A few weeks ago the Times profiled Costco and compared its labor relations policies favorably with Wal-mart. I wrote this admiring post about Costco. One of the benefits of working at Costco touted in the article was its excellent health insurance plan which covered far more employees and far more comprehensively than Walmart’s.
Someone in Starbuck’s marketing department must’ve been reading that story because Starbucks ran a full page ad in last week’s New York Times promoting its comprehensive health care plan for its employees:
If Coffee is Our Bread and Butter, Health Insurance is the Jelly:
Do you know someone who doesn’t have heath insurance? Our point exactly. That’s why we offer it even to our part-time employees. Financially, that means we spend as much on health coverage as we do on coffee beans. And we buy a lot of beans. But investing in one’s employees means they tend to stick around…We had always hoped that making values-based decisions could still be economically feasible. Turns out, taking care of people is the best decision we ever made.
Well, OK, maybe that first line isn’t the most elegant advertising copy ever written. But it’s sure a breath of fresh air when a company brags how well it treats its employees as opposed to how many cups of latte it sold (not that Starbucks is stinting on that score either).
Though I’ve been known to write disparagingly about the dubious marketing and advertising practices of some U.S. companies (notably drug and car makers), I believe that companies who treat their employees well should be commended. And Starbucks deserves lots of credit for bucking the Wall Street consensus that says: “if you want to be our darling give your employees the absolute least you can get away with–minimal pensions, minimal health insurance.” It takes either a very strong company or a very courageous CEO (or both) to buck that trend. So hat’s off to Starbucks.
My slightly suspicious self says that any company can say whatever grand things about itself it wishes in such advertising, so I’d love to hear from Starbucks employees on whether they feel the ad is a fair representation of the company’s health plan.
UPDATE: Susanne (see comment below) informs me that as a former Starbucks employee, she could never amass the 240 hours you needed in a quarter to qualify for health coverage. She found that even most supervisors couldn’t qualify either.
On the other hand, I did some googling and discovered this thread at Starbuckunion.org in which some employees agree with Susanne and some say they’ve never had a problem getting the hours they need to qualify for coverage.
A sure way to get an answer would be to know how many employees DO qualify in an average quarter?
But I do have to say that the company leaves me scratching my head over the way I was treated when I contacted their press relations office asking for a good, clean jpeg of the NYT ad so I could display it here. After several days of delay on Heather Robertson’s part I finally wrote:
I find it quite astonishing that Starbuck’s doesn’t appear very interested in helping a blogger who actually wants to write a nice post about an aspect of corporate policy. I’ve taken my own digital image of the advertisement in the NY Times & if Starbucks isn’t prepared to help me get a print quality copy of it I’ll just have to post what I have in my blog w/o it.
To which Heather replied:
I …check[ed] with the appropriate people to see if we could authorize use of the ad…unfortunately, we are not able to share a jpeg of the ad with you.
And finally, I concluded the e mail exchange by writing:
Pls. tell whoever refused my request that reluctantly I’ll be including this information in my blog post. Your company should really try to develop a more cooperative relationship with bloggers. We’re free publicity after all & we do have some reach.
To which Heather never replied.
This should be a lesson to corporate marketing and press relations staff on how not to relate to bloggers. And it’s also an indication of how a fairly sophisticated company which prides itself on being progressive and technically savvy, completely misses the ball when it comes to blogs. We have the power to shape messages. We have the power to educate our readers. Yet Starbucks has missed out on what might’ve been an opportunity for free publicity. Well, not exactly because I did give them free publicity above. But my right hand took away what my left hand had given in this concluding part of my post.
While I’ve never worked in marketing or press relations and don’t know what professional reasons there may be for refusing my request, there certainly must be a better way of interacting with the blogworld than this.
And finally here’s another tidbit I’d never have said if Starbucks had been a bit more forthcoming: I hate Starbucks coffee. Though I do like their Mocha Java ice cream (carried by Costo!). But that’s a whole other post…