CASE STUDY: Starbucks Masters Integrated PR.

Starbucks is a household name.  But that doesn’t mean the company has shied away from promoting itself. In fact, Starbucks utilizes almost every media and PR channel available. And the result is an integrated campaign that serves its customers and generates buzz. Here’s a review of some recent efforts:

NEWS/MEDIA: Starbucks is such a staple that it generates its own news. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, Starbucks garnered press coverage just for being the top destination for refugees with no power or Wifi. Outside of that, and politically charged comments from the CEO, Starbucks keeps the media focused on the results of their other PR campaigns.

FACEBOOK: The official Starbucks page has 28.9 million likes. Impressive. Their fall promotion played off the love the Pumpkin Spiced Latte, a favorite seasonal drink. Visitors to the site could earn points for their city by playing games on the site. The prize? The winning city gets to enjoy the Pumpkin Spiced Latte a week earlier than the rest of the county. From an outsider, this might seem insignificant. To winning city Chicago, which racked up 10,599,500 points, it was well worth the effort. This campaign not only allowed consumers to interact with the Starbuck brand, but also offered a clever incentive that shows Starbucks understands its customers.

TWITTER: @Starbucks has nearly 2.2 million followers. One might think they must be offering something special to their followers. However, customers are not getting free drinks, but great customer service. The Twitter feed is dedicated to interacting with brand fans (including topics beyond coffee), responding to consumer questions, and keeping followers up to date with current promotions.


FOURSQUARE/FACEBOOK PLACES: The Starbucks Foursquare page has almost 36,000 followers. The goal of their presence on the popular location-based service is to create a community for the regular Starbucks goers. And to offer an exclusive “barista” badge to those who check in to five different Starbucks locations.

MOBILE APP: This PR tool is all about the consumer. Starbucks’ mobile app allows its users to connect directly with their account and pay for their coffee right from their smartphone. Additionally, they can check or recharge their account balance, view their rewards, or see the drink menu. In addition to a branded logo on everyone’s phone, this PR tool generates good will with customers and increases loyalty.

ITUNES: More unique, this is an instant reward for consumers. On the counter at most locations, consumers can find a card for a free song or application from iTunes. All they need to do is enter a code. Not only does this tap into the technology and mindset of the consumer, it offers a free and quick reward.

Varied across different platforms, the marketing and PR strategy for Starbucks shows a very sound knowledge of their customer base. Whether it is playing off the love of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, or letting smartphone users manage their accounts in the palm of their hand, public relations seeks to make every experience with Starbucks fully enjoyable. And that can be read as repeat business.


  • The most brilliant move that Howard Schultz & Co. made was introducing the rewards program. It’s been done before, but from a shareholder standpoint they are building cash at fast clip via interest free loans from customers. We as customers load up our cards, take some time to use up the balance, and they basically get the money interest free until we use it up. It’s brilliant and one of the lesser known facts about the logic behind the program. It’s a program that benefits the company and the customer. They get access to our cash and our attention, and we get better offers. However, I can be wrong and it could just be selling an addictive substance that keeps customers coming back!

  • Now if only there coffee tasted good consistently. I do like this multifaceted marketing approach, though. More chances for potentially active interaction

  • @Onur: I never thought of it that way. Gift cards and rechargeable payment systems as interest-free loans. Exactly what it is. Wonder how many companies use that as a strategy for juicing cash flow.

  • @matt I think that is the strategy, but the more I think about it I believe that I could be totally wrong and the companies don’t actually report the balance-initial purchase of reloading or buying a gift card as profit. Instead, they could report the balance as a liability and then book income when the balance is used for purchases or has expired and they are entitled to the remaining balance. I think that there is some grey area here though, so to the consumer it certainly seems like an interest free loan.

    Even if it were the strategy I think that Starbucks customers probably wouldn’t mind so much because of the convenience factor and rewards.

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ADG Creative is a strategic communications firm specializing in branding, interactive, learning and gaming, and software development. We combine process, experience and extraordinary creative talent to tell our customers' stories in unique, memorable and usually unexpected ways, leveraging both conventional and new media platforms.