Interview with Deb Trevino, Director of Corporate Communication at Starbucks (Part II)

I recently had the opportunity to interview Deb Trevino, the Director of Corporate Communications for Starbucks.  In this position, Ms. Trevino covers a breadth of roles: she handles financial communication, business and brand communication, corporate social responsibility, and crisis communication.

This is Part II of my interview with Ms. Trevino.  Topics discussed here include Starbucks in the global market and the coffee chain’s integration of corporate social responsibility within company policy.

Starbucks Around The Globe

Maurice Rahmey: From a global perspective, how does the branding of Starbucks differ in other countries?  From a PR standpoint, what are the differences between the US market and other markets?

Deb Trevino: There are a lot of differences.  From a PR standpoint, I would say that, just the way that the trade works in every market is very different.  We always have to alter our approach depending on the market that we’re in. More broadly, from a business standpoint, you will see a lot of differences in Starbucks around the globe – a lot of consistency, but also differences based on really making those stores relevant for the customers.  It may mean different product offerings. It may mean different hours.  For example, whereas in the US people will come to Starbucks primarily in the morning, in China we have very light business in the morning.  We have more traffic in the afternoons and evenings.  Business is very different depending on where we are, as is our PR approach.

MR: So how do you deal with a market like China?  What’s the difference in the message between China and the US?

DT: I don’t know that the message is entirely different because the one consistency within everything that Starbucks does is the message and the mission.  The mission statement of the company is to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.  That’s very much about making our experience right for our customers and for the neighborhoods that they live in.  It looks different in different places, but it actually comes back to core values and a core message that really is consistent throughout.

In terms of China, we’re always trying new products, we’re altering our offerings…but ultimately, if the morning’s not a time when people are interested in going to coffee shops, they may never be there in the morning.  It’s one of those things you have to understand as you expand to new markets.

Starbucks & Corporate Social Responsibility

MR: What are some of things that Starbucks is currently doing as far as Corporate Social Responsibility goes?  How important is CSR to the Starbucks brand?

DT: It’s extremely important from the top down.  There are really three elements of what we do.  One is sourcing.  Obviously, we buy and use a lot of coffee and we have the opportunity to make a big difference in the lives of coffee farmers who tend to work in very poor areas.  25 million people make their living off of coffee.  What Starbucks is committed to ensuring is that these people are fairly paid, that they have appropriate health care benefits, and that their children can be educated.  A lot of our programs are really built around that.

The second element is environment, which is very much connected to sourcing.  If we don’t help coffee farmers preserve the environment, there’s a business impact from that.  Environment is very important not just in terms of what we do to help coffee farmers, but also the things that the customers in our stores see which are the white paper cups.  One of the exciting things that Starbucks has been doing is gathering together a number of like-minded people to figure out a way to make our paper cups recyclable. These people have come from academia, from the full supply chain of the making of the cups, and even from our competitors.  The cups are a big part of our efforts right now because that’s a big visible impact we have on our customers.

MR: I actually heard a story about how Starbucks held a contest where whoever created a better reusable cup would get $20,000.  What exactly was that about?

DT: It was the Betacup Challenge.  I’ll have to see what I can find and I’ll get back to you. (More info on the Betacup Challenge can be found here.)

[Going back to the third element of CSR] The third element is community.  This is actually going to be a very big focus for us this year.  It really comes from this idea that, again, we can and should make a difference.  Starbucks is often times the heart of a community.  It’s where people go to meet their friends and their business associates.  It’s an opportunity we think we have as a company to make a difference in communities – to promote volunteerism, to create awareness.  Those are the types of things that will be a big focus as we approach our 40th anniversary in the spring.  One of the things we’ll be doing is a month of service where all of our stores will participate in service projects in April.  We have a very ambitious goal of acquiring thousands of hours of service.

MR: Do you think that it’s your CSR that separates you from other coffee houses and coffee franchises?

DT: We do think it separates us, in part because we’re so big.  Because of our size and our footprint, we can do things that smaller competitors or individual coffee shops can’t do.  We really can make a difference on a big global scale.  That is definitely a differentiator, but Starbucks has really led the way in terms of ethical sourcing for coffee for years.  We’re happy that our competitors are also doing these things and certainly we want that to happen.  However, we do think we have differentiated ourselves in that respect.

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