Did you see the news about Starbucks closing its stores for a day to conduct training around racial bias? No doubt the pundits will be lighting up the airwaves with claims that this may be the most brilliant PR move ever.
No doubt that Starbucks will earn big PR points for this. But I would not be so quick to classify this as a stunt. Consider their track record of taking strong positions on issues, regardless of their popularity. The most notable was their stance on forbidding weapons in their stores, even in states where concealed carry is allowed. I would be hard pressed to say that there would be universal support for this among their ubiquitous stores located in both red and blue states. But they did it anyway. Just like they have taken a stand on immigration, healthcare, education and gender.
There is a reason that Starbucks is the gold standard of modern reputation management. They are bold, decisive and unequivocal in their positions and responses. Closing the stores to conduct training is exactly what we expect from them. Just like going into the impacted community and listening and exiting the employee whose lapses in judgement caused the issue to begin with.
Most companies would launch training, but few would put their money where their mouth is and close stores. Chipotle closed all of its stores for food safety training in the wake of serious health issues. Starbucks is signaling that racism is as important as food safety, bringing their values and purpose-driven approach to business even further into the forefront.
In an era of increasing CEO activism, CorpSumers™ are expecting companies to take a stand, and they expect the leaders of those companies to live up to the title of leader with their actions. We know that nearly 60 percent of CorpSumers will continue to support a brand that has disappointed them if they believe in the purpose of the company. I’d expect the Starbucks line to be as long, or even longer, than ever tomorrow morning.
So back to the original question – authentic response, or brilliant PR? I would say both. But I would not call it a stunt. Starbucks has earned the benefit of the doubt.