Profile: Tim McCoy, head of comms, Starbucks UK and Ireland

The head of comms for Starbucks UK and Ireland is busy preparing for a rebrand of the high-street coffee houses. Kate Magee reports.

The real McCoy: Starbucks UK PR chief Tim McCoy [Pic Belinda Lawley]
The real McCoy: Starbucks UK PR chief Tim McCoy [Pic Belinda Lawley]

A flat white. That is the coffee of choice for Starbucks' head of comms Tim McCoy, who joined the brand in 2009. The caffeine might help him manage his busy schedule as the company begins a global rollout of a new logo and redesigned outlets. The UK's first new-look Starbucks opens on 8 March in Knightsbridge.

The redesigned logo drops the words 'Starbucks Coffee' and makes the image of the siren in the centre bigger. The move reflects the firm's desire to launch brand extensions beyond coffee shops and build on the success of instant coffee product Via, which was launched a year ago and sold more than nine million servings in the first six months.

The media's response to the new logo, unveiled in early January, was far more positive than the reaction to fellow US giant Gap's rebrand and subsequent U-turn just weeks earlier. While both rebrands surprised consumers, brand experts had already been briefed by Starbucks prior to the big reveal.

McCoy says, as well as testing the new logo and mugs out quietly in some stores since the end of 2009, the Starbucks.com/preview site was set up to encourage digital specialists to give their feedback on the logo. The company also held events to allow brand experts to view the logo before it went public.

'We were fairly confident that, when the media went to brand commentators, they would pass favourable comment, because we had already received their feedback,' he maintains.

McCoy, 42, appears to have joined the global coffee house chain at an opportune moment. Now in its 40th year, Starbucks has enjoyed six quarters of continuous growth in the UK. The firm is investing in its employees, sending senior managers on MBA-style training schemes and giving its 6,700 UK staff - including part-time baristas - company shares worth up to £500.

Four years ago, the picture was not so rosy. In early 2007, current CEO Howard Schultz sent a memo to the then CEO saying the fast expansion of the store overseas had 'led to the watering down of the Starbucks experience'. This led to the closure of 765 stores globally and thousands of job cuts.

What will prevent Starbucks' new desire for diversification from having a similarly detrimental effect? McCoy is quick to respond. 'We won't make that mistake again. We have absolutely no doubt that coffee is what we are famous for, and will remain so. Every meeting we have at head office begins with a coffee-tasting session, and we have coffee experts onsite,' he says.

Starbucks is the largest buyer of Fairtrade certified coffee in the world and 100 per cent of its espresso drinks are Fairtrade.

McCoy believes his biggest comms challenge is to tell the story and raise awareness of Starbucks' ethical approach to business, and coffee sourcing, among consumers with long-held perceptions. He quotes BBC director-general Mark Thompson, who said at the recent launch of Edelman's Trust Barometer: 'Opinions formed in months can take years to dissipate.'

McCoy says: 'That's true. People form their opinions of big brands and stick with them. I want Starbucks to be known as a brand that sells great coffee and has outstanding values.'

Starbucks is using location-based social networks to entice repeat customers and engage fans in conversations through sites such as MyStarbucksIdea, which asks for ideas on how to improve the brand.

McCoy believes this brings tangible benefits. Last year, Facebook fans chose the flavour of the Christmas special coffee, selecting 'Toffee Nut Latte', which sold 45 per cent more than the Christmas drink in 2009.

McCoy started his career in local newspapers before spending 14 years at the BBC. However, having seen friends successfully make the switch to PR, in 2008 he decided to follow suit, joining Blue Rubicon.

When not talking about, making or drinking coffee, McCoy will be cycling, walking or spending time with his three children. 'If I could be anywhere, it would be in the Lake District on top of Helvellyn, with no mobile phone signal,' he smiles.

McCoy, like all members of staff based at Starbucks' Chiswick head office, spent a week working in-store - in his case Balham - to fully understand the business.

He managed to create 'the milk explosion', a regular occurrence for new employees. 'If you steam the milk for too long, it explodes all over you,' he laughs.

But news of McCoy's expert coffee-making skills came as a surprise to a former colleague, BBC radio and TV presenter Eddie Mair. 'Tim was always quiet and effective,' he says. 'Ironically, he would never get the coffee.'

CV
- 2009 Head of comms, Starbucks UK and Ireland
- 2008 Senior consultant, Blue Rubicon
- 2004 Programme editor, BBC TV News
- 1997 Producer, BBC TV News
- 1994 Producer, BBC Radio 5 Live
- 1992 Reporter, Gloucestershire Echo

TIM MCCOY'S TURNING POINTS

- What was your biggest career break?

This one - getting the Starbucks job was exactly what I was aiming for when I decided to switch careers and move into comms. I am glad I took the plunge.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

My first news editor, a veteran ex-Mirror man, John Flint, taught me that the simple question, 'What's the story?' is key. Stories are compelling, whatever the audience. I loved working with Eddie Mair at the BBC - he is a genius - and a lot of what Fraser Hardie of Blue Rubicon said has stuck with me. He is a smart operator and taught me that, above all, you have to deliver.

- What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

It is OK to admit you don't know everything, because the ability to learn fast matters more. Choose jobs with brilliant colleagues around you. You will love your work more and progress at double speed.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Be bright, curious and creative - read the media you are targeting and be on time for meetings.

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