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Starbucks Doesn't Support Israel (or PR Strategy)
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Since 2009, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been considered a Zionist and an ardent supporter of Israel. Personally, I don't think people give two squirts of caffeine in their triple-venti-half-sweet-non-fat-low-foam-tepid-caramel-macchiato about that (man, I hate those people). However, Palestinian groups have hated the baristas ever since because they have long believed a dollar in Starbucks' coffers is a donation in the Holy Land. Those rumors had subsided because Starbucks didn't care enough to answer to them. 

Today is a different story because this is a global brand, so PC needs to be a thing. And when that happens, often sticking your foot in your cafe is a distinct possibility. How so? What's a cardinal rule of crisis communications? Don't make a story where one doesn't exist. Always be transparent with information, but too many details may cause drama where it never existed. That could be the coffee beans Starbucks and Schultz find themselves in now. 

Recently, Starbucks has faced a global boycott of its services because of a possible partnership with carbonation manufacturer SodaStream, which is an Israeli company. The boycott is being created by the Palestinian Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee, which is also rumored to have started the pro-Israeli gossip five years ago. Fearing the worst for its money stores and staff, Starbucks has decided to make a soda machine of its own. And for good measure, the company put out a Q&A post entitled "Facts About Starbucks in the Middle East." 

See there? You didn't know there was this ballyhoo going on, right? Now you do, and the post from Starbucks is why. These rumors have been going on for years, but Starbucks' itchy trigger finger may have brought this kerfuffle more news than it deserved at this time. Here's the explanation: 

Though our roots are in the United States, we are a global company with stores in 65 countries, including nearly 600 stores in 12 Middle Eastern and North African countries employing more than 10,000 partners (employees). In countries where we do business, we are proud to be a part of the fabric of the local community — working directly with local business partners who operate our stores, employing thousands of local citizens, serving millions of customers and positively impacting many others through our support of local neighborhoods and cities.

In other words, "Israel who? We heart everyone." Much like indigestion after a molten Frappuccino, there's more...

Our 300,000 partners around the globe have diverse views about a wide range of topics. Regardless of that spectrum of beliefs, Starbucks has been and remains a non-political organization. We do not support any political or religious cause. Additionally, neither Starbucks nor the company’s chairman, president and ceo Howard Schultz, provide financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army in any way.

And now, everyone is searching "Schultz + Israeli Army" because of headlines this post provided, not because the Palestinian media is so savvy here in the states. Unfortunately, much like an unraveling lie a dunderhead boyfriend tells his girl, Starbucks keeps pouring the kerosene on by discussing why stores were actually closed in Israel...

We decided to dissolve our partnership in Israel in 2003 due to the on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market. When and where the business case makes sense and we see a fit for the Starbucks brand in a market we will work closely with a local partner to assess the feasibility of offering our brand to that community.

Understanding crisis communications, maybe "Fight Club" was right after all: "Tell no one about fight club." Sometimes, it's best to leave well enough alone. 

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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