When you go into Starbucks, you probably are thinking about what tasty treat or over-priced sandwich you want to get…not race. However, the coffee chain wants you to think about race and racism. It has launched the “Race Together” campaign, in which Starbucks employees will be encouraged to discuss race in their stores. Baristas will “have the option” of writing “race together” on cups.
For obvious reasons, this has left the chain open to attacks that they are using racism to sell more coffee. Backlash was quick, and many used social media as an outlet to attack the chain. Many of those attacks were directed at Corey duBrowa, the Senior Vice President of Communications for Starbucks. Initially, duBrowa took to Twitter to promote the effort:
Many critical Twitter users found themselves blocked and tweeted screen shots as such.
And then, this happened:
Yes, duBrowa deleted his Twitter account.
Naturally, the news stories were brutal, as were the tweets:
Then, about a day after he first deleted the Twitter account, duBrowa came back:
In the explanation, duBrowa noted:
…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.
As for why he came back:
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.
In other words, duBrowa is human and got upset. It happens.
The lesson here? First, Starbucks and duBrowa should have seen this backlash coming. Any time a commercial entity delves into a national conversation about a hot-button issue, particularly one as controversial as race and racism, they leave themselves open to attacks that they are seeking to profit off of controversy. Starbucks, and duBrowa, should have had a better communications plan that dealt with rebutting this narrative. duBrowa also should have been better prepared to defend the plan, and not block people – that, frankly, looked terrible, and in a situation like this, only escalated negative feelings.
In other words, if you are going to court controversy, expect and be prepared for controversy.
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