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Smart Group - Electric Xmas

‘Tis the season for corporate stress

The holiday season has become increasingly treacherous territory, with businesses such as Starbucks facing customer complaints over their coffee cups.

When Starbucks decided to use plain red coffee cups free of holiday symbols, the negative global reaction from customers illustrated how consumers view brands as friends, and how they expect companies to share their values. A Starbucks executive said the plain-cup design was about purity, and not politics. The company stuck with the cups, which will remain in circulation through the season.

The dynamic leaves companies struggling to appear inclusive without riling those who feel political correctness has quashed their traditions. The risk is being too Christmassy for some, and not Christmassy enough for others.

Last week, Barclays Bank PLC sparked fury after posting signs at bank branches stating that branches would be closed from December 25-28 for “bank holidays,” rather than Christmas, which social-media users lambasted as “cowardly” and “politically correct.”

In a statement, a Barclays spokeswoman said the bank calls all closures bank holidays and will continue to refer to Christmas online and in posters at some branches.

Elsewhere, Beth Huffman, the communications director at law firm Dechert LLP, says the cards the firm sends to more than 40,000 recipients annually are “one of the things that makes me the most nervous all year.”

She says that preparations began in February and involve three brainstorming sessions and vetting of the designs by the firm’s CEO. This year Dechert has two printed and two e-card designs, including a New Year’s option. For a few years, Ms. Huffman had greetings translated into 14 languages, including Flemish and Arabic, but now allows employees to personalize the greetings in whatever language they choose.

Managers gave Ms. Huffman an earful about the firm’s holiday cards during a visit to Dechert’s European offices a few years ago. Lawyers took issue with the “Season’s Greetings” message, noting that “Happy Holidays” is preferred in Europe. They also asked for an electronic version, more languages and personalized return addresses on envelopes. In London, the firm’s managing partner had samples on hand to show her what he was after.

The unexpected feedback left Ms. Huffman “shellshocked”—especially because her trip took place in the spring.

So, can companies ever win Christmas? Are companies far too concerned about their corporate reputation, taking it too far? Or, are we as consumers simply too sentimental?

Read the full article, as reported by The Wall Street journal here: