Microsoft has often taken a robust stance against discrimination and sought equality across its organization. Earlier today, we reported on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's open letter offering support to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. He also promised to do more to promote diversity within the company.
However, just as Nadella was building bridges, Microsoft's marketing team was performing an own goal. It seems the company has been trying to get some cheap PR goodwill from the racial tension that has flared up in numerous countries, but especially in the United States.
Microsoft tapped a New York City ad agency to create a mural to show the company's solidarity with minorities. For a start, the mural itself was to cover the company's boarded up 5th Avenue store, probably in an effort to protect it from looters and rioters.
The company contacted artist Shantell Martin earlier this month. However, it looks as though keeping up appearances was Microsoft's ultimate goal. In an email to Martin, Redmond's marketing team said it wanted the mural completed while the story around Black Lives Matter was still “relevant”.
“Hoping to complete the mural while the protests are still relevant and the boards are still up, ideally no later than this coming Sunday.”
Shantell, on behalf of Microsoft, I want to first apologize for the insensitive language used in our letter. There is no excuse. We recognize it was wrong and I am sorry. I respect you may not want to discuss this further, but if you are open to it, I'd like to connect directly.
— Chris Capossela (@chriscapossela) June 6, 2020
Martin says she wrestled with making the communication public before deciding it needed to be seen.
“I'm not happy that I had to post this, but after a couple of days of going over it and thinking about it, I felt that it was really important to share. There are many layers to why it is wrong and we can start to make excuses about why or how this type of email came about, but the bottom line is it is unacceptable and a part of the problem. It also highlights how art and the work of artists is not valued but rather exploited consistently by agencies and companies without little thought. The points I made in the caption that accompanied the post are straightforward and hopefully something positive will come from this.”
There are a couple of things worth noting. Firstly, this was a blunder by Microsoft's PR team and does not really reflect on Satya Nadella's comments (which came later). Secondly, all companies are playing this game and the best advice may be for individuals to not look to corporations for their moral support.
In response, Harris Diamond, the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft's PR agency McCann, described the email as “flat out wrong” and apologized.