Public relations at its best acts as the conscience of a company.
Here’s what I mean. Companies often go through the painstaking exercise of crafting a mission or values statement. For example Starbucks adheres to the following values:
Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.
Companies also spend an inordinate amount of time and money figuring what their brands should represent. This work can go on for weeks — or even months — backed by an unlimited supply of Skittles, Red Bull and focus groups.
Whether it’s values or a mission statement or brand attributes, it’s all theoretical as in this is how we want potential customers to perceive us. If they perceive us this way, there’s a high probability that they’ll buy our products or services.
In my PR Utopia, PR has a seat at the table — yes that table, the one made of thick mahogany where each chair has the trade-in value of a used Volvo — and a voice with the other executives who lead the company. This allows PR to ensure that decisions align with the company’s aspired values/mission/brand. If they don’t, PR has a platform on which to voice concerns and participate in a dialogue that adjusts or reconciles the issues.
This is the opposite of spin, making sure the actions — and the communication of those actions — reflect the inner makings of the company.
Remember, I said “PR Utopia.”
A guy can dream.
I’ve been thinking about this issue since listening to the presentation from Corey duBrowa, who heads global communications for Starbucks, at the Innovation Summit last month. His talk highlighted how social media exposed Starbucks for opening a new store that fell woefully short of Starbucks’ standards.
This goes deeper than PR having a seat at the table. Corey’s coffee mug sits on the same table as Howard Schultz’s. But does Starbucks have the type of culture that allows the PR folks on the front line to speak up? In other words, Corey, Howard and the rest of the Starbucks executive management team aren’t diving into the minutia of every new store. Yet, somewhere along the line someone from the communications team must have noticed the store set the ugly finder howling. Did this person speak up and challenge the status quo (in the company’s value statement)? Is the culture such that PR can challenge the company on an issue — the quality of a new store’s physical structure — that sits outside the conventional realm of PR?
Obviously, I don’t know the answer.
What I can share is that roughly seven months later, Starbucks took the action of renovating the Highlands store.
I suspect Starbucks PR machinery is gearing up to promote the Highlands Opening 2.0.
Sidenote: If you’re interested in how the debacle was covered last July, check out BusinessInsider’s “This Prison-Like Starbucks Is Being Mocked As The Most Depressing In America.”