Business 08 October 2018
It was announced yesterday, that in the wake of Starbucks’ Vice Chair Howard Schultz’s departure, the revered company executive Mellody Hobson will be taking his place.
Hobson, who boasts an impressive resume as a previous board member at Estée Lauder, DreamWorks Animation and Groupon, is the latest in a string of strategic post-crisis executive appointments that have caught the attention of true diversity advocates.
While the most recent HR move can, one side, be viewed as a natural promotion for a woman who has her fair share of experience and genuinely deserves it, it can also be looked at as a reaction to what Starbucks has been through in recent weeks. With the entire company taking four hours out of its workday last Tuesday to conduct racial bias training following a racially divisive scandal that caught the nation’s attention, it’s clear that they are under the “wokeness” microscope, and feel compelled to make it publically known, ever so slyly, that steps in the right direction are being made.
“I think Starbucks is sending a strong message in doing this,” Jeff Dickerson, a crisis communications adviser in Atlanta, told the Washington Post. “They’re bucking the trend, because ordinarily when large companies find themselves in this situation, they have counsel who will advise them against" admitting they'd done anything wrong.”
Without wanting to diminish the achievements of this incredibly qualified boss woman, is it perhaps, a little convenient that this appointment was made so close to the disaster that occurred not so long ago? Is this perhaps the most beautifully packaged PR stunt Starbucks has executed, superseding even that of the Unicorn Frappuccino?
Does this harken back to Uber’s genius move to appoint fan favorite Bozoma Saint John to her position as Chief Brand Officer in the wake of Travis Kalanick’s disastrous fall from grace? Is there a semblance of a pattern here?
And while sure, the end justifies the means [meaning we are always happy to see more female representation no matter the reason], wouldn't it be better practice to have women, and diversity as an integral part of the growth of the company from the get-go? Rather than this be a reactionary occurrence when a company is in panic mode, or when facing a crisis that begs a cataclysmic change of company culture, would it not be better to begin developing programs that aid those at a disadvantage entering the workplace?
Talking to Fortune last year, Ursula Burns, the first African-American woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Xerox, noted that the reason there are so few women of color at the top of the totem pole is because of the schooling in the country. “Not enough are coming out of the education system to get them all the way through to the C-suite,” she said. And while that might be true, the institutionalized bias against women in the workplace is another major contributing factor that goes almost unrecognized.
This self-serving, and somewhat predictable damage control move begs the question: Are these diverse women being promoted because of the mistakes of white men? And if so, why aren’t more companies proactively hiring or promoting diverse women in order to avoid these PR nightmares?
We recently explored the notion that women have been hired or promoted as CEOs of flailing companies, in order to become a scapegoat for a company’s failures. The “glass cliff,” the “glass ceiling’s” younger, more nefarious sibling, represents a situation whereby companies that are in trouble and looking for new leadership, turn to men first to help them out. But when these men, foreseeing a painful career catastrophe, turn them down, they then look to women, who invariably jump at the opportunity to breakthrough the proverbial glass ceiling, and take a job at the helm of a sinking ship.
“I think it’s good that she takes it [the job as CEO],” former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz told Freakonomics Radio. “I have no problem with that. But it’s not that all of a sudden the boards wake up and say, ‘Oh, there should be a female here.’ … It’s easier to hide behind: ‘Well, of course, that failed, because it was female.’”
So what do the glass ceiling women, like Bartz, and new hires, like Hobson and Saint John have in common? That they weren’t considered before there was a crisis.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.