• Scout Streit

Starbucks: A Public Relations Analysis

How the coffee company is using PR to make their stance

By: Scout Streit

Logo for Starbucks Coffee
Starbucks Logo

Every time I procrastinate and start to yearn for my favorite caffeinated vice, (for me it’s a matcha green tea latte with oat milk,) my mind instantly thinks of Starbucks. As a former Starbucks barista and a self-declared matcha aficionado, I’ve tried many a latte in my day, but none have compared to the taste and convenience of the popular coffee company. Given my history working for Starbucks and my scrutinous eye as a public relations student, I’ve noticed some of the company’s trends that I’ve grown to appreciate, and decided to do a little more digging to see if my go-to coffee shop really has great PR.

Defining Public Relations

Of course, the parameters of public relations aren’t definitive and can vary. Taking note from Rebecca Poynter, instructor in JOUR 4460, public relations can be defined as the "positive, proactive and strategic actions by an organization which build goodwill with audiences, support the brand and maintain a positive reputation." In short, good PR consists of a lot more than just keeping customers and employees happy.

Keeping On Trend

A quick glimpse at Starbucks’ social media accounts shows how the company balances highlighting employee stories, communicating information, and keeping up with popular trends. By utilizing platform aspects such as Instagram Starbucks gives consumers easy

access to tons of information and entertainment through its posts, highlights and stories. Some of it, like the “Zodiac” highlight promotes the company’s positive atmosphere, while others, like the “Sustainability” and “We’re Open” share more pressing information on COVID. Branching out of the typical social medias, Starbucks has utilized the music listening platform Spotify to serve customers in a less common way. Known for its signature coffee shop ambience and music, Starbucks partnered with Spotify to create an account on the platform curated with official Starbucks playlists that are used in stores. This has allowed customers to be able to listen to their favorite coffeehouse tracks at their leisure, creating strong goodwill between the company and its audiences. To create even more goodwill, Starbucks creates and updates playlists to support certain social movements and holidays. For example, the company has created a Black History Month playlist for the month of February highlighting the work of Black artists. It is the first playlist featured on its page and is played in stores the entire month.

Taking a Stand on Social Issues

One thing Starbucks hasn’t shied away from is supporting social change and inclusivity. From creating the aforementioned Spotify playlists, to having employees wear t-shirts that support social causes, to promoting sustainability efforts, the company has taken firm stances on hot topics. In recent years, employees have been given t-shirts to wear supporting Pride Month and the Black Lives Matter Movement. While it is safe to say Starbucks faced some backlash for the political commentary, the company has held firm in their position and received praise for their strong social involvement. During my time working for Starbucks, I experienced multiple guests making a point to share how much they appreciated the t-shirts and to note that the simpler displays of support did matter to them. Starbucks’ social stances are also promoted on the company’s official social medias and presented in more detail on the Starbucks Stories and News website. The pleasantly designed and easily maneuvered website features stories highlighting individual employees, the company’s latest inclusivity efforts and community engagement as well as a myriad of other stories showing how Starbucks aims to connect with customers.

Improvement Starts from Within

Starbucks has various initiatives aimed at bettering communities across the globe. Some of these initiatives affect entire communities, while others focus on improving the lives of those more involved in the company. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan allows eligible employees to attend college while the company covers the cost of tuition. In doing so, Starbucks has helped employees reach new potentials and fostered an environment of self-improvement and support. While improving lives from within the company is a focus, Starbucks has also taken steps to support the communities they cater to. From traditional volunteer opportunities for employees to creating a Community Resilience Fund for BIPOC communities aimed at supporting small business and creating community development, Starbucks has been fostering goodwill and garnering an inclusive and supportive reputation.

Through my own experience wearing the Pride Month t-shirt as a barista to the information I’ve more recently learned regarding Starbucks’ community building efforts, it is clear to me that the company truly has great PR. More than just branding themselves as a socially conscious on trend coffee shop, Starbucks has taken steps to better the lives of their customers and create a positive reputation rooted in active engagement. I can confidently say that I will be continuing to get my matcha green tea latte with oat milk from the Starbucks company.

About the Author

Scout Streit is a journalism student with plans to enter the public relations field. She is interested in political and environmental issues. She attends the University of North Texas and plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a focus in public relation and minor in social sciences in May of 2022.