40 Under 40 2016: Haley Drage

Director, global brand communications, Starbucks, 39

Devoted to your daily grande latte or Frappuccino? Haley Drage may have a hand in that. As a leader in global brand communications Drage is responsible for what millions of customers experience at Starbucks every day from the coffee, the store, and the global chain’s app.

Drage started out focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility, but after an eye-opening trip to a Starbucks coffee farm in Costa Rica, her perspective shifted. Her mission was to turn Starbucks’ passion for coffee into an intrinsic part of the customer’s entire experience with the brand, including store design, the Starbucks app and everything else. Now that’s some fresh java! Her approach broke down silos, was audience-centric, and focused on solving business challenges.

"Haley’s orientation as a communications leader is to begin each campaign by asking the question: ‘What business problem are we trying to solve?’" says Corey duBrowa, SVP of global communications and public affairs at Starbucks. "Her storytelling skills are then deployed in service of creative, breakthrough answers to that query. Every effort she has led at Starbucks – coffee leadership, design excellence, our technology and innovation narrative – has begun with this in mind and has produced tangible business results."

Changes in the coffee world and a customer preference shift to small and artisanal has presented problems to the Seattle pioneer. Known for delivering high-quality coffee at scale, Starbucks had to pivot in its branding.

Under Drage’s strategic eye and leveraging her storytelling chops, coverage highlighting Starbucks’ authority in coffee craft increased 36% in one year. Quickly promoted to director, Drage now leads a small, scrappy team of direct reports and agency partners.

On the digital side, Drage helped take Starbucks from quiet industry leader to a Silicon Valley-style innovator, particularly regarding the launch of Mobile Order and Pay (MOP) on the brand’s app. MOP began with 1.3 billion impressions, and media influencers from Tech Crunch to Cosmopolitan touted its time-saving features, showcasing Drage’s audience-centric storytelling capabilities.

As a result, in three months, 1 million customers adopted MOP and mobile transactions increased by 1%. With this, Drage laid the groundwork for future digital innovations, including delivery, loyalty updates, and app partnerships with brands such as Spotify.

- Drage participates in a YWCA mentoring program and Connext events, particularly a program designed for women to help women, offering advice to young professionals.

- She has backpacked through southern Africa and trekked around South America.

- She assisted in the launch of the first-ever Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle garnering national press coverage, including a seven-minute feature on CBS This Morning.

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