I love Starbucks. I always have. I remember my first cup in downtown Portland decades ago. I have been loyal ever since and it has been my happy place for a long time. No matter where I am, there is a Starbucks and it will feel like home. I almost always order a drink, but I often run in just to tinkle first. I figure that if I fork over insane amounts of money for poor tasting dirty water, the least they could do is let me use the loo before I order, right? But I have always lived in upscale or trendy neighborhoods and I am an attractive, non-threatening generic minority female, so I am not treated the way others are in this world.
Being the ‘other’ in these scenarios allows me to see both sides. I disagree with the actions, of course, and I disagree with the corporate response. I am vexed by the Starbucks PR crisis and the incredible lack of insight from this highly visible consumer retail brand. Lots and lots of PR people will talk about the response and it will be used as a case study of what not to do for years to come.
The first apology took too long and when it did arrive, it was lukewarm. From my perspective, this #PR crisis was avoidable and emphasizes the urgent need for corporations to create cultures of communication. What do I mean by that? I mean creating an organization where every role understands how (and is trained and has the tools) to communicate broadly, both internally and externally. And that communication is encouraged and demonstrated liberally at all levels.
In the Starbucks scenario, the manager that called 911 even though there was no apparent emergency or danger, should have had media and social engagement training, with the expectation and preparation that someone would grab a phone and the actions could be recorded. This woman overseas approximately 30 employees at a location that makes about $50,000 monthly. With that level of responsibility, she should have been trained and educated on how to enforce the stores’ policies in front of a very engaged public (we can assume that if you are at Starbucks, you have a phone or tablet on hand.)
In the old days of media, it was executives who needed traditional media training. I spent much of my time advocating for PR professionals to be included on Boards of Directors and to have a seat at the executive roundtable. Today, it is the front line staff that needs social media training. They simply missed the boat on the optics, even though the follow-up statement may have been sufficient.
Now Starbucks has announced that it will shut its 8,000 U.S. shops on the afternoon of May 29 for racial-bias training. Wow! I can’t even do the math on that: combined with the social media backlash and tarnished image and relationships, the fiscal toll must be notable.
Yes, you all companies and corporations need to be prepared to apologize in the wake of a media crisis, but what if a company prepared for the media crisis instead?
Is it too late? Will Starbucks rebound? Will this be used as another cautionary tool to spur strategic communications planning? Maybe I will pitch employee social media training in trade for coffee?
I would love to hear your thoughts! And if you want to talk about how I can help your team become socially savvy, maybe we can meet for coffee.