startbucks marketing

startbucks marketing


Coffee café chain Starbucks recently lowered a smoke-free cone around their cafes. Beginning June 1, the chain will no longer allow smoking within 25 feet of its stores (where permitted by leases). Starbucks’ PR firm released a statement saying that the purpose of the “ban” was simply to extend the indoor no-smoking policy to outdoor seating areas for the comfort of all its patrons.

This decision may not sit well with many Starbucks patrons, but millions more are breathing a sigh of relief. While Ronn Torossian is not about to take a side in this scenario, he does say this incident provides an interesting example of what happens when a business chooses to please one group of customers over another. And how it should be handled.

#1 – Perimeters should be specific

When a PR firm delivers a message, it’s important for the message to be specific. Starbucks gets this one absolutely right, and it is a lesson to any other businesses interested in drawing this or any other line. Their “within 25 feet” rule gives everyone – smokers, nonsmokers and managers – a very specific guideline. There is no ambiguity here. And while smokers will not be pleased, at least they will be clear on the expectations. Take a look at Huffington Post’s article discussing their 25 feet rule.

#2 – Consequences should be universal

One of the sticking points of the new policy is what Starbucks employees or management can or would do if an offender refused to crush that smoke. According to a release, Starbucks officials said they hoped “any concerns could be resolved amicably.” While the public relations version of this policy is certainly vague, one would hope internal policy is much clearer. Managers and employees need a clear and consistent way to deal with offenders. Because there will be people to test this policy. Lots, probably.

#3 – Communication should be universal

One of the best ways to create an issue out of this is to make the ban a surprise for unsuspecting consumers. Not everyone gets their news from the same sources, so Starbucks needs to adopt a universal communications policy. Posted signs, unilateral PR campaigns and even good-natured conversation will go a long way toward decreasing the potential for incidents. This consumer PR principle is certainly easy to apply in other markets and industries. It is always better to risk saying “it” (whatever “it” is) too much than to say it too little. When you make a decision such as this, you already know some of your customers will not be happy. Now imagine how unhappy they would be if this caught them off guard? Not a pretty picture, right? Clear and active communication solves that problem before it happens.

For help with crafting and communicating your consumer PR campaign, contact Ronn Torossian and 5WPR here.