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.

Cases: 312608

Reported Deaths: 7221
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21429257
Hinds20256414
Harrison17776308
Rankin13539278
Jackson13395246
Madison10051217
Lee9956173
Jones8364163
Forrest7633152
Lauderdale7215240
Lowndes6359144
Lamar620286
Lafayette6162118
Washington5320133
Bolivar4796132
Oktibbeha460398
Panola4545104
Pearl River4495145
Marshall4387103
Warren4368120
Pontotoc419372
Monroe4089133
Union408776
Neshoba4028176
Lincoln3939110
Hancock376686
Leflore3484125
Sunflower335290
Tate331684
Pike3290105
Scott314873
Alcorn310768
Yazoo310269
Itawamba299377
Copiah295865
Coahoma293979
Simpson293788
Tippah287268
Prentiss278560
Marion268680
Leake264973
Wayne262241
Grenada259985
Adams259882
Covington256281
Newton246961
George246748
Winston226981
Tishomingo225067
Jasper220748
Attala214273
Chickasaw207057
Holmes188672
Clay184654
Stone181433
Clarke178179
Tallahatchie177840
Calhoun169532
Yalobusha162936
Smith162034
Walthall133745
Greene130233
Lawrence128223
Noxubee126834
Montgomery126742
Perry126038
Amite123442
Carroll121628
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104626
Claiborne102130
Benton99025
Humphreys96133
Kemper95628
Franklin83323
Quitman79616
Choctaw75818
Wilkinson66830
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 528784

Reported Deaths: 10913
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson762251516
Mobile40864804
Madison34569501
Tuscaloosa25646451
Montgomery24264585
Shelby23355246
Baldwin20993306
Lee15800168
Calhoun14457312
Morgan14250279
Etowah13796352
Marshall12166222
Houston10506280
Elmore10017205
Limestone9935150
Cullman9617193
St. Clair9584237
Lauderdale9397238
DeKalb8813185
Talladega8183175
Walker7205279
Autauga6910107
Jackson6793110
Blount6621135
Colbert6282134
Coffee5491115
Dale4810111
Russell437938
Chilton4244111
Franklin423882
Covington4105117
Tallapoosa4004150
Escambia392675
Chambers3545123
Dallas3536150
Clarke350360
Marion3092100
Pike309177
Lawrence299698
Winston273572
Bibb259763
Marengo248564
Geneva247075
Pickens233559
Barbour230256
Hale221776
Butler215469
Fayette211962
Henry188544
Cherokee183845
Randolph179241
Monroe176240
Washington166839
Macon158649
Clay153356
Crenshaw151657
Cleburne148341
Lamar141234
Lowndes138453
Wilcox126528
Bullock122941
Conecuh110028
Perry107526
Coosa106828
Sumter104132
Greene92234
Choctaw60324
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 73°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
74° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 74°
Oxford
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
70° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 70°
A little bit of disturbed air moves through our area on Thursday evening. This could give us a few scattered showers. Beyond that small chance, things look good in the weather forecast through our Saturday.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather