Friday, February 1, 2008

The January BS award goes to...

Well, it's a tie. As you're probably aware, I've been giving out a bullshit of the month award since Letterman first went on the air back in the late '50s. As we approach the final minutes of the final hour of the final day of the first month of the year, I *thought* we had an outright winner--the Air Canada spokesman for his ridiculous comment on the unfortunate event that happened earlier this week.

In case you missed it, the co-pilot of an Air Canada 767 had a serious behavioral issue (which some in the press corps have called a nervous breakdown, but that seems like a bit of a harsh judgement, since nobody really knows what happened) on a flight from Toronto (YYZ) to London (LHR). Luckily for all aboard, the captain and the cabin crew were able to subdue the first officer, enabling the captain to call for and safely execute an emergency landing at Shannon (SNN) airport in Western Ireland. Serious kudos to the captain and the rest of his staff for ensuring that what was an EXTREMELY dangerous situation ended safely for all involved.

However, the quote from Peter Fitzpatrick of Air Canada is priceless...

"The aircraft landed without incident. At no time were the safety of the passengers or crew in question."

DUDE. You're kidding me, right? You seriously expect people to believe that the safety of those on board was never in question. Seriously? I have two words for you, Pal. Egypt Air. MS990 plummeted into the sea from 36,000 feet in less than 3 minutes, the likely culprit being the 767's first officer. And you mean to tell me, Mr. Fitzpatrick, that your passengers on AC848 were never in any danger?


But, just in the nick of time, Mr. Fitzpatrick has earned a reprieve from full ownership of this month's BS award. Howard Schultz, the brains behind Starbucks, delivered a comment that's totally out of character for him, a comment which earns him half of this month's BS award. I'm curious which junior PR staffer should be ridiculed for this silly quote, or whether it'll blow over (like the aroma of a cup of coffee).

Starbucks announced today that they were giving up on the breakfast sandwich market. Okay, so be it. This turned out to be tougher than they expected, so they're gonna put their eyes back on the prize of selling coffee as a lifestyle. Cool. Admit it, and we'll move on. Nothing to see here.

But, come on Howard...

"Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said Wednesday on a conference call that his company will stop selling breakfast sandwiches because 'the scent of the warmed sandwiches interferes with the coffee aroma in our stores.'"


If you're selling $35,000 of breakfast sandwiches annually per store, that's (roughly) $100 a day per store. If I recall correctly, the sandwiches were priced around $4 each, meaning 25 or so sandwiches were sold each day. If one assumes a breakfast rush from 6-10 a.m., that's a half-dozen sandwiches per hour, or one every 10 minutes. That ain't a business. That's not even a junior high bake sale. Frankly, I'm surprised they rolled this offering out to 4,000 stores, then decided to can it. Seems like somebody's asleep at the wheel. Starbucks, do you not have a Peoria? Jeez, use Redmond or Austin if you need to. Go see Jerry's folks at Del Boca Vista. But test something, for Pete's sake. Pete might like it, or he might hate it, but he'll probably save you from a 4,000 store mistake.

I'm not a McDonald's guy for lunch or dinner, but yeah, I'll hit McDonald's on the road for a breakfast sandwich. Quick, consistent, easy to carry, and with a choice of bread carriers and options, I'll gladly stop at a McDonald's (or Burger King) to fuel up for the day. But Starbucks isn't a destination for a's a lifestyle destination that happens to sell coffee. McDonald's is anything but a lifestyle destination, but they sell sandwiches to a much wider demographic (with a much lower per capita income) than Starbucks could ever consistently reach.

Starbucks can afford to sell the other items Mr. Schultz talks about in the article, since there's comparatively little overhead--put the pastries on a tray in a glass case, and hope they move by the time the store closes that night. On the other hand, breakfast sandwiches require an entirely separate supply chain, all the way to the customer's hand. Sandwich ovens aren't cheap, the extra refrigeration space isn't cheap, yadda, yadda, yadda. Investors get that. Customers get that. Heck, I get that...and I don't even drink coffee. Another Diet Pepsi, please.

But to stand up in front of the world (okay, in a press release) and say that the smell of the sandwiches is goofing with the smell of the coffee?


I'm really curious whether the PR professionals who wrote the statements for both Fitzpatrick and Schultz actually thought how inanely those phrases would come across. I mean, these statements don't even come close to passing the moron in a hurry test.

So, PR professionals, public company spokespeople, and otherwise highly regarded CEOs: how about just telling the truth sometimes?

It smells better, and doesn't risk your safety.

P.S. If you don't recognize the Letterman reference in the first sentence, you obviously weren't watching Dave when he really first went on the air in 1982. He often referred to the Top Ten List as something they'd been doing since they went on the air back in the late '50s. Since my blog's been on the air since all the way back in January, 2008, I'm taking a little liberty while paying homage to Dave, too.

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