Every PR professional knows the importance of the three A’s when handling a crisis: Acknowledge, Apologize and Act. 

As the allegations of sexual harassment within the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) unfolded in a New York Times exposé, it seems NAR’s leaders overlooked the essentials of crisis management. Consequently, the fallout has turned into a full-blown social media circus, with more disgruntled agents and furious headlines piling up every day.

So today, I’m breaking down the lessons you can learn from NAR’s missed opportunity and how you can use the three A’s in your real estate business. Because as an agent, you’re no stranger to crises, and knowing how to navigate them effectively could mean the difference between thriving and faltering in a competitive market.

Success with the Three A’s

Let’s kick things off with a case study of an unrelated source: Starbucks, circa 2018. Remember when two African American men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia? The police were called after the two men sat down at a table without ordering anything. A video of the arrests quickly gained attention on social media, with many accusing Starbucks of racial bias. It was a PR nightmare, but the leaders of the coffee giant didn’t cover up or deny what happened. Instead, they went all-in with the “Three A’s” strategy:

  • Acknowledge: Starbucks didn’t shy away from the problem; they confronted it head-on.
  • Apologize: A heartfelt public apology was issued by Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. In the apology, he admitted what happened was wrong and took full responsibility to correct the harm done. 
  • Action: Starbucks took several actions to back up Johnson’s apology. It announced a nationwide closure of its stores for racial bias training for all staff and engaged with community leaders and experts in addressing racial bias. 

The outcome? Starbucks slowly but surely regained trust and built a reputation for being socially responsible. This case underscores the power of swift, transparent, and accountable responses during a crisis.

NAR’s Response to Sexual Harassment Allegations

Now, let’s fast forward to the present and discuss NAR’s response to the sexual harassment allegations they’re facing. 

Rather than immediately acknowledging and apologizing, initial statements regarding the claims were defensive. Bob Goldberg, NAR CEO, told The Times, “I would not characterize it as a problem,” when asked if the organization has an issue with sexual harassment. And Kenny Parcell, former NAR President, wrote in a letter, “My resignation comes after a series of accusations against me that are categorically false.”

When Tracy Kasper, current President, took to video to address the situation over a week later, instead of giving a sincere apology, her message felt diluted and scripted. While she did outline some actions NAR plans to take, they seemed vague and out of touch with demands and requests—both from internal staff and from the NAR Accountability Group

Instead of utilizing the Three A’s, NAR adopted a more conservative stance, opting to defend themselves, consult lawyers, and seemingly ignore the issue. A few weeks later, and they are seeing some backlash beyond comments online: Redfin announced it is leaving NAR, and Anywhere and RE/MAX are no longer requiring NAR memberships for their members. 

Lessons from NAR’s Crisis Handling

#1—A Sincere Apology Goes a Long Way

The lesson here is universal. When you make a mistake, the recipe for recovery is quite simple: own up to it, offer a sincere apology, and lay out the steps you’ll take to make things right. 

A vague statement or awkward, scripted video will not have an impact on any audience that’s paying attention. As difficult it may be in a crisis, you must get on camera and speak openly and sincerely about the situation. It is nearly impossible to gain back trust if no one believes you are sorry. 

#2—The Cameras Are Always Rolling

As Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

In today’s digital age, those cameras are always rolling. Whether it’s a Ring camera capturing your actions or a smartphone recording a conversation, privacy is becoming increasingly elusive. 

There have been numerous occasions when real estate agents were caught in the act when they thought they were alone at a property. So, exercise caution regarding your actions, words, and behavior, whether you’re in public or private settings.

#3—Consider All of Your Audiences

When dealing with a crisis, you must carefully consider the image you project and work towards restoring trust with all of your stakeholders. 

After all, your response doesn’t just impact your reputation but also your relationships with family, friends, employees, clients and fellow agents. Each one of these audiences deserves transparency and accountability.

In Conclusion

NAR serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of crisis management in today’s fast-paced, interconnected world. As real estate professionals, you have a front-row seat to observe how the organization is handling public scrutiny.

So, as you continue with your real estate business, keep these lessons close at hand. In an industry where trust is paramount, your ability to handle crises effectively is a key to long-term success.