There are different strategies that help one to successfully develop the business. Public relations play a crucial role in it as they influence the spread of the information of a certain company and help to point it into the right direction. The specialists in the field are perfectly aware of these features, and their diligent work shows how brands can benefit from the correct PR campaign. At the same time, the opposite is true as well. Sometimes, brilliantly planned spread of information may lead to unintended consequences. One of the greatest examples of it is Starbucks. This multinational company has a long history of ups and downs but still maintains a good image due to the efficient public relations.
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To start with, the corporation effectively uses social media to promote itself. Its CEO, Howard Shultz, and the PR team started to engage people to talk about different controversial topics a long time ago. It was an original way to demonstrate the company’s involvement in urgent social issues. As a result, the corporation excelled in employing social media marketing to promote its products and services. At first, there were discussions about gun control and gay marriage (Harwell 2015). As these campaigns proved to be successful, the company’s PR team decided to stick to the line further. So, the next step was to initiate debates about race this year. For that purpose, Starbucks employees from 12,000 locations across the US were asked to write “Race Together” on the cups and stickers. Besides, the company started the forums in the social media to discuss race, and as Mr. Schultz said, “foster dialogue and empathy and help bridge the racial and ethnic divides within our society that have existed for so many years” (Dean 2015).
Even though the previous campaigns met a positive response from the public, the discussions about race caused a wave of criticism. In the United States “Some said they didn’t want to talk about such a serious and sensitive issue while grabbing their morning cup of coffee. Calling the effort cynical, others pointed out that Starbuck’s executive ranks are mostly white while its baristas are disproportionally minorities”. (Comcowich 2015)
There were also those who said that Starbucks should not have raised this issue because “Race relations […] is an inherently aggressive topic. It’s rarely fodder for brief, upbeat discussions” (Hayward 2015). In response to a great amount of criticism, Corey duBrowa, the corporation’s Senior Vice President of Global Communications, even shut down his Twitter account for 24 hours.
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One may assume that the company definitely faced such negative consequences of bad PR as bad publicity, lower productivity, poor referrals, loss of trust and damaged brand association. However, it is worth stating that Starbucks has learned to benefit from negative PR and use it for communicating and promoting the products and services, as well. For example, one of the seemingly “badmouthing” incidents that took place this year in relation to the corporation turned out to be a word-of-mouth blessing for the company. It is the notorious event related to Starbucks boycott based on religious grounds. Everything started from the video made by Joshua Feuerstein in which he urged Americans to boycott Starbucks because of the offensive design of the Christmas cups (Meritt 2015). From his point of view, the company made an offensive move when it produced the cups without the inscription “Merry Christmas” there. For that reason, a man encouraged everyone to join his movement against Starbucks. Nevertheless, his video has the opposite effect. It became viral and created a real buzz around the company and worked as a viral marketing. As a result, it brought the corporation no harm and even increased its popularity.
These two examples show the exact benefits of good PR. When a company has good image, successful public relations and communication with public may easily increase the brand affiliation. Starbucks PR team managed to launch two successful campaigns related to the social issues. At the same time, drawing attention to the “aggressive” topic of race was a risky move that brought the controversy and much criticism. It made the customers embarrassed and outraged. However, from a PR perspective, Race Together campaign was a successful one since Starbucks achieved the desired goals by launching it. Paradoxically, the raised controversy and its extent assisted in reaching the company’s mission to have some talk. Angry discussions in the social media raised the awareness of the need of the public dialog about race relations. Furthermore, it also prepared Americans to be more open when talking about such risky issues.
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Based on the Starbucks case, other brands may learn about the good public relations, and how they affect the working of an organization. Good ideas do not necessarily bring the corresponding results. What can seem as a wonderful concept in theory may prove to be a failure or bring unexpected results. The opposite is true as well. What started as a boycott against the company may improve its image and turn it into a more positive one (Kiousis, Popescu & Mitrook 2007). Thus, the implementation of PR strategy has an important meaning for the final outcome. As it was stated previously, the “Race Together” campaign was criticized as too aggressive. They should not have written “Race Together” on the cups. In case of Starbucks, this space is reserved for the names of the customers. Apart from that, this situation shows that social media can act for and against a brand. Besides, campaigns with social underlying message are of the high risk. Efficient social campaign requires a perfect awareness of the target audience and ability to forecast the reaction of the society.Starbucks PR team should take all these things into consideration in the future (Smith 2013).
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To conclude, public relations are very important for successful functioning of any company. Thoughtful campaigns increase brand loyalty, maintain the positive image of a business and lead to the development of the organizations. Meanwhile, public relations demand the perfect knowledge of one’s audience and awareness of all potential outcomes of the strategy applied. The example of Starbucks shows how planned campaign may bring unexpected results. Their “Race Together Campaign” managed to start a discussion in the society but also caused a great wave of criticism. Better planning could have prevented the negative outcomes of the company or minimize them. At the same time, unplanned actions can have a positive influence on the customers. In a digital era, PR experts should be open to the word of mouth in all its displays including viral videos in the social networks.