Starbucks to launch socially responsible offensive

SEATTLE – Global coffee-house king Starbucks is set to launch a new media campaign to promote the claim that it buys coffee in a socially responsible way.

Starbucks has hired Boston-based Cone to handle PR for the new. The campaign will be directed at key influencers, such as NGOs, employees, and consumers, said Anthony Sprauve, VP of public affairs at Starbucks.

Starbucks spoke with five agencies in a two-month search before picking Cone.

Cone dropped its Dunkin' Donuts account once it won Starbucks to avoid a conflict in representing the competitors.

Cone's work with Dunkin' Donuts impressed Starbucks, Sprauve said. "They have in-depth knowledge of the coffee industry from their proven work with Dunkin' Donuts."

Cone said it would put seven people on the account.

Starbucks already had been trying to discuss its coffee-buying practices with NGOs, but had not used an outside PR firm on the topic in the past, Sprauve said. A key message of the new campaign will be "how Starbucks buys all its coffee in a responsible, sustainable manner," he added.

Activist groups have criticised major coffee processors like Kraft for not doing more to promote fair-trade coffee, which pays farmers living wages for their crops. They've also voiced concerns about coffee-growing techniques that can wipe out environmentally important rain forests.

Starbucks has worked with groups like Oxfam to promote fair-trade coffee.

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