Starbucks on the defensive from pro-union video activism.

Video is a very powerful and effective way to communicate. We’re going to be seeing more videos like this one.

Brave New Films is an organization at the leading edge of video activism. It creates news magazine style videos that examines / ‘exposes’ a range of political issues. Recently it has turned it’s sights on the ‘socially conscious’ Starbucks. The above video details a variety of anti-union activities that Starbucks has allegedly taken part in recently and it encourages viewers to spread the word. The production values are very good and I’m certain it has Starbuck’s full attention as well as the attention of their PR Team.

In a previous post I talked about how Dominos had used YouTube to respond to a PR crisis it was facing. Domino’s was harmed and the CEO spoke out honestly and emphatically that his company was doing everything it could to make the best of a bad situation. This new video calls out Starbucks and directly challenges CEO Howard Shultz. Should Starbucks respond to this video with their own video? Yes they should, but in a very different manner than Domino’s had chosen.

Shultz won’t respond directly to the accusations in this video because it’s a discussion he can never ‘win’. Some topics – abortion, gun control, the death penalty etc. are emotionally charged with as many advocates as opponents. Most politicians / business leaders chose to avoid these types of issues wherever possible. Should Starbucks avoid this issue? Of course not – the social media channels are alight with this discussion and it isn’t going to go away. Starbucks has to find a way to communicate its position on employment (unions) without getting sucked into a vortex of angry politics and vitriol (check out the comments on YouTube to get a sense of the passion behind this topic). Starbucks is a business – it would prefer not to have unions operating in its stores – no surprise there. The self-inflicted added burden that Starbucks carries is that it has tried to position itself as a caring and socially consious company. (WalMart, by contrast has never been hobbled by this positioning.)

The timing of this video coincides with a major marketing campaign by Starbucks that attempts to position the company as rethinking and resetting its goals and reaching out to its various constitutiencies. In other words, the timing couldn’t be worse. So what would you do if you were leading Starbucks PR team?

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