A smart man once told me "Don't apologize. Just fix it." At the time, Scion was my biggest client, and the man talking to me was Jim Farley, then Scion chief and currently head of marketing at Ford. The topic: the word "fuck," which had made its way through our screening process and onto one of the promotional CDs that we had just reproduced, half a million times. Farley caught it while listening to the CD on a plane flight.
He called me in and repeated the word to me several dozen times, perhaps to make a point about his own comfort with the word regardless of the fact that it was completely inappropriate on a CD his brand was giving away. Or perhaps just to punctuate his point. Then he shared a story with me about his early days in the car business and how he messed up by trying to do something or other with Playboy magazine. It was a little blurry because I was in the middle of being cussed out by a very important client.
The part that stuck with me, though, was that he made sure I understand that an apology was unnecessary and also irrelevant. He didn't want me to be sorry, and I'm sure didn't care how I felt about it at all. He just wanted it not to happen again. Ever. And it didn't. The next six volumes of CDs, in addition to everything else we created from that day on, got special attention to ensure I didn't have to hear that type of speech again.
I had forgotten the exchange until I read this New York Times article about Toyota president Toyoda's recent public apology, and especially the commentary.
“'Sometimes, this apology business is a way to avoid taking real action or responsibility,' said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus."
“'When you hear these long apologies, 'Mr. Dujarric said, 'It makes you want to say: Don’t be sorry, just do something about it.’”
I couldn't agree more.