Posts Tagged ‘Starbucks’
One of the trends I talk about when it comes to reputation is how politics is no longer a strange bedfellow to companies. Companies and their leaders now find themselves taking sides on climate change, same-sex marriage, immigration, gun control and a host of other issues. Company reputation is far more politicized that it used to be. Years ago when I first got into public relations, it was made very clear to me that companies did not air their political leanings or take sides on political issues. Today, political issues are now the business of business.
That is why I was particularly interested in an article about a Starbucks in Newton Connecticut. I copied and pasted the newspaper photograph into a powerpoint slide for safekeeping. I’ll want to be able to remind myself when I need a good example of how politicized reputation has become and how tricky it is to walk a fine line.
Nothing is ever simple these days when companies live in glass houses. There’s always two sides to every coin. Here’s a snapshot of what happened. Two days ago, gunowners declared Friday “Starbucks Appreciation Day.” Unfortunately, this nationwide Appreciation Day was also being celebrated at a Starbucks in Newton, Connecticut, home to the mass killing of some two dozen children and teachers. Why appreciation day for Starbucks? Reason is that Starbucks has publically supported the Second Amendment in states where it is allowed and which grants people the right to keep and bear arms whether those guns are carried in public spaces such as the ubiquitous coffee chain or not. However, because of the glaring sensitivities surrounding the hideous Sandy Hook killings, Starbucks found themselves at ground zero for pro- and anti-gun supporters even though gun carrying is allowed in Connecticut.
What did they do? At the Newton Starbucks, they closed the store five hours early and put up this sign:
At Starbucks we are proud that our stores serve as gathering places for thousands of communities across the country and we appreciate that our customers share diverse points of view on issues that matter to them. We also believe in being sensitive to each community we serve.
Today, advocacy groups from different sides of the open carry debate announced plans to visit our Newtown, Connecticut store to bring attention to their points of view. We recognize that there is significant and genuine passion surrounding this topic, however out of respect for Newtown and everything the community has been through we decided to close our store early before the event started. Starbucks did not endorse or sponsor the event. We continue to encourage customers and advocacy groups from all sides of the debate to contact their elected officials, who make the open carry laws that our company follows. Our long-standing approach to this topic has been to comply with local laws and statutes in the communities we serve.
Thank you for your understanding and respect for the Newtown community.
executive vice president, U.S. Retail
For Starbucks, there’s no winning on this issue but I respect the fact that they behaved according to their conscience and in line with their corporate character . I also was impressed that the EVP of US Retail signed his name to the letter. There was no darting the issues. However, I think it is important to recognize that company reputations will find themselves regularly tangling with political issues and they need to shape their reputations with that in mind.
I had heard alittle about some reputation problems (tax avoidance) that Starbucks had encountered in the U.K. over the past couple of months and just read this story about how they are working to counter their dip in reputational equity with a little frothy promotional offering. Now until mid-February, they are discounting coffees on Mondays to earn back customers’ trust and show that they are sorry. I was particularly enamored of this advertising campaign which is fun, clever, positive and should definitely help. It qualifies as a reputation recovery uplift.
I met Howard Schultz at a luncheon years ago when I was at Fortune. His company was pretty much in its infancy and we talked about Brooklyn. Needless to say, he’s a great one to follow when it comes to reputation-building, engagement and reputation recovery. In an article I read about him recently where he was named businessperson of the year, Bill Bradley, the senator, basketball star and board member of the coffee company, noted how reputation was central to their success. Bradley said, “You don’t get millions to support your social networks just by selling coffee. People have to admire the company.”
I have been pretty enamored by Schultz’s political action where you can buy an American-made Indivisible wristband in the stores as a thank you when you donate to the Create Jobs for USA Fund. Last week I bought one in our local Starbucks because if my $5 can make a difference for even one person, I’m in.
As I may have mentioned before, I also met the head of Starbuck’s Ethics & Compliance several months ago at a meeting and was impressed by his thoughtfulness and mission. And a young woman I have mentored for many years and is now working her way through college works at a Starbucks in midtown. She adores it and it has introduced her a decent job that has influenced her interest in majoring in business.
There have been many touchpoints with the brand over the years and they all seem to add up. Just like the wristband says, reputation is indivisible. The whole is greater than the parts but the parts, the touchpoints, can all add up to a halo-like shield that makes a company’s reputation harder to destroy and easier to admire. That’s reputation at its best. It takes years to build and many bumps along the way. But when it gels, it is a wondrous thing to admire.
Some reputations rebound. Today’s New York Times describes how Starbucks’ reputation is bouncing back. One of the drivers of that recovery came from its CEO ceding control to employees. In Seattle, employees held brainstorms that surfaced ideas to turn the ailing company around once CEO Howard Schultz told them to just do it! — break the rules and figure it out for yourselves. You have permission. Schultz gave the okay but employees took it on. As the article says, founder Schultz was determined to give its coffee chain “ a dose of the urgency, nimbleness and risk-taking of a start-up company.” Employees took on the risk of failing and the hunger to win. Not easy to do in a tough economic environment like this. What happened? A new Starbucks-owned coffeehouse arose that doesn’t resemble the typical mass produced furniture Starbucks look. Instead it heralds back to the coffeehouses of yore with its own local flavor and style. I like the big communal table with sockets in the center. The coffeehouse described in the article is 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea and sells microbrew beers, espressos, cheese and baguettes. A turnaround takes more than baguettes but is clearly in the works.
Good to hear that Schultz is listening to employees and customers who are helping to oil the turnaround gears. As we know, turnarounds take some time so we’ll be hearing more as time goes by.
Visiting Chicago and arrived at the airport yesterday. Since I had not slept well the night before, I was determined to find a Starbucks on arrival. As I deplaned, I looked around for the baggage handling and exit signs to find the taxi line to get to our Weber Shandwick office. I looked up at those airport signs when I left the plane – you know the ones with the suitcase identifying where baggage handling is along with gates and terminals — and among those icons at ceiling height was one for Starbucks. It was the green and white Starbucks logo. I thought that maybe I was seeing wrong since there was no icon for any other food outlet. I scrunched my eyes to see the sign more clearly and followed it. It was the Starbucks logo and I was soon standing in line for a Pike’s Place. I was delighted since caffeine was my drug of choice at that early hour. Thought it was interesting how Starbuck’s reputation could be so pervasive in our culture that it had its own airport sign for travelers. When I return later today, I am going to look for one for McDonalds.