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Strategy for Disney and Starbucks: Quick, bold action against racism

Starbucks and Disney made it clear on Wednesday: Companies that want to manage a crisis have to act fast.For a...

Posted: May 31, 2018 5:12 AM
Updated: May 31, 2018 5:12 AM

Starbucks and Disney made it clear on Wednesday: Companies that want to manage a crisis have to act fast.

For a long time, businesses were able to wait for the storm to pass. Now, social media means crises are magnified and last longer. So when controversies flare up, especially around sensitive topics like race, businesses have to respond immediately - or risk making the crisis worse.

"Things are imminently visible now," said Ed Zitron, founder of media relations company EZPR. "Two black men being arrested from a Starbucks is no longer something that is local paper fodder."

Starbucks has been working for weeks on an anti-bias training in response to the incident.

On the same day that Starbucks reclaimed the narrative of its public relations crisis, Disney rushed to quash its own.

Hours after comedian Roseanne Barr made racist comments on Twitter, Disney canceled her ABC show. At the same time, Starbucks was closing about 8,000 stores to conduct racial bias training for 175,000 employees. The training was announced in April after two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks.

"These are two illustrations of great ways to handle a crisis," said Bryan Reber, a public relations professor at the University of Georgia.

Related: ABC cancels 'Roseanne' after star's racist Twitter rant

Reber lauded Disney, ABC's parent company, for "[coming] out quickly and firmly." When managing a crisis, he said, firms should "make an apology as is necessary and ... let your public know the way forward." Disney followed that playbook, he said. "I don't think they had much of a choice."

He added that the decision might get some pushback from Barr's fans.

Companies should generally follow three rules when responding to a crisis: Be fast, be factual and be flexible, according to Andrew Gilman, founder of the crisis communications firm CommCore Consulting Group.

Disney acted quickly and responded to the facts. In this case, he said, there was no room to be flexible.

"They basically tried to cut out the cancer rather quickly by removing Roseanne," Gilman said.

"This is the instant 'good job,'" he said. But "they haven't changed the narrative."

He added that a member of Disney's leadership team should send out a memo to staff reaffirming that Barr's statements don't align with company culture.

Related: Howard Schultz: We need to talk about race in America

It might be tricky for Disney to get that message across. Barr has a long history of controversial tweets, including sharing conspiracy theories.

"Overall, they will look good for this," Zitron said of Disney's decision to cancel the show. But he said that in the long term, letting her past behavior slide "will reflect poorly on them."

Starbucks, likewise, won praise for how it responded to the arrest.

That doesn't mean it is free from criticism today. But the company has managed to set the terms of the discussion.

"You can criticize Starbucks all you want to on whether this [response] is too little," Gilman said. But "that' s a good debate to have." Rather than focusing on the incident itself, critics are now wondering if Starbucks' anti-bias efforts are enough.

On Tuesday, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz published an open letter to customers. He wrote that in the roughly six-week period since the arrest, the company has "reflect[ed] more deeply on all forms of bias," and put together an elaborate training.

Reber said the letter helped explain to customers why there was a lag between the arrest and the training. That extra time also helped Starbucks contain the crisis.

"They responded quickly at the time, but they asked for a grace period for them to get their plan together."

"What that did was buy them another positive news cycle," Reber said. "And we're talking about it again."

- CNN's Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this report.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35419

Reported Deaths: 1230
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds290851
DeSoto190019
Madison144638
Jones120349
Harrison113616
Rankin108715
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Forrest99343
Lauderdale96381
Scott81915
Jackson77519
Washington72213
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Lee61222
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Lowndes54813
Lamar5347
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Lincoln52935
Pike49920
Lafayette4974
Sunflower4778
Monroe45635
Panola4486
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Simpson3933
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Newton37510
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Clay25811
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Jefferson Davis1204
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George1163
Greene11310
Amite1103
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Wilkinson989
Tishomingo971
Perry874
Choctaw754
Stone742
Franklin542
Sharkey480
Benton460
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6433170
Mobile4753139
Montgomery4430112
Tuscaloosa263253
Madison21199
Marshall192611
Shelby164225
Lee157237
Morgan12695
Baldwin120711
Walker106131
Elmore102920
Dallas9969
Etowah95114
DeKalb9417
Franklin93216
Autauga67614
Russell6750
Chambers67427
Unassigned65328
Butler65129
Tallapoosa62869
Limestone6223
Houston5857
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Lauderdale5686
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Colbert4956
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Jackson4182
Covington41412
Barbour3942
Dale3911
Talladega3897
Bullock37710
Marengo35211
Hale34823
Chilton3232
Clarke3126
Wilcox3038
Blount2961
Winston2965
Sumter29113
Marion27514
Pickens2696
Randolph2589
Monroe2553
Perry2362
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Macon2159
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Greene1959
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