What is “sorry” enough?

Mattel hit a rough patch. Its toys are being pulled from shelves left and right, and, maybe worse yet, for a variety of problems, from choking hazards to lead paint.

The tide started with a recall two weeks ago, and, as AdAge points out, Mattel decided to rely on the news media to deploy its heartfelt apologies. Then, more recalls and full page ads in the WSJ, NYT, and USA Today. Mattel is sorry and now it’s paying to tell you so. And if you happen to be on the website, the company put together a video address from Chairman-CEO Bob Eckert.

I have been thinking about managing disaster more than usual lately with the local response to our city’s bridge collapse. I walked around in the on a neighboring bridge the day 35W fell and was surrounded by thousands of other people who just couldn’t stay in their living rooms any longer, who needed to get out and feel like there were still other people out there. After disaster, people want to gather and feel comforted by community.

Later that night, police shut the walking bridge. It stayed closed for a week. The bridge that connects the city, where tourists take photos of our skyline and new theater, a bridge on countless runners’ and bikers’ daily routes. The city didn’t realize that, when it shut down the bridge, it did more than further complicate transportation. It closed a gathering place for healing. Where people could have left flowers or flags or notes or just paused for a minute to reflect on the intensity of what happened. There was no place for us to socialize what happened, to make sense of it and figure it into our reality.

Is Mattel’s reaction to endangering millions of people’s kids was not only recycled straight from the handbook of “how to save face when you’ve f-ed up,” but it’s one-way in a time when we are communal. Mattel needs its bridge, and if it does things right, it can own “recuperation.” Set up a smartly-played online community, start a news feed updating the percentage of tainted product that are reeled in, solicit input from moms and dads of places they’ve seen the recalled products. Give people a chance to feel like they can DO something.