I don’t doubt the internal sincerity of Kevin Johnson, the CEO of Starbucks, but the recently released letter (https://news.starbucks.com/views/starbucks-ceo-reprehensible-outcome-in-philadelphia-incident) about the “Philadelphia incident” exhibits some troublesome subtext.
As a professional editor, I have a few comments. These are my own views, not those of my employer. If you’d like to hire me to edit your own apologies, though, let me know.
Dear Starbucks Partners and Customers:
By now, you may be aware of a disheartening situation in one of our Philadelphia-area stores this past Thursday, …
Include the date here. Without it, you’re treating this letter as ephemeral, something to be forgotten within a week.
…that led to a reprehensible outcome.
The word ‘reprehensible’ means that it deserves censure or condemnation, not that you condemn it. It would be stronger to end the previous sentence at ‘Thursday’ and here say ‘I condemn the outcome.’ I recommend using ‘I’ rather than ‘We’ to indicate you’re speaking as an individual and leader, not in corporate voice.
I’m writing this evening to convey three things:
Why ‘this evening’? One reading is that you’d like everyone to note that you’re taking up your evening to do it (as though your ‘partners’ and customers don’t work evenings). This is simply a reminder of how the two arrested men spent their evening: in a police station.
First, to once again…
Drop ‘once again’. This is the expression of a person beleaguered. ‘Oh, I can do it again, I guess…’.
…express our deepest apologies to the two men who were arrested…
End the sentence here. First, because they weren’t “arrested with a goal”, so you need at least a comma. Second, because the apology should stand on its own.
…with a goal of doing whatever we can…
Using ‘a goal’ is aspirational. It’s neither a plan nor a commitment. And that it’s ‘a’ goal, rather than ‘the’ goal, suggests that you have multiple motives for apologizing. I suggest: ‘I will make sure that we do whatever we can…’. Using ‘I’ maintains the personal voice you had earlier. Don’t devolve the responsibility from yourself to an impersonal ‘we’.
…to make things right. Second, to let you know of our plans to investigate the pertinent…
Drop ‘pertinent’. Nobody thinks you’ll be investigating impertinent or irrelevant facts, so this is just class signaling.
…facts and make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent…
First, drop ‘necessary’. Nobody thinks you’re eager to make unnecessary changes, but the implicature (the implication of it being said) is that someone is demanding you make unnecessary changes. It’s defensive.
Similarly, ‘would help prevent’ is unnecessarily wordy. I suggest ‘change our practices to prevent’. Be direct.
…such an occurrence from ever…
Using ‘ever’ here is another signal that you’re beleaguered. Drop it.
happening again. And third, to reassure you…
You’ve got a split purpose in this letter, which you’ve addressed to both partners and customers. You reassure someone who is nervous. Your customers are nervous, but you can’t reassure someone who was never assured. Better to say ‘And third, to unequivocally state’.
…that Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.
First, change ‘or’ to ‘and’. You don’t want to say you stand against discrimination OR racial profiling. Stand against both.
Second, consider ‘that Starbucks will not tolerate’. You’ve already tolerated it, so you can’t use ‘does not’, but you can make a pledge for the future.
In the coming days,
Consider being specific. When?
…I will be joining our regional vice president, Camille Hymes — who is on the ground…
The phrase ‘on the ground’ belongs in your executives meeting, where you should treat this like a PR crisis. But many many people, particularly many of your black customers, have reported that this type of differential treatment is a regular occurrence, even if it doesn’t typically result in arrests. Drop it.
…in Philadelphia — to speak with partners, customers and community leaders as well as law enforcement.
Do you think law enforcement did something wrong in this case? I recommend not mentioning them here. Bringing the police in unnecessarily was the problem in the first place.
Most importantly, I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology.
This should be reworded. As written, you’ve put the onus on them to meet with you. If you haven’t been able to contact them privately, it probably means they don’t want to talk to you. If you have, find out whether they want the public apology — it’s for your benefit, not theirs, after all.
The message here is also a little confused. You say ‘most importantly’ — does that mean that personally apologizing to them is more important than changing your practices to avoid this happening again in the future?
If you really want to make this statement here, I suggest something like ‘I have personally contacted the two men who were arrested, and apologized. If they want, I will meet them in person, privately or publicly, to give the apology face-to-face.’
We have immediately…
Drop ‘immediately’. You’ve either begun it or you haven’t, and this opens up questions about ‘how immediately’.
…begun a thorough investigation of our practices.
You should know your own practices. If you mean in the sense of ‘what we actually do’, I suggest something like ‘of how our policies led to this outcome’.
In addition to our own review, we will work with outside experts and community leaders to understand and adopt best practices.
As I’m sure you know, ‘best practices’ are a tool for reducing variation, increasing accountability to process rather than outcome, and ensuring compliance. Maybe ‘to understand and adopt practices that will prevent future incidents of this type’?
The video shot by customers is very hard to watch…
No. This is something that you shouldn’t say. It suggests you’re trying to turn away and ignore it. The phrase ‘hard to watch’ is a loud dog whistle that says ‘stop bringing my attention to ugliness’. You could say ‘is horrifying’ / ‘is mortifying’ / ‘is humiliating to me’ / etc.
…and the actions in it are not representative of our Starbucks Mission and Values.
The actions in it absolutely are representative. You don’t want them to be, but they are. That’s the PR crisis, after all. Not that one manager acted badly, but that this represents the experience of many. Here’s where you can be aspirational: ‘the actions in it are not how I want our Starbucks Mission and Values to be represented’.
Creating an environment that is both safe and welcoming…
So far so good.
Nope. Nope. As a general statement, this is absolutely right. In this context, you’re setting up an ‘us vs. them’ argument. (In the same way that you did with distinguishing the ‘individuals’ from the ‘customers’ in your initial shorter statement.) You’re not balancing safe against welcoming here, even though that’s necessary overall. You’re not balancing the safety and welcome of ‘partners and customers’ against ‘those two black guys’.
…is paramount for every store. Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome — the basis for the call to the Philadelphia police department was wrong.
Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested…
And not great. If you really want to say this, then be very specific. Exactly what did the store manager think would happen with the police being called? For example, ‘Our store manager did not intend for these men to be arrested, only for the armed police officers to make them leave the store’ or ‘Our store manager did not intend for these men to be arrested, only for them to be afraid to remain’ or…. It’s not a good look.
…and this should never have escalated as it did.
Even if you personally believe the men were partly at fault, hold that back. Using the word ‘escalated’ here implies that ‘things got out of hand’. The manager first treated the men unequally with other customers and then overreacted to the men not accepting unequal treatment. Any other narrative is going to deepen the problem for you.
We also will further train our partners to better know when police assistance is warranted. Additionally, we will host a company-wide meeting next week to share our learnings,
The word ‘learnings’ is pure corporate speak. Use normal words here, like ‘what we learned’.
…discuss some immediate next steps and underscore our long-standing commitment to treating…
So far so good…
And this phrase is a problem. Now you’re talking about a company-wide meeting. In that context, ‘one another’ means ‘other partners’. Use ‘everyone’ or ‘each other and our customers’ or similar.
…with respect and dignity. I know our store managers and partners work hard to exceed our customers’ expectations every day — which makes this very poor reflection on our company all the more painful.
This is humanizing yourself, but at the expense of saying ‘I am the one hurting’. It might not be what you want.
Finally, to our partners who proudly wear the green apron and to customers who come to us for a sense of community every day: You can and should expect more from us. We will learn from this and be better.
This is a good closing.