Category: Crisis Communication

Starbucks Gets Roasted

by Nikki McClaran

If you got your iced caramel macchiato at Starbucks last week, you probably found “Race Together” written on your cup. No, this was not a challenge to initiate a store-wide coffee drinking competition, but Starbucks’ attempt at a social awareness campaign about racial inequality.

The idea: Initiate conversation about diversity through your cup of Joe.
The outcome: Serious backlash, a shut-down Twitter account, and the halt of the campaign the week of its launch.

This was not Starbucks first dive into social issues, the Starbucks Foundation being a large part of the global corporation. So, how did this campaign manage to fail so miserably, even with such good intentions? Looking from a purely PR perspective, Starbucks’ committed two missteps that really burnt the beans.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Racial inequality has been a serious topic in the news this past year with headlines from the Ferguson, Mo. crisis and Eric Garner’s death. Unlike Starbuck’s past campaigns that addressed AIDS and jobs in America, this social issue stands out in that it is at a peak of tension with two distinct sides. Making customers believe that Starbucks was truly invested in the issue rather than being financially opportunistic required thorough planning- something Starbucks failed to do.

Planning comes at all levels, and not only did the corporate executives not know how to handle the situation (spoiler: that’s next), the baristas didn’t either. Videos of baristas being unaware of the program or not wanting to discuss it began popping up all over the web.

Starbucks, I get that you’re a big company and it’s hard to get everyone on the same page, but with such a heated topic, better preparing the ones who are primarily responsible for executing the campaign might be a good idea, especially since you were just accused of creating gentrification. It could prevent you coming off as a money-hungry corporation, seeking to capitalize on sensitive issues.

Brew up a crisis plan, and actually follow it.

Social media is like coffee. It has the ability to brighten your day and energize all of your efforts, but it also has the capability to give you really bad breathe before that 8 a.m. meeting. As an active social media beast, you would think that Starbucks is prepared for the negative consequences social media can bring, but that didn’t seem to happen. Almost immediately after its launch last Sunday, Starbucks began receiving serious Twitter backlash.

I’m assuming (and hoping) that Starbucks had a crisis plan established, yet rather than follow it, they responded the worst way you probably could- they didn’t. Corey duBrowa, Starbucks’ senior vice president of communications, fueled the fire by supposedly blocking Twitter accounts that responded negatively to Race Together and deactivating his own account. Bad move, duBrowa.

And now Starbucks’ chairman and CEO, Howard Shultz, is defending that the halting of the campaign as planned and intended. I hope this is true, rather than a last-minute attempt to justify the company’s actions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to visit Starbucks for my soy, no foam latte. Honestly, Starbucks has done a great job with social media engagement and humanitarian events in the past. This just wasn’t Starbucks’ cup of tea and from it we can see the value in proper campaign planning and crisis management. Want to espresso your thoughts? Comment below.

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Facebook and Apple Offer Paid Procedure Intending to Empower Women

by Jordan Rafferty

Facebook and Apple are two leading competitors in their industries, always staying one step ahead of the game. Apple recently released a new iPhone and iPad, while Facebook has surpassed 1.35 billion active users. Both share a competitive nature, so it’s no surprise when they both make the same announcement, creating quite a stir.

Both companies announced a new employee “benefit” for women. They offer female employees $20,000 to cover the cost of two rounds of freezing their eggs. Apple released a statement saying, “We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.”

My first reaction to these announcements was a positive one. I commend them for being ahead of the game (or so I initially thought. A few other companies offer similar benefits). Women are now having children much later in life because they want to focus on their careers or finding the right partner. Facebook and Apple noticed this trend. Yet, 43 percent of women leave their careers because they have children (according to theatlantic.com). By offering to pay for the delay of children in a female employees life, they are able to keep their staff longer, and it’s enabling women to rise up to higher positions because they stay with the company for longer periods of time.

Social media reaction

So, I am really excited about this announcement, and then I get on Twitter, Facebook and Google News. Some people do not like this one bit. There has been far more backlash than either company anticipated. Here are a couple tweets I saw on my feed:

People are concerned that Apple and Facebook have the ulterior motive of forcing women to put the company first and a family last. This is a concern that could address by communicating to their publics on the issue. Some are also concerned with the health risks of the procedure itself.

I went from excited to sad for Apple and Facebook in a matter of minutes. In my heart I believe the companies are trying to do the right thing, but I can’t help but think that they should have done the research to anticipate the negative reaction. Remember the first step of the RACE model? Research, Research, Research. You never know what you will come across. The smallest detail could make or break you.

I read a number of the articles on Google News and,according to alternet.org, hyperstimulation of the ovaries (the freezing process) uses what some see as an aggressive and potentially dangerous hormone therapy that uses non-FDA regulated drugs. Those opposed believe a number of things can go wrong with this process, like punctured ovaries or organs, abdominal bleeding and other complications. Bloggers and Twitter users alike are concerned with the risks to the procedure and are questioning why Facebook and Apple even agreed to offer such a thing to their employees. Some feel that by offering to pay for this the companies are basically saying that families are not important.

Communicate with your publics

I searched to see if Apple or Facebook ever responded to the negative reactions, but so far I haven’t found a thing. The fact that I haven’t seen a response concerns me. Sure, there are other things going on with the companies, but they should be communicating with their audiences. As a PR specialist I would suggest responding early. Tweet back to those concerned and reassure their audiences that they do, in fact, care about families. They are just offering to pay for the procedure, and not every female employee has to do. Like Apple said in their statement when they made the announcement, they are empowering women. There are women who want to hold off on having children, and Apple and Facebook are making that possible.

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Crisis management: How a dark website will bring a brand back to the light

by Amanda Plachte

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After almost two years of legal disputing, the Beastie Boys and Monster Energy have settled their copyright infringement case with $1.7 million awarded to the former.  Following Monster Energy’s 2012 release of its promotional video for the annual snowboarding competition, Ruckus in the Rockies, the Beastie Boys discovered the unauthorized use of some of their songs.  Not only did the two surviving members of the New York-native trio, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, consider this stealing but they feel that the video also implied an endorsement for the energy drink brand on the band’s behalf.  Formed in 1981, the Beastie Boys agreed long ago to never permit the commercial use of their work.

As mentioned in this Chicago Tribune article, Monster Energy’s attorney, Reid Kahn, acknowledged his client’s erroneous infringement but claims that the error falls upon an individual employee whom mistakenly believed to have obtained the permission.  In response to the allegations of an implied third-party endorsement, Kahn says the claims are “contrary to common sense” and the band is spinning a “tale of an insidious corporate conspiracy”.

Representing the Beastie Boys, attorney Kevin Puvalowski says of Monster, “They didn’t care if their employees were stealing.”

Because you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop

…Defending your good name, that is.  In many ways, situations like this just become a giant mess of “he said, she said,” So, what can an organization such as Monster do when its name gets associated with a crisis?

Author Dennis Bailey believes the key to handling a crisis is with a dark website. In his October 2012, post, Why a Dark Website Should be in Your Crisis Management Plan, Bailey explains that it is a web page or a website that is prepared well in advance of any crisis. It sits on the company’s server invisible to the public; however, should a crisis hit, the dark website is quickly modified and published, providing all the latest information concerning the crisis. Basically, it is a powerful PR trick up your sleeve.

The dark site should contain:

  • All the available facts about the crisis – what happened and what specific steps the company is taking to respond.
  • Special instructions telling those affected by the crisis what they must or must not do.
  • Background information and an FAQ about the company and any relevant information that promotes a better understanding of what the company does and how the crisis occurred.
  • Contact information and email addresses for the news media.
  • Statements from the top company officials.
  • Contact information for members of the public affected by the crisis (a 24-hour toll-free line is best, along with a Twitter feed and hash tag).
  • Regular and timely updates.

When a crisis occurs, the company website is one of the first places that people will look for information. If there is no current information regarding the crisis, or worse, the website has a “business as usual” feel and it can make the company look bad. In the face of a crisis, an organization must make every attempt to stay on top of the situation. Having information readily available for the public is just one of the ways to do just that.

Not to pick on Monster, but Bailey uses them as a case-and-point example. After the deaths of several people were associated with the consumption of the highly caffeinated energy drinks, Monster’s website was still full of athletes, race cars and the signature “Monster Girls.” Although the company had released a statement defending its brand, Monster did nothing to provide up-to-date information on its website. This can only cause people to get their news elsewhere.

It’s not how you play the game; it’s how you win it

Unfortunately, no website, regardless of how much information is provided, is going to save an organization in the courtroom. A dark website would not have affected Monster’s court case with the Beastie Boys; however, in the PR world, we know that the court of public opinion can have a much stronger impact on the image of a company. Efforts such as a strong crisis management plan can be the saving grace in a situation like this. Maybe next time, Monster.

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American Airlines manages potential crisis

By Elissa Huck

Public relations professionals wear many hats and must be able to multi-task in order to fulfill several duties; they maintain media relations, internal and external communications and marketing functions. One significant responsibility of today’s PR professionals is crisis communications. A crisis is a major occurrence that could negatively impact a company. Any company in any industry can face a crisis and this week, American Airlines had to deal with an unexpected turn of events on Twitter.

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A possible terrorist threat

Sunday, April 13, a 14-year-old girl with the Twitter username @QueenDemetriax and named “Sarah” tweeted at American Airlines, “hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.” American Airlines responded, “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.” Feeling threatened, Sarah posted a frenzy of sporadic tweets expressing it was a prank and pleading for the company not to take legal action.

Her “social media meltdown” portrayed both her fear of getting in trouble along with insincere and questionable updates about her growing number of followers and more. American Airlines removed its response, and Sarah’s Twitter account was suspended, but not before garnering nationwide attention. “We took it down basically because it generated a lot of traffic,” American spokeswoman Dori Alvarez told the New York Daily News. “We took it down so we could better focus on our customers.”

Twitter backlash

The next day, Sarah turned herself in to the police in the Netherlands. She is being interrogated, and the exact intention behind her prank threat is being investigated. Many who witnessed the intense Twitter exchange believe that American Airlines was too harsh on the young girl, and others believe that she rightfully deserves her punishment. The public has taken to Twitter to fervently defend and condemn Sarah’s actions.

Evaluating the threat as a developing crisis

I learned in my strategic crisis communications class that crises have five stages: detection, prevention/preparation, containment, recovery and learning. Examining the situation from a crisis perspective, American Airlines detected the threat as a prodrome, or warning sign, to a potential terrorist attack and worked to prevent the crisis by responding in a firm, deliberate manner.

The company made efforts to contain and recover from the developing crisis by deleting the Twitter responses to stop people from encouraging the behavior so the posts would not get out of control. American Airlines can learn from the situation by evaluating the positive and negative outcomes in order to be prepared for a similar occurrence in the future. Whether or not the terrorist threat was real, the company took immediate necessary action in order to keep its customers out of harm’s way.

As an aspiring PR professional, how would you handle this situation? Give us your feedback, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

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