Monday, March 03, 2008

"PR" can't be a mask for fake change

On Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008, every Starbucks restaurant in the world closed down for three hours.

The dramatic move was made by Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz, who recently came back to the company after a few years’ absence.

The reason for the shutdown? To get back to the company’s roots: re-educating 135,000 employees in its 7,100 locations in the "art of espresso."

Service at the well-known retailer has, many customers said, been lacking. Not helping was the clerks’ new task of making breakfast sandwiches, which some observers say took them away from their core business.

The sandwiches have been cut, and Schultz no doubt drove home the point that service must be Goal Number One at the company during the three-hour shutdown. But from a PR point of view, this will be seen as a great move only if it actually results in better service.

Otherwise, it will be seen as a stunt, and no one will be fooled.

Perceptions will be changed only if the shutdown and retraining result in positive changes that people notice.

It’s not "PR" to hold a retraining session and make it public. It’s whitewashing, and no one will be fooled.

But if this was a sincere effort to change poor service and a fuzzy mission that actually results in change and a clearer mission for the company, then it indeed will be.

I always advice clients never to lie about change, or about the need for them to change.
Customers will see right through it, and any value they may have accrued from acknowledging that need to change - and taking those positive steps - will be lost if it’s seen as mere whitewash.

Real change means taking real steps, and PR cannot be used to simply say changes were made when they were not.

Your customers and clients are too smart for that.

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