On July 4th, a Starbucks barista asked six Tempe, Arizona police officers to leave the coffee shop after a customer stated that they did not feel safe due to the large police presence. After the incident, law enforcement supporters poured out their anger and frustration on social media. On Twitter, the Tempe Officers Association tweeted a graphic that eventually led to the trending hashtag #DumpStarbucks.
Not only did the incident quickly become national news, but it also spiraled into a major PR crisis for Starbucks. Blue Lives Matter advocates and coffee lovers nationwide anxiously waited to see how Starbucks would handle the controversial situation that was clearly not in line with the company’s core values. Thankfully, the crisis was resolved rather quickly with the utmost respect and consideration.
The day after the incident, the Tempe Police released a statement that revealed they already had a private discussion with the Starbucks Corporate Office and came to a mutual understanding about the barista’s actions and the company’s policies. After the discussion, Rossann Williams, Executive Vice President and President of U.S. Retail at Starbucks Coffee Company, released a public apology to the Tempe Police Department. In the following days, Williams met with the six officers and Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir to personally make amends. The Tempe Police Department then issued a final statement highlighting the resolution and their commitment to serving the community.
Kudos to both Starbucks and the Tempe Police Department for handling this PR crisis the right way. Both parties demonstrated empathy and civility from start to finish. The Springboard team has covered many situations like this before and it’s clear to see that Starbucks was aligned with our PR crisis playbook because they successfully executed a few best practices.
The Lessons Learned
First, honesty is always the best policy. Starbucks did not try to cover up the situation nor did they make excuses for the barista’s behavior. Second, training a spokesperson beforehand in the event that a PR crisis may arise is critical. Rossann Williams was properly prepared for the tough situation, which is how she handled it with such grace. Third, actions speak louder than words. Williams not only had a private phone call with the Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir, but she also went above and beyond by meeting with Moir and the six officers in person.
Every company, brand, and spokesperson can benefit from establishing a crisis communications plan before finding themselves in the hot seat. By strengthening core values and corporate responsibility, credibility and trust can be restored after a PR crisis.