Did you see it? Did you see Kevin Johnson, Starbucks CEO, apologize again and again and again on live TV?
What Johnson did is probably one of the best damage-control efforts by a company-in-crisis’ leader in many years, and he had the network anchors praising him for it.
In a nutshell he:
- Moved swiftly to contain the crisis;
- Immediately went to Philadelphia, the site of the crisis;
- Spoke to every major network immediately after the crisis broke;
- Apologized with sincerity and took full responsibility;
- Privately met with the two black men who were arrested to deliver his apology personally;
- Met with Philadelphia political and community leaders to discuss what happened and commit to fixing the problem;
- Acted the way a CEO should act.
In case you missed it, last Thursday, two black men went to Starbucks in Philadelphia for a meeting. While waiting for their colleague to join them in the meeting, they asked to use the bathroom. The store’s manager told them they couldn’t because they hadn’t bought anything. Then, she asked them to leave. When they didn’t, Starbucks’ manager called the police. The men were handcuffed, removed from the restaurant and arrested.
Now, that’s odd because Starbucks markets itself as being a place people can go to to work and meet, without being obligated to buy anything. What’s outrageous, to use Johnson’s words, is that two black men were accused by the store manager of trespassing and were arrested for doing exactly what Starbucks invites people to do.
Where other corporations and their leaders have failed, Starbucks succeeded. Their crisis communications plan worked. They were armed and ready. How do we know? Because they were in front of this horrendous story before it got out of control. They issued a statement of apology on Sunday and immediately framed the narrative, so that no one else had the opportunity to deliver a different message about Starbucks.
“It takes a lifetime to build reputation and only a few seconds to destroy one.” ~ Unknown
That was no coincidence. Johnson and his Public Relations team may not have known the specifics about what was about to unfold, but they had planned for some type of crisis like this. They had fill-in-the-blank talking points ready to go. Johnson was trained to speak to the media and deliver compelling messaging from the heart and with sincerity. They developed a theme – I am sorry and I take full responsibility – and Johnson delivered it.
Johnson didn’t hide behind a statement, a lawyer, or a “no comment”. He delivered an apology and owned every word. Then, he put his words into action with a commitment to close their stores in order to educate staff about conscious and unconscious biases so that it doesn’t happen again. He reached out and personally delivered his apology publicly and privately to the two people who deserved it most.
This was textbook crisis communications management at its best.
Now, take a look at your company. Would you be ready to roll before things got out of control in a crisis? If the answer is no – or even I don’t know – it’s time to put your plan together, because a crisis isn’t going to wait for you to be ready.