Brewing up a storm – Starbucks make the shift from print to online employee comms

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Earlier this year the Starbucks communications team reassessed their print channel, Coffee Press‘, mounting production costs. This combined with the 20-something average age of the company’s partners, has dawned a new era for their internal communications. In the last few months Starbucks has successfully moved away from print and dived into electronic publications. We spoke to Karen Tas, editor of Coffee Press, to find out how they made that transition.

“It was a win-win for us; despite using a local newspaper press during its downtime it was still an expensive process. Five copies were delivered to each store each edition. By making it accessible on smartphones we wanted to reach more people. Our director of communications didn’t need much convincing!”

Starbucks worked with Sequel Group, an internal communications agency based in London, to develop Coffee Press for the 21st century. The brief was clear: “It had to be different,” says Tas. “The luxury of a newspaper with 32 pages meant the articles and features were quite long. That doesn’t translate online; everything had to be shorter and more interactive. So rather than having a letter from our managing director, we’ve now incorporated a video message from him, speaking directly to colleagues.”

Readers are directed to a URL that has a secure login; the result is a bright, friendly and animated online magazine that can be read on a computer or smartphone. Easy on the eye, Coffee Press heavily features video and images. “Through each issue we’re always asking for feedback and for partners to contribute photos,” reveals Tas.

Communicating the change

“An Op (operations) bulletin goes out weekly to all stores so we used that channel to inform people of the change,” Tas says. “But also prior to each issue, we have introduced a poster designed for the back office announcing the arrival of the next Coffee Press. It includes the URL and a QR code.”

The first reincarnation of Coffee Press in its digital format appeared in May. For the first issue Starbucks used a weekend getaway as an incentive to read the new version.

“It’s very early, we’ve only completed our second issue,” Tas admits. “It’s a big change going from a newspaper in store that you just pick up and read to having to physically log on and find it. I think that will take time. When people know that it’s there, I think the readership will increase.”

Insights have been pouring in; the most popular section so far has been Spot the Star and celebrity features:

“Looking at the stats, that’s the page partners seems to like the most! Partners email in their celebrity spots and they might include a picture with a celebrity who’s stopped in at a Starbucks.

“In the first edition in May, to coincide with our new latte launch, we had Jimmy Carr work in one of our stores as a barista for a day. We used that as our lead piece and it proved very popular.”

The statistics will inform their editorial calendar, something not previously possible with the old format.

“I really want to get a sense of what it is that people are reading and what they’re enjoying. As soon as I can measure that, with the help of Sequel, we’ll then provide more of that. There’s no point churning out stuff no one wants to read.”

Full of beans

Initial feedback has been very positive. “We think it’s going really well, we’ve had a lot of great feedback from HQ and baristas in store, director of design, Thom Breslin said of the digital version. “The new Coffee Press is fantastic; the new format is very engaging and fun. Love it!”

Tas believes the numbers will grow in time. “The key battle is letting every partner in every member of stores across the country know about this new format. And that’s no mean feat; we have more than 9,500 partners. It will take time, it’s in its infancy.”
Goodbye to print 

Tas looks to the future, “I would imagine, in time, Coffee Press will become more interactive.” There’s plenty in the pipeline, including incorporating more user-generated content. “We would like partners to submit more photos and videos and sending in messages to each other, like a partners’ message board.”

But they’ve said goodbye to print for the time being. “It’s a tough economy out there. No one wants to spend thousands of pounds of print if they can do it online.

“It’s much easier to measure and for us with a young workforce, it’s a direction worth going in. It’s a slow build but eventually we will reach more people in this way.”