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Comparing apologies: Oscars vs. Chipotle vs. Boston Globe

apologies 3Three organizations have screwed up recently: The Motion Picture Academy nominated zero actors of color for Oscars, Chipotle made its customers sick, and the Boston Globe couldn’t deliver papers. I wanted to follow up on my recent posts about Chipotle and the Globe, and see if the Academy Awards folks could do any better.

All three needed to apologize. All three had to explain themselves. And all three need to make amends and fix things. So let’s grade who is the more effective apologizer: Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy, Steve Ells, Founder, Chairman, and Co-CEO of Chipotle, or John Henry, owner and publisher of the Globe.

First, the opening. In my opinion, you have to start with a sincere apology, not a justification, to even get any consideration. My comments follow in brackets.

Academy: I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees. While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. [Like a true politician, Isaacs starts by thanking people instead of apologizing. Also, the apology is about Isaacs’ personal feelings, not the feelings of the people who were slighted. Grade: C]

Chipotle: As a chef, nothing is more important to me than serving my guests food that is safe, delicious, and wholesome. From the beginning, all of our food safety programs have met or exceeded industry standards. But recent incidents, an E. coli outbreak that sickened 52 people and a norovirus outbreak that sickened approximately 140 people at a single Chipotle restaurant in Boston, have shown us that we need to do better, much better. The fact that anyone has become ill eating at Chipotle is completely unacceptable to me and I am deeply sorry. [This apology appears to be mostly about Mr. Ells, the founder, doing the best he could. Why not be direct: “I’m sorry we made you sick.”  Grade: C-]

Globe: The Globe’s responsibility to this community is to bring it the news. I would like to share some news now about why we have failed to meet this objective for many readers over the past 10 days, how we are working to fix the problems, and a bit about the root causes. First, I want to personally apologize to every Boston Globe subscriber who has been inconvenienced. We recognize that you depend on us, and that we’ve let you down. [After describing what he will say, Henry goes on immediately to apologize personally to the harmed party, the subscribers. Grade: A]

Next, let’s look at their explanations of what happened. Are they clear? And do they take responsibility?

Academy: This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. [In the whole statement, this as close as Isaacs gets to saying what actually happened. Vague, with no statement of responsibility. F]

Chipotle: [No explanation of what happened. F]

Globe: When I purchased the Globe two years ago, more than half the subscribers who were not renewing their subscriptions told us it was due to delivery service issues. Week after week, I reiterated that fixing this had to be one of our highest priorities. . . . We settled on ACI Media Group [for delivery service], generally recognized as the best in the business. . . . The new company initially used software that simply could not do the job. The routes that software plotted were so circuitous and inefficient that newly hired drivers quit after only one or two days . . . [I’ve elided some of the detail, but the explanation is very clear, and does not duck responsibility. A]

Finally, the fix. Is it believable?

Academy: The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.  In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond. . . . As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like.  We need to do more, and better and more quickly. [Initiating a review. I’d be more impressed with an actual plan, otherwise this is another empty promise. D]

Chipotle: To achieve our goal of establishing leadership in food safety, we collaborated with preeminent food safety experts to design a comprehensive food safety program . . .The process began with a farm-to-fork risk assessment of every ingredient and all of our restaurant protocols and procedures. Throughout our supply chain, we are implementing high-resolution sampling and testing of many of our ingredients to prevent contaminants, including E. coli, from getting into our restaurants. . . . We have also designed many improvements within our restaurants to ensure our food is as safe as possible. This includes the introduction of additional microbiological kill steps to eliminate microbial risk. [Very clear and convincing. Also, they are closing all the restaurants down in February for a day of training. A]

Globe: ACI has already begun the process to replace that [routing] software. . . . We have worked with both ACI and our former distributor to reestablish service in the fastest possible way by dividing the entire region between them. The firms are at this moment working together to manage routes and will have a roughly equivalent number of newspapers to deliver over the next three years. [Sort of “We’re working on it.” However, hiring both firms was probably costly, and seems to be working. B-]

Final grade:

Academy: F. Lame apology, vague explanation, weak plan to fix.

Chipotle: B-. Weak apology, no explanation, but rigorous plan to fix.

Globe: A-. Excellent apology, clear explanation, promising plan to fix.

What I learned from this: it costs nothing to eat crow, so do it. Then concentrate on clearly explaining what went wrong and how you will fix it, and you’ll get most of your customers back. Then don’t screw up again.

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  1. My Oscars apology would have gone something like this:

    I’m sorry that this year all the best performances in all the acting categories were by actors and actresses who happened to be white.

    Actors of colour will have to lift their game for next year.

    Ain’t reality a bitch?

      1. Yes, but the actual nominees were all better, and this isn’t even a strong year for acting performances, IMHO. BTW, I used to review movies for a couple of Aussie newspapers, and being semi-retired gives me the time to see all the nominees before the awards.

  2. And my Globe apology would have included the addendum “and can you believe we were so stupid as to f#ck this up so badly in the year when a movie about our Spotlight investigative team may win the Best Picture Oscar?”

  3. And we wonder why there is an increasing skepticism for businesses and brands globally? Lessons we all learn on the playground seemingly evaporate when the corner office and high thread count suits beckon. #sigh

    I’d add that the VW “Emissionsgate” obfuscation should get a similar “F” for truth.

  4. I agree, Chipotle’s first ‘outing’ and apology were not great. But after having talked to their ‘Brand Voice Lead,’ William Espey, at length (read/listen to the interview here: https://masstoclass.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/chipotle-genius-and-power-of-naivete-interview-with-william-espey-brand-voice-lead-podcast-episode-05/) I do believe that the shock sits deep and the willingness and energy to fix things fast is great – and not (just) because Chipotle sees its revenues drop. I think it is BECAUSE they so deeply believe that food should be made of ingredients- and in a way that has ‘integrity’ that the founder Mr Ells talked about that first when he came out with the bad news. If that is true, then that is a good thing and we can forgive them… once they fixed the issues.

  5. The Motion Picture Academy has nothing to apologies for. Those who are insisting that actors be judged by the colour of their skin, Spike Lee for example, should be apologising to Martin Luther King.