Does sorry need to be the hardest word in PR?

Sorry-not-sorry. It’s such a cliché – we make fun of it. No one likes to mess up, and we strive to avoid it. But social media has an immediacy that is part of its power – consider all the angles, ponder the wisdom of a post, and you might miss the boat.

You’ll have a perfectly crafted message that trails in the wake of equally apposite, but faster-moving, rivals.

That matters – these days, anyone with a Twitter account is a ‘channel’.

The chump’s chimp tweet

And so to broadcaster Danny Baker and ‘that’ royal baby chimp tweet – the one that cost him his job. There’s probably a PR PhD in this episode, but here are a few thoughts on what has happened so far.

To recap: Danny-B, like the rest of us, witnessed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s first appearance with their baby.

The couple have had some ‘bad press’ and inaccurate press. I’d say supposed tension between ‘Meghan and Kate’ has b*****r all basis beyond a wished feud to sell papers/encourage online clicks.

And the Daily Mail’s 20-plus pages of coverage on the Sussex’s royal birth focused on the entirely false fact that they had broken with convention by having a home birth in a ‘cottage’. Instead, a private London hospital was the venue.

Harry’s (for we feel we can call him that) first appearance after his son was born – informal, disarming – and the baby’s first outing were perfectly managed from a PR perspective. They’re an eloquent couple with a new-born baby.

How to get more than, say, CNN out of that? Danny likely thought he’d choose humour. New-borns are small, so we got to see very little of a swaddled one – might have been anything Danny thought. Could have been a CHIMP.

There’s so much wrong with this, and his subsequent response. It was bad, he made it worse, and then he made it even worse. Here’s a list of mistakes, and how they affected each other:

Sense-check your own experience

He’s trying to respond quickly, so he goes with what he thinks. Should he have known better? Erm, yes. In PR, always sense-check your own experience. Football’s had a bad press on racism recently, due to fans who make monkey-sounds at black players.

Baker is not football-naïve – part of his broadcasting career is built on football commentary. Did he not know a chimpanzee is a monkey? With links between themes being central to ‘comedy’, a comedian like Danny should be able to spot the problem by thinking for, say, a second. He emerges from stage one of this badly. But then it gets worse.

Crisis, what crisis?

It doesn’t always get played out well, but well-prepared corporations have checklists to recognise that they have a crisis. It should trigger a ‘crisis plan’, and a change in the way you behave. Danny missed the warning signs.


Instead the response, which segued into his firing by the BBC, saw Danny super-charge what we’ll generously call his prat-side. It is as if he was being paid to keep Brexit off people’s newsfeeds.

As the BBC, which faithfully (sometimes tediously, though not here) reports its own problems, related:

After tweeting an apology, in which he called the tweet a “stupid unthinking gag pic”, Baker said the BBC’s decision “was a master class of pompous faux-gravity”.

“[It] took a tone that said I actually meant that ridiculous tweet and the BBC must uphold blah blah blah,” he added. “Literally threw me under the bus. Could hear the suits’ knees knocking.”

After the initial backlash on social media on Wednesday, Baker said: “Sorry my gag pic of the little fella in the posh outfit has whipped some up. Never occurred to me because, well, mind not diseased.

“Soon as those good enough to point out its possible connotations got in touch, down it came. And that’s it.”

In a later tweet, he added: “Would have used same stupid pic for any other Royal birth or Boris Johnson kid or even one of my own. It’s a funny image. (Though not of course in that context.) Enormous mistake, for sure. Grotesque.

“Anyway, here’s to ya Archie, Sorry mate.”

Speaking to reporters outside his home, he said of the tweet: “Ill advised, ill thought-out and stupid, but racist? No, I’m aware how delicate that imagery is.”

Is it getting worse?

‘I knew there was a royal baby. I didn’t know it was Meghan and Harry’s,’ Danny then said on his doorstep, dressed in pyjama bottoms and a baseball cap. It was an expletive-laden appearance. 

So yes, it’s getting worse.

Lessons: what those in professional services need to learn from Danny’s mistakes

I have no idea if Danny Baker is a nice, but misunderstood, man who made an innocent mistake, or not, but here are a few lessons from a PR-perspective.

  • Just as you don’t need to go to every fight or party you are invited to, there’s no need for anyone, if they are famous, to do the equivalent of a ‘photo-bomb’ on someone else’s special moment. Even if pitch-perfect, Danny, as a famous presenter, was never going to be the story here – unless he messed up.
  • Engage the brain – the work of seconds for a professional broadcaster. Does what I’m saying come across as I mean it to? Or does anything I know mean it might get misunderstood?
  • Fight this war – a well-loved figure has some moral capital to spend, but only if your currency is still being accepted. By including his signature ‘which sauce?’ reference in an apology/account, he made a mistake.
  • Apologise properly – reluctant apologies always get mocked and prolong the story. Danny’s apology was caveated, had gags added, and then spoiled by further interviews. Just spit a proper apology out.
  • Do something nice – after the Profumo affair, Jack Profumo did decades of charity work to regain his good standing. Check out his obituaries – given he was known for endangering national security during the height of the Cold War through louche behaviour, he was pretty kindly treated at the end.

The cheapest option, though, is just not to be a d*ck in the first place. If you’d like advice on how to build and keep a good reputation, I hope you’ll get in touch.

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