Starbucks In Crisis - Anti-bias Training

Most experts in public relations will say that it’s often not the crisis itself that determines the fate of a brand, but how the brand handles the crisis. When handled well, consumers often forgive a brand and move on...sometimes pretty quickly, of course depending on the depth of the crisis. When the crisis is not handled well, consumers can have a very long memory...and act accordingly.

Starbucks found itself in a massive crisis  this week when two black men were arrested in one of their locations in Philadelphia. They were apparently just there to meet a friend and use the bathroom, but hadn’t ordered anything. Been there, done, that but without the arrest.

Bad situation to say the least, especially for the two gentlemen. Starbucks immediately sprung into action.

I’m not saying proof positively that consumers will forgive Starbucks this time around, but I am going to say that the brand handled the crisis very well and very quickly.

The CEO immediately made a statement, taking responsibility and announcing that the arrests are a “reprehensible outcome.”  Then just a few days later he announced that the company will be closing 8,000 of their stores on May 29th to give their 175,000 employees “anti-bias training.” Closing 8,000 stores for a day! He also pledged to do whatever necessary to correct the situation and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

This type of anti-bias training across a huge portion of their employee base could be setting a trend not only for how to handle a situation of this sort, but also how to truly impact change...especially when you’re a brand so entrenched in many of our daily lives and certainly in many of our communities.

They’re putting their money where their mouth is to try to correct a horrible mistake.

This isn’t the first time that the brand has been in the middle of tensions surrounding race relations. Back in 2015, Starbucks threw themselves in the middle with a cup campaign called #RaceTogether where they encouraged customers to talk about race relations with their baristas. It didn’t go well, and the brand quickly called off the initiative. Smart move.

Will consumers forgive Starbucks this time around? Is the brand acting appropriately, given the situation? What’s your experience? JIM