SEATTLE: Starbucks is sticking with an initiative it launched on Monday aimed at sparking discussion about race relations in America even though the effort is being widely criticized in the media and on social networks.
The backlash even caused the brand’s comms leader to quit Twitter early Tuesday.
Starbucks created the campaign "to stimulate conversation, compassion, and action around race in America with the goal of encouraging greater understanding and empathy," according to an email from Corey duBrowa, SVP of global communications and international public affairs.
Though seemingly well-intentioned, Starbucks bit off more than it could chew with the Race Together initiative, according to some critics in the media, who questioned whether the chain’s employees are qualified or patient enough to have such a sensitive conversation with customers. Others have commented that Starbucks could be trying to capitalize on racial tension in the US.
Despite opposition to the effort, duBrowa, who shut down his Twitter account on Tuesday after being flooded with negative comments, said the brand knew the campaign would be challenging.
"We knew this wouldn’t be easy, but we feel that it is worth the discomfort," he explained. "It’s very emotional."
In the last three months, Starbucks executives have visited nearly 2,000 staffers in Oakland, St. Louis, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and Seattle to hear their personal experiences. On Monday, Starbucks baristas around the country began trying to start dialogue on race with customers by writing "Race Together" on coffee cups.
"What we heard from our partners is that they wanted Starbucks to move beyond discussion and take action, so what you’re seeing this week is the first part of the action we plan to take while listening to our partners’ and customers’ points of view along the way," said duBrowa.
Edelman and SS+K have been handling PR for Race Together, he added.
DuBrowa explained that he shut down his Twitter account for a simple reason.
"My Twitter account was targeted around midnight [on Tuesday], and the tweets represented a distraction from the respectful conversation we’re trying to have around Race Together," he said.
DuBrowa added that he will be back on the social network soon, and Starbucks has announcements planned for its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday that will provide more details about and context around Race Together.
Even though he’s stepped off Twitter momentarily, users are still posting negative tweets about his role with the campaign.
@TwitchyTeam meanwhile the coward exec @coreydu deletes his twitter acct b/c he can't take the heat leaving baristas to deal w/ his mess— Sher (@ZephyrK9) March 17, 2015
Rough day for Corey duBrowa and Starbucks When will PR people learn how unforgiving Twitter is #RaceTogether— Joseph McKeating (@josifmck) March 17, 2015
Starbucks posted on Twitter on Tuesday that the race-relations effort is "worth a little discomfort" and linked to a campaign on its website.
The blog also features a video from its first employee meeting in December and explains Starbucks’ partnership with USA Today. Starting on Friday, the company will include a co-written Race Together newspaper supplement in print editions and in Starbucks stores.
DuBrowa said the chain is no stranger to difficult issues, such as gun laws, college education, or the government shutdown.
"Starbucks is not in the habit of standing by while difficult conversations take place," he said. "We want to be an up-stander, not a bystander."