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Transocean's Apology Fail: Execs Donate Bonuses, Screw Over Injured Workers

Transocean (RIG) sure is sorry about those insensitive "best year in safety performance" declarations. Not to mention the bonuses it tied to this amazing feat -- the very same year the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and killed 11 workers. It's so sorry, in fact, that senior execs have decided to donate their safety bonuses to the Deepwater Horizon Memorial Fund.

Just don't try to explain this empty gesture to the injured Transocean employees who lost their pay and benefits prematurely.

Whether execs are sorry just because they got caught or because everyone and their mother ripped them for it isn't clear. Regardless, Transocean has turned to the classic PR tactic of taking something slimy and turning it into a noble act.

CEO Steven Newman and four other senior executives will collectively donate more than $250,000 -- or about a quarter of their overall bonuses. Newman explains this sudden act of kindness:

The executive team made this decision because we believe it is the right thing to do. Nothing is more important to Transocean than our people, and it was never our intent to diminish the effect the Macondo tragedy has had on those who lost loved ones. We offer our most sincere apologies and we regret the impact this matter has had on the entire Transocean family.
Companies often find themselves back-peddling and issuing embarrassing apologies. The problem: It's nearly impossible for apologies to sound genuine when they come after days of jeers and complaints from shareholders, lawmakers and in this case, victims of the Gulf oil spill.

How to say 'I'm sorry'
So, what was Transocean to do? For starters, it could have avoided the whole "best year in safety performance" bonuses to begin with. In 2009, the company withheld all executive bonuses after four people died, the WSJ reported. It's a bit of a head scratcher, then, that Transocean turned around and doled out bonuses in a year when nine of its own workers died in the explosion.

Transocean's mistakes didn't end with the bonuses. Transocean apologized early on, which is a good first step. But it failed in every other way.

No. 1: Say it was wrong and explain why.

Newman's "it was never our intent" line doesn't cut it. As BNET leadership blogger Kimberly Weisul has noted, when an offender avoids the phrase "I was wrong," it tends to come off as sympathy, not an apology.

No. 2: Don't make a gesture to one group while screwing over another.
Company execs donated their safety bonuses to a victims' memorial fund. This is the type of gesture that a company should shoot for in an apology. It's straightforward; and it fits the "crime," so to speak.

That is, until you realize the company continues to screw another group of Deepwater Horizon victims. Transocean said last August it would continue to pay wages and benefits of victims who were injured and unable to return to work, the Houston Chronicle reported. The company not only went back on this commitment and ended all payments by December, it tried to strong arm these folks into signing away their legal right to sue in exchange for continued benefits.

Suddenly, these donations come off as what they are: PR tactics and hollow gestures from a company that has no plans to change its bad behavior.

Photo from Flickr user Dave Keeshan, CC 2.0
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