The Entertainment Barista Who Brews More Than Coffee

Geoff Cottrill Oversees Starbucks' Music, Movies and Books Development

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Who: Geoff Cottrill, VP-marketing and product management, Starbucks Entertainment.
Geoff Cottrill of Starbucks was behind the launch of 17-year-old singer-songwriter Sonya Kitchell's debut album 'Words Came Back to Me.'

Why you need to know him: Mr. Cottrill is responsible for Starbucks' entertainment marketing and product development strategies and programs. That includes the company's Hear Music CD compilations, plus a 24-hour music channel on XM Satellite Radio and any entertainment offerings Starbucks offers the 40 million customers it serves each week at its more than 5,200 stores in the U.S. and more than 11,000 locations globally. Mr. Cottrill, based in Seattle, discussed Starbucks' ever-evolving entertainment strategy with Madison & Vine via e-mail.

Credentials: Mr. Cottrill joined Starbucks Entertainment early last year. Before that, he spent nine years at Coca-Cola Co., most recently as group director of entertainment marketing at the soft-drink giant. He oversaw Coke's tie-in with "Harry Potter," as well as Powerade's partnership with "The Matrix." He also worked for 11 years at Procter & Gamble Co., overseeing sales and marketing projects for brands such as Folgers and Citrus Hill.

What projects have you worked on since joining Starbucks? "I have worked on a number of CD projects over the last year, including Herbie Hancock's 'Possibilities,' Sergio Mendes' 'Timeless,' and the Rolling Stones' 'Rarities,' along with a number of our proprietary Starbucks Hear Music Opus collections. One of the projects we launched this year that I am the most proud of is Sonya Kitchell's [debut album] 'Words Came Back to Me.' ... Sonya is an incredibly talented 17-year-old singer-songwriter, and she is the second artist to be featured in the Starbucks Hear Music Debut CD series, which we created specifically to introduce our customers to new and emerging artists with long-term career potential."

How did you go about releasing her music in the stores? "We leveraged Starbucks unique assets to introduce Sonya to our more than 40 million customers as part of their daily coffee routines. From in-store signage to overhead play to innovative out-of-store publicity and marketing campaigns, including promotion on our XM Satellite Radio station, we worked as a team and in collaboration with Sonya and Velour [Music Group, her label] to bring the best of what we all had to offer to the table. As a result of our collaborative efforts, we've sold more than 30,000 copies of her record and Sonya has benefited from significant print and broadcast coverage."

How did Starbucks lure you away from Coke? What attracted you to the company? "Starbucks is a company I have always admired. I was drawn to the strong brand image, the incredible people and the innovative approach to business. Starbucks is truly a company with a heart. The Starbucks commitment to taking care of the world we live in is reflected in everything we do."

How is your current job different from what you did at Coke? "Coca-Cola and Starbucks are two of the world's best brands, but I think the most notable ways Starbucks differs is in our commitment to innovation and our unparalleled ability to create an uplifting customer experience. We provide much more than a premium cup of coffee; our stores are a community gathering place where people come together to connect."

Did you have to make adjustments to how you approach branded-entertainment ideas? "In some cases we are offering our customers great content that we've developed in collaboration with our label partners. In many cases, such as Starbucks' Hear Music's proprietary CD compilations, the content team is compiling and producing albums exclusively for Starbucks customers. In addition, it's important to note that Starbucks has never paid for product placement as we feel it would deter from the authenticity of the brand. A lot of companies use branded entertainment to sell more products. Our approach is totally different; our goal is to help our customers discover quality entertainment they might not otherwise have access to."

How do you choose the content you offer your customers? "Starbucks Entertainment has a committed and talented content development team in place, and they are focused on seeking out new, unique and high-quality entertainment experiences for consideration. We also recently announced a relationship with the William Morris Agency, which is serving as an extension of the content team to help broaden our reach and access to additional content. We place tremendous value on creating innovative business alliances that benefit everyone involved, and we've been fortunate enough to have worked with the world's top artists, labels and studios to realize the potential of our vision. I also go to as many shows as I can, but my favorite way to discover new music is by simply asking people what they are listening to. I ask almost everyone I meet."

Where do you think the best ideas for branded entertainment are coming from? "The best branded-entertainment ideas tend to spring from a real business need for creative, innovative new ways to revitalize sagging markets. Take the challenges facing the music industry. Big-box retailers are selling music as a loss leader, radio stations are consolidating and the music on Top 40 radio is becoming increasingly irrelevant to adults. In order for traditional music retailers to survive they must evolve with the industry by exploring new opportunities and distribution models. And they must continue to innovate, because the existing models of distribution do not effectively service customers who are eager to get exposed to great music."

What was the last branded-entertainment program you wished you had done? "Honestly, I haven't seen a lot lately that has blown me away. It seems as if everyone is still racing to define what branded entertainment really is. As we explore its meaning, we are seeing a lot of glorified product placement and very little actual entertainment."

What forms of media and consumer engagement do you find most intriguing, exciting or necessary and why? How are you exploring them for Starbucks? "I think that what's happened with social networking and music websites like MySpace over the past few years is fascinating. The continued growth and chatter surrounding digital music has also been very exciting to watch. We'll continue to evolve our business as various forms of media and technology advance."

Starbucks has already moved into films and now audio books. How do they compare to or differ from music when it comes to development, activation and measurement? "Our goal is to surprise and delight customers by continually offering new beverages, food items, merchandise, services and entertainment options. Building on the success of our music strategy, we are extending our reach into entertainment by offering our customers the opportunity to discover compelling films during their theatrical release and when they become available on DVD. With our music strategy, Starbucks customers gave us permission to go beyond coffee. Moving into film was a logical next step for us, given the passion our customers have for quality entertainment coupled with the fact that it can be overwhelming for the discerning consumer to choose from the sheer abundance of films being offered in the marketplace today."

What kind of content do you prefer for work and leisure, and how do you prefer to get that content? "I listen to music most of the day while I'm at work, and much of it is new artists we are considering featuring at Starbucks locations. We're always looking for unique and compelling music choices from a broad range of genres that we know our customers will love, so I listen to a pretty diverse mix. Some of my current favorites include Sonya Kitchell, the new Thom Yorke solo album, Ane Brun and Donavon Frankenreiter. In my personal time, I shop for CDs and download songs from iTunes. I really enjoy buying CDs because I like to read the liner notes and check out the packaging. That's one of the ways I got into Donavon Frankenreiter: I really like the cover art on his album 'Move by Yourself.'"

Being a media guy, what kinds of hardware do you carry? "I have four iPods. My favorite is the 60 gig video iPod. I also have a Treo 650."

What are you listening to right now? "I am a huge Radiohead fan, so I'm in a constant search mode for any Radiohead tracks that I can get my hands on. I've just returned from Bonnaroo, where they were one of the headliners. They were amazing. I'm also listening to Sonya Kitchell, my favorite new artist of the year. Others on my current playlist include Neko Case, James Hunter, Alexei Murdoch, Corinne Bailey Rae and a new band called Radiant. I also just received a demo from a guy named James Morrison that I really like."
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