Starbucks’ Small Business Campaign Can Be Both Philanthropy and PR

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Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz appeared on the Today show yesterday to introduce  that company’s new philanthropic campaign, which seeks to raise money that will help small businesses in need of loans. Launched in collaboration with Create Jobs for USA and the Opportunity Finance Network, Starbucks is getting the ball rolling with a $5 million donation. And each $5 donation from consumers will get them a wristband that shows support.

During the Today show appearance, Matt Lauer played devil’s advocate, asking Schultz to address any “cynicism” out there about this being a PR project. “I can assure you, this is nothing about marketing,” Schultz replied. He continued, in response to another question, “This is not about PR.”

Lauer said at one point, “You say it’s not PR, but it sounds a lot like a PR campaign.” Why can’t it be both philanthropic and a PR campaign?

CSR programs have been around for eons. The goal, as it’s usually explained, is to do good while establishing the supporting company as a good corporate citizen and build customer loyalty.

Over on the PRSAY blog, Arthur Yann threw Tom Cruise’s words at Lauer, accusing the morning show host of being “glib.” I think he was just doing his job. Fact is, he’s right. This does sound like a PR campaign and he’s right to point out what the detractors will say. Honestly, he did Schultz a favor by giving him a chance to respond.

But rather than using his response to try and distance himself from the fact that there is PR involved in this, Schultz should’ve just owned up to it. He could’ve simply said, “Sure, we want to help. We want people to know that Starbucks cares about the issue and we’re going to let people know about it. And if that makes us look good, great.” Saying that it’s not about PR actually sounds disingenuous when there’s nothing really wrong here with the truth.

And if he had said that, industry advocates would’ve pounced all over it with their message that PR can do good for society.