Circle the wagons

You know how it is, you arrange to meet a friend for coffee after work and everything turns to hell. It’s not your fault. Someone calls the office as you go to leave, busses don’t show, the local cash machines are on the fritz, it’s pouring with rain, nothing goes to plan and your friend is left sitting there, waiting to order, like a loner. ‘Billy no mates’ as one dear friend used to call herself as she waited endlessly for me.

(I’m sorry Sian, truly.)

We’ve all been there. The interminable wait for the late one. You innocently loiter around praying for them to arrive before ordering, not for one second wondering if you’ll end up in handcuffs. The tale of such an outing from Starbucks in Philidelphia is stunning, unbelievable, but sadly not all that surprising in an America where this is commonplace. A store manager called the police on two customers who were waiting on a friend, they were arrested and removed, sparking protests and recriminations.

Ask anyone who knows me, I love my coffee, I adore it. If you asked me to choose between coffee or my kids I’m fairly sure the hesitation before my response would be enough to alarm both of us, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in a gym. I could rack my brain for day’s but still, there is no memory of a gym visit. Have I been in a boxing club, yes, swimming pool, yes, five aside pitch, yeah, really, a gym? No.

Given the recent news from LA Fitness in Secaucus, New Jersey, if I ever do go to a gym it won’t be an LA Fitness branch. The incident concerns a run in two customers, and longtime members, had with the local constabulary who were called to remove them and were subsequently confused by why they had been called, the two were paid up members and the only problem appeared to be an antsy manager.  They were called because the manager saw two black men and assumed they hadn’t paid.

He was very wrong and now the world knows.

There have been some phenomenal stories recently that bring into question how an organisation deal with a crisis. The connecting line between L.A. fitness and Starbucks is flat out racism. It’s inexcusable, offensive and should not happen anywhere, let alone in a business. For me, the responses from the organisations and their CEOs tell a stark story.

Starbucks came out quickly with what reads like a genuine mea culpa, CEO Kevin Johnston called the incident “reprehensible”, Executive Chair Howard Schultz said he was “embarrassed and ashamed” by the actions of his staff. The senior management team have already met with the two men and apologised personally. Schultz was interviewed on CBS and said that the moment the incident made it to their desks the entire senior management team got on a plane to Philidelphia.

A pretty strong response that. 

While their moves to deal with the issue are laudable, the suggestion that they will close all their stores for half a day to challenge racial bias is fanciful and perhaps a little pointless but still, it’s a welcome response. Anyone who thinks inherent racial bias can be fixed over a latte in an afternoon needs some help, but still, it’s a step.

And pray tell, what of L.A. fitness?

We’ve witnessed three whole days of near radio silence, nothing on social media, nothing in response to tens of thousands of tweets and comments and an unresponsive website that looks like it’s been swamped or taken offline. There has been a brief statement to a local news outlet but little else I can see.  In the absence of a statement, everyone seems to be running the one comment they have bothered to make.  There are whispers that staff involved have been sacked but there is no confirmation, no comment, no noise.


In a world where news travels the globe in a split second, three days is an eternity and an unforgivable one at that. A glib statement simply doesn’t cut it. That we can find out about an incident in a coffee shop or in a gym mere hours after it happens is something that should alarm and act as a warning to businesses, that we get to hear about it at the same time as a CEO should be enough proof that you need to be ready to respond to anything at any time.  The internet never sleeps. And neither should your PR team.

Simply circling the wagons and hoping that it will all blow over, or making brief statements to local press is a vain attempt at making it stop. You should hit the panic button, that button should wake a load of people up and there should be a plan in place to tackle what has unfolded as quickly as possible. You should be prepared, every single eventuality should be considered and should have an outline statement already in place, you should be thinking about how the world reacts when your company falls apart.


We’re all aware of the Facebook data scandal at this stage, it’s being brought before governmental committees and is taking up acres of column inches in papers.  Apart from the fact that Mark Zuckerberg looked wildly uncomfortable on screen he at least did the right thing and presented himself, instead of an array of legal representatives. Hiding behind a legal team can be wise but when the shit hits the fan the only person that will do is the CEO.  Starbucks moved mountains to make a point, they’re closing almost 8000 stores to deliver training and have gone on the offensive to head off a troubling incident.

L.A Fitness?

Their report card might read ‘needs some attention’.