Was Starbucks' Closure a Publicity Stunt?

Last Updated Mar 5, 2008 7:08 PM EST

Last week, Starbucks closed its stores for a three-hour training session for its coffee-making baristas, to give them a "refresher course" in making a "perfect" cup of coffee.

Was this a publicity stunt or a just a widely reported but real (and necessary) company training program?
Starbucks issued a statement on the closure a couple of weeks ago. Here's what they said about why their employees needed the training:

The comprehensive educational curriculum for all U.S. store partners will provide a renewed focus on espresso standards that will help ensure the exceptional quality of every beverage.
I've had hundreds of cups of coffee at Starbucks, and until I read that statement, I had no idea they weren't making their espresso up to standards. In fact, I didn't think it was that hard to do -- dump some coffee in the little thingy, latch it onto the espresso machine, hit a button and whoosh -- out comes espresso.

Actually, as someone who does media training for a living, I'd have say that in all likelihood, they did cover some interesting and necessary subjects in the training session that will likely result in slightly better coffee service.

But considering that Starbucks is facing one of the first major challenges to its business model in its recent history, I'd say this was more likely a publicity stunt than anything else. Get people talking about something other than store shutdowns and the threat from Dunkin' Donuts, remind customers that Starbucks makes "espresso" while other chains merely serve "coffee," associate themselves with continually improving the customer experience -- yup -- publicity stunt.

What do you think?

  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.