Did They Really Say That?

Say What? Item 1: Who knew? The contest in November is Lady and the Trump. But did you know thinking about it will influence how much Starbucks you drink? It’s true.

A quick aside: During the 2013 annual meeting of British retailer Marks & Spencer, shareholders blasted its embattled leader Marc Bolland, quipping that the company’s operations resembled those of the hideously dysfunctional Grace Brothers, a fictitious department store in London that served as the setting for low-brow comedy hit Are You Being Served? (1972-85).

During one of the series' memorable moments, upper management asks why sales are off. Glib floorwalker Captain Stephen Peacock gives his clueless boss a laundry list of reasons that includes everything from the price of oil (possibly relevant), to political instability in the U.S. (Jimmy Carter has just been elected, which had little or no relevance for sales at a London department store) and bad weather (fairly relevant, much more so than Carter being in the White House). It’s a creative monologue that manages to get Peacock’s boss, the easily distracted Cuthbert Rumboldt, off the topic.

Peacock's list, a spoof for sure, is reminiscent of one part of the explanation Starbucks offered July 21 when discussing a sales-target miss, its third consecutive whiff. Starbucks’s officials said the quarter was an “anomaly,” owing to terror concerns around the world (sadly relevant), civil unrest (ditto) and political uncertainty in the U.S. Indeed, Starbucks president and operating chief Kevin Johnson noted weaker U.S. sales were linked to, wait for it, "uncertainty related to the presidential election," according to The Wall St Journal, July 22. (See, I told you—a presidential contest reduces the American penchant for expensive, caffeinated drinks. Or at least visiting a Starbucks to purchase one.)

Kidding aside, there were other reasons mentioned for the coffee maker's U.S. sales troubles, including marketing schedules. And again, to be fair, mention was made of maybe the most relevant factor: a “profound weakening in consumer confidence.” Of course, it's possible Starbucks's metrics show that people tend to avoid coming to its U.S. stores when they're ruminating on their political choices.  We'd like to see data on this.

Another theory, offered to Starbucks gratis by the political team here at PR News: Americans are so concerned about the coming elections they've abandoned strong coffee for much stronger drink. Barkeepers and liquor brands should be seeing an uptick in sales.

Donald Trump’s campaign responded immediately, blaming the politically induced downturn at Starbucks on Hillary Clinton and what he called her “weak candidacy.” Trump added, “It’s well known that only losers and Democrats favor the kind of overpriced swill, I mean coffee, that Starbucks serves. Since Democrats are so concerned about the next few months, and they should be, they’ve become afraid of leaving their homes in pursuit of Starbuck’s’ coffee. We need someone in the White House who can make America great again. And make it a place where Americans will have the peace of mind necessary to venture out for coffee, or whatever kind of drink they want.”

The Clinton camp returned serve, with a spokesperson blaming Starbucks’s weak sales figures on Trump’s “friends in Russia,” probably the same ones who allegedly hacked the Democrats’ email accounts showing DNC officials favored Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The implications for PR pros are so obvious we won’t elaborate on them here.

Say What? Item 2: My colleague, Mark Renfree, in a July 25 article , discusses issues at yet another retailer, Kmart. There’s a gulf between management and staff based on poor internal communication, he writes. Staff also fear for their jobs. Morale is suffering. While we’ll leave it to PR pros to debate how Kmart can attempt to resuscitate its brand with better communications, a quote from a Sears spokesperson seems to signal at least one issue: communicators using fancy words when directness might be a better choice.

Addressing the recent clearing of Kmart’s stockrooms, which led to employees fearing that the chain’s days, and their jobs, are numbered, the spokesperson said, “We are currently rolling out a phased project to refine our inventory replenishment process whereby deliveries are directed to Kmart store shelves instead of the stock rooms.” Huh?

After dashing off that statement, presumably using quill pen and ink, the spokesperson donned cricket attire and retired to a nearby pitch for several spirited innings. During luncheon, it’s reported that the spokesperson considered quaffing a Starbucks to begin a personal inventory replenishment process, whereby small quantities of dark, warm liquid are directed to the throat. The spokesperson eventually demurred, however. Instead the spokesperson spent the time thinking about the upcoming election.

Follow Seth Arenstein: @skarenstein