“That’s An Interesting Idea, But…”

A few posts back, my friend Loveland wrote about PR people playing the role of Chief Wet-Blanket Officer (CWO) for their organizations — dampening expectations so that reality, when it arrives as it inevitably does, doesn’t disappoint by comparison.

I’d extend the duties of the CWO to include the occasional gentle handling of an idea that comes from within an organization that 1) someone thinks would make great PR while 2) we lofty PR professionals don’t.

Today, Starbucks is closing almost all of its U.S. locations, more than 7,000 of them, for three hours to do employee training. It’s the kind of thing I could see the PR/CWO hearing about and naysaying — “Interesting, sure, but not a lot of PR ammo here, really. Next agenda item.”

But, as it happens, I’ve been hearing about this story all day. A nice coverage coup for Starbucks, and a reminder, perhaps, to encourage the keeping of one’s wet-blanketing reflexes from becoming too smothering.

– Hornseth

8 thoughts on ““That’s An Interesting Idea, But…”

  1. jmaustin says:

    Far be it for me to disagree – or maybe I’m agreeing – with my colleague, but I do. I think the Starbucks idea was a huge mistake that served only to highlight for people that Starbucks is in trouble and the PR people – or someone – should have drowned this idea in a sopping wet blanket. A three-hour stop to the day to teach employees how to correctly make their basic product? To practice basic customer service like “make eye contact” and “say thank you”?

    Pretty far fall from a company that regularly makes all those lists – “Most Admired”, “Best to Work For”, etc. Their tactic simply draws attention to the fact that they’ve over-expanded and let the quality of their product deteriorate.

    – Austin

  2. Hornseth says:

    My attempted point had more to do with the job of predicting whether the idea would play than whether it was a smart message, but Austin raises an even more interesting question (that’s so like him).

    But in any case I’m not persuaded by it and will disagree right back at my right honorable friend.

    What do you think, Crowd? Would Starbucks take that one back if they could?

  3. Kelly Groehler says:

    You’re applauding the quantity of coverage as “good PR,” when the real value is in what it says about the organization, and further, how public sentiment is affected by it. I’m with Austin on this one.

    (That said, I’m sure this body of work will be entered for an industry award, with impression numbers in the bajillions used to validate it success. Because, you know, that’s what good PR is.)

  4. jloveland says:

    Rather than judging it by how it turned out, I think you have to look at the pre-training risk equation.

    To me, the day this idea came up at Starbuck’s the list of potential pros (e.g. improved service, spotlight quality improvement culture, etc.) would have been slightly less compelling that the list of potential cons (e.g. lost revenue, spotlight expansion-driven erosion of service quality, etc.), so I would have counseled against. But it’s a close call.

    I am pretty surprised they didn’t encounter more of a “Expansion-Stressed Starbuck’s Scrambles To Stem Quality Erosion” vibe. That would have been pretty damaging, especially because there is considerable truth behind it. But even now that I know that they seem to have avoided that kind of hit, I would’ve argued for training in a way that is less disruptive and more below the radar.

    P.S. Great post and topic Hornseth.

  5. Kelly Groehler says:

    I think it’ll be telling to see how the story continues to play out – maybe the vibe isn’t there now, but let some business pundits and bloggers sink their teeth into it, and it may go that way. Better said – I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t, given the macro conditions.

    P.S. Ditto, Hornseth, despite the wet blanket I tossed back over it.

  6. Hornseth says:

    No, I don’t contend that impression numbers make this “good” (forgive me if I give that, well, impression). Although I admit I was struck and surprised by them in this case.

    I’m just not persuaded that the result is reflecting badly on the organization. If it is, I’m not seeing it much in the coverage. At least not yet, anyway.

    If it turns out that way, then sure, bad. But the takeaway I’m seeing is “company that’s admittedly in the midst of a bit of a a slump commands attention for doing something sort of novel to address it.”

  7. Hornseth says:

    And good points, Kelly and Joe. At any rate, I think we may have identified a new term: Retroactive Wet-Blanketization. Or something like that.

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