Tag Archives: Corporate Communications

Starbucks Red Cup Controversy? A Publicity Score!

Unless a person has been totally hidden from social media or traditional media, they know that Starbucks has unveiled its Christmas season cup. The cup is plain red with the Starbucks logo emblazoned on it. The company kept it simple with the traditional colors of the season in an effort to foster inclusiveness and diversity it claimed. The reaction has been incredible. Many claiming to be leading Christians blasted the company for omitting traditional holiday messages on the cup as in pervious years or missing the reason of the season. In fact the Starbucks holiday cup has been one of the biggest stories on social media and in traditional media. The Starbucks holiday cup has been of the most frequent searches on Google. Starbucks has emerged as a branding winner in this story.

How were they able to make this controversy a winner for the brand?

First they were very measured in their response to critics. Rather than ignore the controversy or go into full crisis mode, they were nuanced. On their website they reiterated their main point of why they were doing the simple red cup. For millions who buy into the Starbucks’ brand story that response just reinforced their belief in the brands. For others, it was a non-story not pitting Starbucks against its critics. And the media could not make a bigger story of the controversy from the company’s response so the story continued to be the new holiday cup and not Starbucks versus its critics.

With the increased noise over the Starbucks’ holiday cup, the Starbucks website saw increased traffic. Starbucks with this increased traffic in mind put its holiday offerings – Christmas blend and other products front and center on the website. What a great way to advertise!

Long term as I mentioned it reinforced the brand identity to its loyal customers. Consumers expect their brands to tell a story and share their values. Starbucks in this holiday cup saga reinforced the social values that so many of its loyal consumers have come to expect from the company.

Finally, Starbucks reaped millions in free publicity. It was a major story in all of the media. Social media is still several days later abuzz with the story. People who know little about Starbucks and its various holiday offerings now do. All achieved at very little cost to the company.

Starbucks has emerged as a major winner with its holiday cup saga. Other brands can learn from it.

CEOs Under Attack? A Lesson in Corporate Communications from GM & Apple

First it was Matt Lauer on The Today Show asking General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra if she could handle being a mother and CEO and was she selected as the CEO of General Motors because the company wanted a “maternal presence”. Next it was Apple’s Tim Cook on CNBC, being publicly outed as a gay man. The social media response towards the media was that of outrage and disgust with these incidents. Yet in both incidents the media stood by the interviews.

Why is this? What should corporate communicators learn by this and put into practice in response?

The first question is easy to answer. Despite strides made by women and minorities, the corporate boardroom is still largely dominated by white men whose ages range from the 50s to the 60s. The corporate mindset is to not shake things up and interviews are about the company not about the CEO’s personal life. Likewise despite the transformation in America regarding the LGBT community, the corporate boardroom remains largely untouched in this category. Yet this is changing, as is the concept that a CEO’s personal life is largely not part of a company’s story.

This is no longer true. Consumers are buying the story of a brand and also that of the storyteller – the CEO. Consumers expect not only to know the brand message but also the story of the CEO, President, or Chairman of the Board who communicates the brand message. This means all aspects of a CEO’s life is subject to media scrutiny. Additionally, as this happens those who do not fit the corporate stereotype of old will find they are under greater media interrogation.

Is this fair? No. But it is the nature of our society, with a far more intrusive media operating, 24/7, social media, and citizen journalists with blogs.

Corporate communicators need to understand this changing dynamic and help affect a change in the corporate culture of companies. Corporations need to recognize that society has changed. The fact that a woman can be both a CEO and mother is no different than a male being both a CEO and father. Indeed, in this post recession society, many mothers are now the primary wage winner and the father is the stay at home parent. Corporations need to reflect and understand this dynamic. As they do, the media questions will begin to change. But for this to happen, the companies must reflect in their leadership and their culture the changes that are occurring in society.

Executives need to know that their lives will be examined under a microscope. The best thing to do is address personal issues proactively. Cook’s sexual preference should never have been outed on a national interview but the better course would have been for Cook to address this long before this, very much as football player, Michael Sam addressed his sexuality. Sexuality will continue to attract curiosity until corporate cultures reflect the changes we see in society. For this to happen, corporate communications must work in tandem with the executive leadership in conveying the message and new culture.

Yes, Mary Barra and Tim Cook seemed under attack this past week. Not because of anything they had done as CEOs but rather because they don’t resemble the CEOs of old, just as America doesn’t reflect the nation it was in the 1990s. For others who will resemble Cook and Barra, following in their footsteps, the challenge must be to communicate to the media and consumers that it’s a new culture in the boardroom.