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How organisations can communicate effectively in today’s always on environment

3rd February 2014


Last week Simon Redfern, UK’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Starbucks spoke about how organisations can communicate effectively in order to be successful in today’s always on, social media empowered environment, in the wake of Starbuck’s recent tax scandal.

Simon, who has extensive experience working in corporate communications and public affairs for agencies such as Fishburn Hedges and Pagefield Communications before joining Starbucks UK, told the audience at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London: “PR needs to be grounded in finding organisational stories and telling them in the most appropriate way, whether that is using traditional media relations, social media or face-to-face briefings.”

Although PR should be about proactive and strategically planned story-telling, Simon highlighted that if a brand’s reputation is damaged, the story you tell is vital to how your organisation can rebuild its reputation. Reputations can plummet rapidly, he observed, however getting it back is a slow, laborious process.

The Starbuck’s tax scandal

Simon began by discussing the way in which the media’s telling of the tax story on the actual events and Starbucks inability to control or tell the right story meant huge loss of public trust and a huge loss of morale among staff. He highlighted how protestors intimidated employees at one of London’s best Starbucks outlets and made them unable to do their job because of the way the story had unfolded.

But, Simon pointed out, it is because of the consumer and the baristas’ ability to do their job that he gets paid and the organisation operates so he saw it as his duty to resolve the issues being played out in the media. And doing this means getting the communications right between Starbucks’ key stakeholders.

Simon’s response to this was based on finding out the facts of the issue – helpful when you sit on the organisation’s board as Simon does – and being able to craft your PR strategy around telling the story of what really went on. Unpicking the back-story, however, presented Simon with a complex financial story which couldn’t be told easily. So Simon’s initial strategy was to undertake a series of Question & Answer sessions with key stakeholders on a personal level. This enabled Starbucks to hear directly from journalists, and consumers alike and allowed the organization to take feedback; opinion and recommendations of what all stakeholders thought and incorporate their ideas into Starbucks’ ongoing strategy.

Going forward, Simon reiterated that stories are at the heart of Starbucks’ communications strategy, stating:
At Starbucks, we are story tellers and spinning yarns about our services and our brand is what we do. It doesn’t matter if that story consists of only images or is a story so individual and unique that it becomes universal; or maybe the story comes to life as a product capable of leveraging the scale of our stores.”

Finding the right story, working out what we want to say and how we say it and making it stick isn’t always easy, however. To help address these issues Simon gave us a handy checklist of questions to ask ourselves:

Following the story-telling approach this will not only help effective communications, it will help drive the bottom line of your business. For Simon PR is about “creativity, disruption or disorder”, it is “the ideas that come from Public Relations that give your organisation cut through”.

Aaron Shardey



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