Last week, shoppers at a local supermarket in Hamburg, Germany stopped in shock. Most of the shelves at that particular branch of Edeka, the country's largest supermarket chain, were bare. The only foods still available for sale in the store were German foods made in Germany.
Everything else had been removed, replaced by signs saying things like, "This shelf is pretty boring without diversity," "This is how empty a shelf is without foreigners," and "We will be poorer without diversity."
Gutsy move, just weeks before a big election that has immigration as a hot button issue.
So what can we, as small businesses, learn from Edeka's PR stunt - one that has generated scads of international press?
I was preparing for a do-it-yourself PR masterclass I'm teaching and I thought about what I wanted to communicate in-house as a leader after reading about Edeka and the statement it made. What I wanted to say to my team and also what I wanted to communicate to my students and clients about the potential of a PR stunt to broadcast their deepest values.
And what I realized I wanted to communicate had less to do with tactics and more to do with emotional intelligence and how you play your inner game.
Here are my notes:
You don't have to be a politician to make a political statement about your values:
Edeka is a grocery chain. On the surface, it has nothing to do with leadership or diversity or politics. But if you sit down to think about it, everything has something to do with your values either personally or as a brand. Edeka found a way to connect the dots between what they do (groceries) and the context they and their clients live in. And by making a simple, non-violent, thought-provoking statement that was about a universal issue and not just about their brand they broadcast their values loud and clear.
It takes courage to stand out:
In today's troubled political times, it's easy to get sucked into herd mentality and hunker down and wait for things to blow over. But change comes from courage and compassion. No one gave Rosa Parks or Gandhi or Martin Luther King a script or any assurances that things would turn out okay for them. But they each made a leap of faith and, in doing so, started a movement. Edeka found a way to bring a loaded, contentious and abstract issue home to consumers in a relatable, non-threatening way that, whether they agreed or not, at least forced shoppers to stop and think.
There will be trolls and haters:
There were critics who lambasted Edeka for benefiting from positive publicity around a topic that's loaded. There will always be someone who thinks you're too loud, too soft, too engaged, not engaged enough, blah blah blah. People project their own pain and blocks onto the actions and thoughts of others. Do what feels right to you and course-correct as you go. No one can know the ripple effect that you will create either from action or inaction. And sometimes the problem may get worse before it is resolved. But almost nothing gets solved from being paralyzed with fear and doing nothing.
Great PR doesn't have to be expensive:
It cost almost nothing to put food in storage in a single Hamburg location for 24 hours and create some signs. You could argue that Edeka lost thousands of dollars in unpurchased groceries, But think of the brand awareness and loyalty that it gained by standing up publicly for inclusion. If we had an Edeka in my city, I'd gladly drive a few extra miles and throw down my credit card to show my solidarity.
PR is ultimately about starting a conversation:
Stepping out from the crowd and calling attention to oneself is always scary. In today's world of social media and phone cameras, any mistake gets instantly magnified. Which is why it becomes important to get crystal clear about your intention (we like to use a tool called the Impact Filter from Strategic Coach, a business coaching program I take). What happens next becomes part of your journey towards having the impact you want on the world. You broadcast your intention and the world reflects it back with layers of meaning added on - some distorting your truth and others greatly enhancing it. You choose what you want to focus on and build with.
Cleave to courage, not to fear:
As a PR "expert", it can seem wildly profitable to fear monger about crisis management. But that's not the world I want to live in. I'd rather people peer into their deepest selves, find the beauty there and tell that story. Even if the world isn't always ready to hear it.
It is often in the telling of our stories that we discover who we are and what we were meant to do.