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.
— Cameron Gray (@Cameron_Gray) March 17, 2015
Doing my part to #racetogether by saying “Django” when asked by the starbucks barista for my name.
— Desus Nice (@desusnice) March 21, 2015
Did Starbucks start their #RaceTogether thing yet? I’m about to get an iced coffee and need to know if I should bring my Baldwin quotes.
— Marquita (@MarqRobinson) March 20, 2015
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.
— Brianna Leigh (@raininblack) March 17, 2015
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.
by Amanda Plachte
I would like a vanilla latte, a blueberry scone and a job application, please.
This fall Starbucks will give its employees the opportunity of a lifetime with a generous tuition assistance program: the College Achievement Plan. The Seattle-based coffee company believes that supporting its employees’ ambitions is the best investment it can make. Approximately 70 percent of its employees are students or aspire to be students and knowing that money is not the only barrier preventing young adults from pursuing their dreams, every benefits-eligible employee in the United States will qualify to take advantage of the opportunity to obtain a bachelor’s degree online. Offering 40 undergraduate degrees, Starbucks made this possible by teaming up with Arizona State University.
Those taking advantage of the program are required to carry out their dreams and graduate. That is it. Of course, each participant has to meet all the same admissions requirements as any incoming student would, but there is no obligation for the employees to remain with Starbucks post-graduation. Starbucks genuinely wants its employees to excel in school and at life.
I think Starbucks really hit the jackpot in this employee relations initiative. Not only does this make the company’s external image beam with positivity, but clearly, Starbucks is a great place to work too. Although it did not make the 2014 list, the company came in at No. 94 on the 2013 Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For and No. 73 on the 2012 list.
Howard Schultz , Starbuck’s CEO, believes the company and the country will be well-served by the education initiative. In an article on the company’s website, Overcoming the ‘Fractured’ American Dream: Childhood Experiences Shape the Actions of Two Leaders, Schultz explains, “This is going to give our partners hope, opportunity and the freedom to believe in themselves and their careers for the long term. …The Starbucks College Achievement Plan is part of the answer to the question ‘what is the role and responsibility of a public company,’ and for me it demonstrates the heart and the conscience of Starbucks.”
In this Mashable article, Starbucks Plans to Send Its Employees to College for Free, author Adario Strange reports that Schultz told the New York Times, “I believe it will lower attrition, it’ll increase performance, it’ll attract and retain better people.”
Happy employees = happy customers = happy profits
In the article, Wall Street Won’t Tell You About Starbucks’ Magic Bullet, author Ted Cooper addresses Starbucks’ success in employee satisfaction and how it compares to competitor Dunkin’ Donuts. In an attempt to replicate the Starbucks atmosphere, the Massachusetts-based brand has improved its customer experience by adding comfortable seating, relaxing music and places to linger but this is only half of the problem. In order to provide great customer service, employees must be happy, motivated and inspired.
Cooper also points out that Starbucks receives high marks for compensation and benefits too. Health insurance is a cornerstone of Starbucks’ employee compensation packages. Even after admitting that the Affordable Care Act might increase the company’s insurance costs, Schultz said he had a responsibility to keep providing health insurance for his company’s workers. In addition to generous health benefits, Starbucks employees may receive bonuses, 401(k) matching and a free pound of coffee each week. Dunkin’ Brands’ compensation and benefits are tied for the lowest-ranked component in an employee satisfaction survey. Considering that compensation forms the basis of most employees’ attitudes toward a company, the low rating speaks volumes about Dunkin’ Brands’ employee satisfaction.
Health insurance, education and free coffee? Oh, my!
Image via Time