Starbucks ‘Race Together’ Controversy: Backlash Forces Starbucks To Defend #RaceTogether Campaign

March 17, 2015 | By Garrett Montgomery More

Starbucks’ “Race Together” controversy is a lesson in bad marketing plans, some say. Starbucks’ “Race Together” drama has arrived on social media, forcing the company’s SVP Global Communications to delete his Twitter account. After one year of preparation, Starbucks’ “Race Together” marketing scheme dreamed by Howard Schultz was launched. The idea was simple enough, if a customer agrees, a barista would write “Race Together” on their cup, hoping to spark a conversation or debate on race in America. But people disapprove of the plan saying Starbucks is overreaching.

Starbucks race together controversy

Starbucks’ “Race Together” controversy is a PR nightmare that the company is unable to control. The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, had a dream in 2014, find a way to have his clients tackling the thorny topic of race as they enjoy their coffees.

Schultz said that he felt compelled after the events in Florida, Missouri and New York to take action and launch the “Race Together” campaign.

This is how the campaign was supposed to work. When a customer purchased a beverage at Starbucks, the barrista would ask him/her if they accepted to have the words “Race Together” written on their cup.

Mr Schultz is hoping that the message on the cup will be a conversation starter on race, injustice and how America needs to move on forward as one nation.

In a press release, the business mogul, revealed that he hopes the campaign will help Americans find solutions to the problem, instead of blaming one another. The statement read:

“As racially-charged tragedies unfolded in communities across the country, the chairman and ceo of Starbucks didn’t remain a silent bystander. Howard Schultz voiced his concerns with partners (employees) in the company’s Seattle headquarters and started a discussion about race in America.

Despite raw emotion around racial unrest from Ferguson, Missouri to New York City to Oakland, “we at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America,” Schultz said. “Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”

Partners were not silent. For more than an hour, at an all-hands meeting at the Starbucks Support Center, partners representing various ages, races and ethnicities passed a microphone and shared personal stories.

“The current state of racism in our country is almost like humidity at times. You can’t see it, but you feel it,” said one partner.”

He explained that the idea for the Starbucks “Race Together” marketing scheme came to him during a forum in 2014, where many of their partners and staff members asked how can they engage in racial matters. The CEO revealed:

“Thousands more voices continue the conversation

Over the past three months, more than 2,000 Starbucks partners have discussed racial issues at open forums in Oakland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York and Chicago.

In the midst of a conversation with partners in St. Louis, a soft spoken young man shared that he was proud to have reached the age of 20.

“The magnitude of that statement might have been lost on many in the room, but for me, it brought to light a deeply troubling situation. For some young people in our country, just staying alive is their biggest and most important accomplishment,” said Kelly Sheppard, a Starbucks 15-year partner who attended two of the forums. “How could that be in 21st century America with all of the promise and opportunity our nation provides?”

In each forum, partners demonstrated vulnerability and courage as they shared personal stories. It was clear to those who attended, the gatherings highlighted the mission and values of Starbucks, and the partners’ desire to do more.
Starbucks customers are invited to join the discussion.”

He went on to add that several cities are already taking part in the campaign. The statement continued:

“Baristas in cities where the forums were held said they wanted to do something tangible to encourage greater understanding, empathy and compassion toward one another. Given their willingness to discuss race relations, many partners wanted to begin conversations with their customers too. Partners in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Oakland and Los Angeles have voluntarily begun writing “Race Together” on Starbucks cups. Partners in all Starbucks stores in the U.S. will join them today. Partners in Starbucks® stores may also engage customers in conversation through Race Together stickers available in select stores, and a special USA Today newspaper section arriving in stores later this week.

In addition, full-page ads in The New York Times and USA Today support the Race Together initiative, which will be further outlined during Starbucks 2015 Annual Meeting of Shareholders in Seattle on Wednesday.

Race Together is not a solution, Schultz acknowledged, “but it is an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society – one conversation at a time.”

Schultz’s latest effort has set off a Twitter storm of criticism. Twitter users made it clear that religion, politics and race should not be discussed during a coffee run.

Here are few comments related to the Starbucks “Race Together” controversy:

The harsh comments stemming from the Starbucks “Race Together” controversy prompted Corey duBrowa, SVP Global Communications, to delete his Twitter account. He later returned and apologized.

“Why I deleted my Twitter account, and why I’m back. Last night, around midnight, I deleted my Twitter account. I also blocked a handful of Twitter users — given the hostile nature of what I was seeing, it felt like the right thing to do. I’ve been a dedicated — some might say obsessive — Twitter user for nearly seven years and as a professional communicator, Twitter has proven to be a valuable tool for me to interact with my professional community, with media, on behalf of Starbucks, as well as “on behalf of me.”

But last night I felt personally attacked in a cascade of negativity. I got overwhelmed by the volume and tenor of the discussion, and I reacted. Most of all, I was concerned about becoming a distraction from the respectful conversation around Race Together that we have been trying to create. To be clear, Race Together isn’t about me, it’s about we: and having heard first-hand the number of stories our partners (at Starbucks we call our employees “partners”) shared with us in the open forums of the past few months, I have thought long and hard about the passion, concerns and painful experiences our people across the country have endured, and wanting to make sure they felt supported by their company.

So no matter how ugly the discussion has been since I shut my account down, I’m reaffirming my belief in the power of meaningful, civil, thoughtful, respectful open conversation — on Twitter and everywhere else. I believe in it personally, and Starbucks believes in it at the core of our company’s values. It’s this belief that led us to host a series of open forums with our partners in some of the communities most affected by the recent flareups of racial tension across the country. In those meetings, we heard loud and clear that we, as a company, have an opportunity to engage on this topic, no matter how difficult. You can learn more about those meetings, and about what Starbucks is doing, here:

I’m going to do the same. I’m only one guy, and I do actually sleep occasionally (and definitely needed to last night), but I personally will answer the challenge to participate where it’s uncomfortable, and to do so with integrity, openness, and empathy.”

What are your thoughts on the “Race Together” drama?


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