Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks Coffee Co., has a reputation for speaking his mind. His strongly voiced opinions help shape the company’s image.
In September 2013, Schultz paid for an advertisement in The New York Times in the form of a “Dear Fellow Americans” letter. In his message, he asks gun owners to refrain from bringing firearms into his cafes.
Around the same time, Schultz embarked on a media blitz to discuss his views. He emphasized he wasn’t pro- or anti-gun, but he simply wanted to create a gun-free “Starbucks experience.”
Stepping into a controversial issue poses hazards for any leader. But Schultz mitigated his risk by adopting a civil, respectful tone.
He begins his letter by summarizing his point in plain English. He asks customers to “no longer bring firearms” into Starbucks. He doesn’t equivocate or editorialize. And he writes in a clear, succinct tone.
He then explains that Starbucks seeks to offer a “third place” between home and work for customers to relax. He argues that the presence of guns might undermine the company’s goal of “a safe and comfortable respite.”
Schultz mentions that some states permit “open carry” of firearms. In light of such laws, he promises not to demand that every customer disarm. He thus makes his “request” without sounding strident.
His letter concludes with a call for unity, expressing pride in the United States and its “heritage of civil discourse and debate.”
— Adapted from “Good for Howard Schultz: Effective PR Advertising,” Fraser Seitel, O’Dwyer’s.
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