Seattle's Best hires Zeno amid rebranding efforts

SEATTLE: As part of a recent rebranding and plans for expansion, Seattle's Best coffee hired Zeno Group as its PR agency following a competitive RFP process, effective April 9.

SEATTLE: As part of a recent rebranding and plans for expansion, Seattle's Best coffee hired Zeno Group as its PR agency following a competitive RFP process, effective April 9.

Parent company Starbucks Coffee Company currently works with Edelman, owner of the Zeno Group, and the agency that had previously handled PR for Seattle's Best. Prior to planning its new brand identity, unveiled last week, Seattle's Best in-house PR was contained within Starbucks' global communications group.

“I wanted to engage with a different agency than who Starbucks was using so we could really be focused and unencumbered by the larger organization,” said Jenny McCabe, director of communications and PR for Seattle's Best. “That was the directive on how [the brand's] president would run the whole company as well, and it's why I decided to issue an RFP.”  

McCabe said that communications, specifically public engagement, social media, and nontraditional advertising will play a large role in the new business model for the brand. Zeno will work on consumer marketing, corporate brand building, social media, special events, and other PR activities.

The week of March 15, McCabe sent an RFP to a mix of six small, midsize, and large agencies, five of which responded - one declined due to a conflict - and three of which the company invited back for a pitch. The company was looking for a consumer-focused agency with global capabilities. The inclusion of Zeno came through an Edelman recommendation.

She explained that the company provided a pitch assignment that it actually intended to use in its PR launch strategy, but withheld some of the more confidential information about the message of joy in its positioning and its new “drop of joy” logo.

Zeno came closest to creating a campaign in line with that confidential information, she said. It was based on “turning a cup of Joe into a cup of joy.”

“It was a really gratifying experience to see someone else play back to us exactly what we were trying to achieve,” she said. 

Barby Siegel, CEO at Zeno Group, said, “It was important for us to be able to express this brand and understand where it differs from the Starbucks brand.” 

Though McCabe could not disclose the budget, she called it “large.” Terms of the contract, including the length of the retainer, are still being sorted out.

“Seattle's Best coffee has a very broad view of PR, as we do, in terms of public engagement and looking at all possibilities, so we're able to break some rules and do things differently,” said Siegel. “We're able to really push the limits and do what it takes to create an emotional connection. Coffee is a very emotional product.”    

For the launch last week, the team arranged an exclusive with the Wall Street Journal on May 12. It also temporarily rebranded the Starbucks headquarters building in Seattle with Seattle's Best branding.

“There was a powerful statement about the potential for this brand and the support that this brand is getting from Starbucks,” said Siegel. 

Since the launch, McCabe noted that the team has seen a “big uptick” in the Seattle's Best franchising interest.

She said a specific PR effort is currently in the works, but at this time she could not discuss the details.

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