Insights | Our Thoughts

Apology Anatomy & Sesame Place

August 2022

Do you think your organization is immune from risk?  If so, Sound Counsel implores you to reconsider.  If you employ people, or provide goods and services, you’re at risk because things can go wrong.  Even the best run organization can experience crisis.

Consider Sesame Place Philadelphia.

In the now viral video posted to Instagram, a performer playing the “Sesame Street” character Rosita appears to brush off two six-year-old girls during a parade at the theme park.  As the nine-second video shows, the performer portraying Rosita high-fives a white woman before appearing to rebuff the two little black girls.

Sesame Place issued an initial apology that included the statement, “the costumes our performers wear sometimes make it difficult to see at lower levels and sometimes our performers miss hug requests from guests.”

The problem for Sesame Place was that their explanation didn’t ring true.  The video appears to show the performer looking directly at the little girls and shaking their hand to say “no.”

The first rule of crisis communication is, don’t lie.  No matter what, if something bad happens that thrusts your organization into the public spotlight, don’t lie about it.  Lying destroys reputations.  Lying compounds the underlying problem and increases the odds that the problem will grow and cause long term damage to your organization and reputation.

If you can’t apologize with integrity, then don’t apologize.  If you choose to apologize, be honest and consider these essential elements:

  1. Express regret and be specific about why you are apologizing.
  2. Acknowledge the harm caused and, if you are at fault, accept responsibility.
  3. Make amends, offer restitution, or promise to make the situation right.

Sesame Place’s initial apology expressed regret but blamed the actions of its employee on the supposed limitations of their costume.  Sesame Place’s failure to accept responsibility and take corrective action only made the situation worse.  

After numerous news outlets and celebrities, including Whoopi Goldberg and Kelly Rowland, took Sesame Place to task publicly, Sesame Workshop issued its own apology, a portion of which states:

“What these children experienced is unacceptable.”

“We have been in contact with Sesame Place, our licensed park partner, and they have assured us that they will conduct bias training and a thorough review of the ways in which they engage with families and guests.”

“We will continue working with our long-term partner Sesame Place to ensure that appropriate actions are taken and that incidents like this do not happen in the future.”

The difference between the initial apology issued by Sesame Place and the one issued by Sesame Workshop provides a clear example of harmful versus helpful crisis response. 

At Sound Counsel, we help organizations prepare for, respond to, and recover from Crisis by advising what to say and how to say it. Often, making amends is a component.  If you’d like to learn more about how to ensure your organization is adequately prepared for crisis, please visit our website or contact us at [email protected].