It’s hard to talk about race in America. Really hard.
Recently, Starbucks initiated a campaign to let their employees engage in race relations conversations with customers, specifically by writing “Race Together” on coffee cups.
Predictably, Starbucks was criticized, lampooned, vilified and mocked for its efforts. I’m not here to praise Starbucks for having solved racial tensions in America, but I’m also not going to join the piling on.
Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz seems to have been genuinely interested in trying to help with racial tensions in the country. The campaign didn’t seem like a cheap PR stunt or gimmick cooked up by a PR department just trying to generate column inches. The intentions seem legitimate, even if the implementation was less than perfect.
So how will Starbucks “Race Together” campaign be judged by PR mavens, in 6 months, a year, or five years?
I suspect the campaign will not hurt Starbucks in the least. Is a typical Starbucks customer really going to say “I’m switching to McDonalds because Starbucks tried to talk about race?” Doubtful.
But the campaign also won’t be seen as a huge success that generated a billion dollars worth of positive PR resulting in double digit growth for the quarter either.
Instead, I think Starbucks will be seen as having tired to do something widely ambitious, something everyone else thought was dangerous and risky, and will be seen as not having succeeded, and therefore, judged a mild failure. But at least Starbucks tried something different and something out of the ordinary for a purpose that wasn’t just bottom line oriented. And ultimately, that will help Starbucks public reputation and corporate culture in the long run.
TJ Walker is a communications consultant. You can reach him at Media Training Worldwide 212.764.4955.