Subscribe to the SMA Newsletter

Unveiling the Power of Local Partnerships

Insights from June Ashley’s Sponsorship Mastery Summit Session

June Ashley, Senior Manager of Partnerships at Starbucks, took Sponsorship Mastery Summit attendees on a journey, detailing how Starbucks embraced mission-driven partnerships, campaigns, and social impact initiatives. Celebrating her 25th anniversary at the coffee giant, June’s session provided invaluable insights into the evolution of Starbucks’ mission and values over the years, highlighting the pivotal role of local partnerships in their journey.

A Journey Through Starbucks’ Mission Evolution

During her session, June traced the evolution of the company’s mission statements over the years. Starting in 1990 as the “largest purveyor of the finest coffees in the world,” Starbucks has undergone significant transformations. In 2009, amid the recession, their mission pivoted towards “inspiring and nurturing the human spirit, one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time,” reflecting a commitment to community support amidst challenging times.

In 2020, the pandemic brought about another mission change, focusing on nurturing human connection with every cup and conversation. This evolution underscores Starbucks’ adaptability to changing circumstances while staying true to its core values.

“How that shows up and where you are in our company is different,” June said. “It might be different for a barista to live the mission and values, and it might be different for me with hometown partnerships. So, we also have a unifying customer promise in our brand storytelling, and that is to uplift the every day.”

 Local Partnerships and Seattle’s Significance

Highlighting Starbucks’ deep connection to Seattle, June emphasized the significance of its hometown. Seattle is where Starbucks was born, and it remains crucial to its operations, serving as an incubator for innovation and a testing ground for new initiatives.

“It’s our birthplace is where we grew up,” June said. “It’s where we have our headquarters. We get the opportunity to innovate in this space. We get to test things before we launched them nationally. So, it’s very key to our business. But like every city, we have opportunities and what we notice coming out of the pandemic currently our biggest opportunity for the city is chronic homelessness. And so, knowing that that is an opportunity, we need to be part of the solution to help the city with this opportunity.”

Starbucks’ hometown partnerships, driven by a desire to build brand loyalty and engage with the community.

The Power of Purpose-Led Partnerships

There are two key pillars that drive Starbucks’ partnerships – brand love and community commitment. These principles guide Starbucks in creating unique experiences that resonate with both consumers and partners, while making a meaningful impact on the community.

June elaborated on the brand’s marketing approach, transforming messaging from a straightforward presence-focused narrative to one emphasizing social impact and community engagement. Starbucks’ partnerships now reflect a commitment to uplifting everyday life, whether through sports, music, or the arts.

Activations and Community Initiatives

In some of the specific partnership activations June referenced, she focused on Starbucks’ commitment to making a difference. One example is the Field of Kindness program, which amplifies small acts of kindness within their stores and extends it to the community through partnerships like the Mariners.

“Earlier this year we launched a campaign called the Kindness Campaign,” June said. “It was an enterprise-wide campaign, and it was really about the unique opportunities to capture the small random acts of kindness that were happening in our stores. Whether it was someone holding the door open for another customer or someone making space at another table, paying it forward in the drive-through with someone paying for the car behind you. These were happening in our stores across the globe, and we wanted to amplify those small acts. So, we took that campaign and built it into our partnership with the Mariners, and it’s called the Field of Kindness. This is a fan-nominated program where it’s either a curated story about an individual doing good in the community, an organization that we invite the entire organization to the ballpark to enjoy the game, or a random act in the moment.”

Starbucks collaborates with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks on their 50/50 raffle, which benefits the Spirit of 12, which is made up 12 nonprofits that focus on different social pillars. At the end of the season, the Seahawks Foundation matches the funds. And then Starbucks works with those 12 organizations to build community programs, events and activations throughout the year.

Starbucks also partners with Seattle’s NHL franchise, the Kraken, on the “Kraken Unity Fund,” recognizing local heroes of the deep and supporting them with donations. This initiative has contributed over $1.5 million to the community.

Starbucks’ Unique Kraken Partnership

The brand also has a distinctive partnership with the Seattle Kraken, which was established even before the team existed. Starbucks’ involvement extends beyond a naming rights relationship around the Kraken Community Ice Plex. Starbucks’ community store within the facility is one 30 around the world. These stores are placed purposely in neighborhoods that need help and hire people directly from the neighborhood. These stores also invite in nonprofit organizations to utilize the in-store conference space that can be used for training sessions and interviews. Additionally, 10% of profits are donated to the Kraken’s nonprofit, the One Roof Foundation, directing funds back into the neighborhood.

Starbucks also collaborates closely with the Kraken to create opportunities for fans, partners, and nonprofits to engage with the team. The brand’s involvement in Climate Pledge Arena allows the company to utilize assets for marketing, product promotion, and more, reaching diverse audiences. 

Measuring Partnership Impact

So, how does Starbucks measure the impact of these partnerships?

“We set out last year to do a partnership impact study with every single one of our partnerships. We had not done that since 2009. So, this gave us the opportunity to really tailor what we are looking for. A lot of it that is shown here is brand love. We’re really looking to drive that brand love. But we also ask questions around the specific partnerships and programs that we have within each partnership and helps us understand if we’re hitting the mark, do we need to change? Should we shift? Are the right assets being noticed? Is social a better spot for us than an LED in an arena? These are things that we’re going to keep doing to make sure that our partnerships are really hitting the mark and making an impact in those communities.”

Starbucks understands the importance of benchmarking and partnership impact studies to assess the effectiveness of their initiatives. These studies help Starbucks understand if their partnerships are fostering brand love, driving meaningful community impact, and utilizing assets optimally.

Starbucks’ approach to purpose-led partnerships, community initiatives, and unique collaborations underscores their commitment to making a difference in the communities they serve. The session served as a testament to the power of partnerships infused with a strong sense of purpose and values.