Creating bad press for free PR: Starbucks’ #Racetogether gimmick.


Starbucks’ new ‘Race Talk’ agenda must be noted as one of the most blatant, nauseating, transparent attempts at getting free press a company has ever done. Could a company be so disconnected with its surroundings to make a policy like this with no agenda? Maybe, but we are talking about one of the most powerful corporations in history here. A global corporation mind you, one that doesn’t usually get where they are without every single move they make being calculated and decisive.

To put it bluntly Starbucks probably cares little about race relations. They do some good things compared to other corporations, but the time for this kind of corporate policy was in the 1990s where a random 30 second discussion on race could actually do something. It might have broke barriers in the 90s, but in 2015? No, even though places like the USA still have horrid race issues the public discourse is now more open to race talk compared to the 90s. People want deeper treatment of the issues, people who ‘talk race’ demand and expect that if race is to be discussed it better mean something and produce results. Starbucks would have to be idiots to honestly think their new policy does anything. Starbucks as a corporation is not an idiot, you don’t become this kind of corporation being an idiot (unless you’re the NFL). They are a publicly traded multinational corporation that even carefully decides how napkins will be displayed in their shops. THEY HAVE A PROTOCOL FOR GLOBAL NAPKIN PLACEMENT! It would be foolish to think they didn’t know what kind of reaction they would receive before going public with it. So what is going on?

More likely than not Starbucks’ PR department is part brilliant + part pathetic. Most media outlets are so starved for attention that they will report on anything. News outlets have become glorified tabloid magazines and it’s likely that Starbucks’ PR team knew this story would be devoured. Pouring over just some of the many articles discussing the new ‘Race talk’ policy shows people (rightly) being critical of its effects or indented ones. So for days the internet has been talking about Starbucks…. for free. You can’t outright make Starbucks look evil or bad for this stunt. Most can see how transparently out of touch and ridiculous this policy is, but in the end you can’t outright bemoan them for an on paper good cause. Starbucks’ PR team probably knew this too; while people would think the move was pathetic, it would still just be days of the internet discussing Starbucks (for free) without any real damage to the company’s image. You can’t damage a company who is saying that they want better race relations and discourse. They may come off as pathetic, transparent, needy and misguided but the cause of better race relations shelters Starbucks from any real damage because it’s so important. Crappy media stunt = days of free press.

What should be done now is to frame Starbucks as hijacking an equity movement for free PR.

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