In 1995, Seattle natives Ally and Scott Svenson founded the Seattle
Coffee Company in London, after failing to discover an equivalent of
their beloved Seattle coffee bars. Since then, 56 branches have opened
across the UK.
When the sale of SCC to US-based coffee-giant Starbucks was in
discussion, SCC’s public relations agency, Gabrielle Shaw Associates
worked on both the media relations for the announcement and the internal
To announce the sale of SCC to Starbucks in the business and consumer
press, positioning it as a strategic ’win-win’ situation for both
To communicate news of the deal to employees, suppliers and
To raise press awareness of SCC before the announcement, Gabrielle Shaw
Associates organised a consumer product push in March, and released a
business growth report in April.
The sale of Seattle Coffee Company to Starbucks in exchange for 1.8
million shares was announced on April 29. As Starbucks is listed on the
New York Stock Exchange and was releasing its financial results on the
same day, the announcement could not be made in Britain before 2pm,
therefore timing was crucial.
Press releases were sent simultaneously to both consumer and business
journalists in the UK, announcing the sale and a photocall that
afternoon, for which - despite the short notice - a number of camera
crews and photojournalists turned up.
It was important to SCC that staff were well informed about the sale,
and any doubts they had about job losses or a change in corporate
culture were allayed, so as much emphasis was made on announcing the
deal internally as externally. Branch managers from all over the country
were invited to a champagne reception on the afternoon of the
At the reception the president of Starbucks, Howard Behar gave a speech
explaining the benefits of the sale and the advantages for both
A ’Celebration Pack’, designed by Gabrielle Shaw Associates, was
This included a welcome letter to all partners (employees), a copy of
Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz’ biography and posters announcing the
change for customers.
The announcement was a great success. Not only was the deal covered in
the business pages of most of the nationals, but many publications
followed up the story with features on the booming UK boutique-coffee
industry, or profiles of the Svensons. Ally Svenson has been nominated
by the Sunday Times as one of the top 100 business people to watch over
While some of the US coverage was along the lines of SCC ’throwing in
the towel’ in the face of competition, UK coverage put a positive angle
on the deal, mentioning that the Svensons had modelled SCC on Starbucks
and were thrilled to now be part of the company.
All the objectives of the campaign were met, and fears that SCC may be
criticised for undervaluing itself, or for selling out were
The internal communications programme was also well received by SCC’s
employees with the company ensuring that any questions they had were
While news of a pounds 50 million acquisition is always likely to make
the business pages, this story has led to articles appearing in a
diverse range of media, from Vogue to the Big Breakfast.
The fact that Gabrielle Shaw Associates is an agency known for its
consumer work and not as a financial agency probably helped achieve the
wide coverage that this story generated.
Client: Seattle Coffee Company (SCC)
PR Team: Gabrielle Shaw Associates
Campaign: Sale of SCC to Starbucks Coffee Company