5 key takeaways from Starbucks’ crisis response

Ameliorating a PR disaster can be tricky, but the coffeehouse chain’s words and actions, after two black men were wrongfully arrested at one of its stores, offer lessons for communicators.

Many of us have been underwhelmed by well-known companies’ recent crisis communications.

By contrast, Starbucks has been hitting the bull’s-eye in its response to the recent incident in which two black men were unjustly arrested at a store in Philadelphia.

Several key steps should part of any crisis response, and every move Starbucks has made has resonated with consumers and journalists alike.

Here are five steps to handle a crisis, along with commentary on how Starbucks has addressed this recent issue:

Step 1: Assess the legitimacy of the situation, considering all merits and circumstances, and take steps to support or reject it.

Starbucks’ top brass was decisive in rejecting the validity of the arrests; company leaders remained consistent in their position and clear in their messaging.

Step 2: If the company is at fault, identify responsibility and take corrective action. Apologize and offer appropriate compensation to the aggrieved person(s).

Starbucks dropped charges against the arrested individuals and have encouraged them to become “part of the company,” in the words of the company’s chairman. Starbucks’ CEO flew across the country to meet with the arrestees and apologize to them in person. You don’t see that every day.

Actions speak louder than words, and Starbucks is boosting its credibility by enacting its brand’s values, including a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.

Step 3: Take high-profile, verifiable action to prevent a future recurrence.

Most companies might follow an apology with nothing more than a commitment to resolution. Starbucks is putting its money where its mouth is, arranging to close 8,000 stores for a day for racial sensitivity training. This will cost the company millions, perhaps tens of millions of dollars.

Starbucks’ action, however, will produce long-term benefits that could ultimately boost revenue. Consumers tend to buy from brands they admire. Starbucks is fostering brand loyalty through its thoughtful and expansive response.

Step 4: A crisis often demands repercussions for the employees involved.

The store manager who called the police has been fired. Starbucks quickly demonstrated the consequences for mistreating customers and creating a crisis.

Step 5: No matter the choices made or direction to be taken, the company’s communications response (not necessarily its physical or reparative response) must be swift.

Starbucks’ top brass responded personally, and quickly, without calling on others to carry the baggage. Its moves were deftly orchestrated and will probably boost brand sentiment in the long run. Certainly, the company seems to have mitigated what could have been a disaster—with lasting damage to its bottom line, reputation and culture.

Jordan Chanofsky is CEO of Fusion PR.


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.