Non-commissioned Officer and Marine from our sniper and reconnaissance communities to reinforce my message and expectations.
    • The commanding general of our training and education command review the current sniper school curriculum to ensure it contains prohibitions on the use of the SS symbol and other inappropriate symbols.

    On behalf of the Marine Corps and all Marines, I apologize to all offended by this regrettable incident.

    The best way to come across as decent and human is to act like you’re decent and human. It really is that simple. Apologize, say in specific terms how you’re going to prevent the same situation from happening again, and stakeholders will forgive your mistakes.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]