Seattle Digital Agency Backs Starbucks CEO in Political Cause

A Seattle-based digital agency has sprung into action to support Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in his crusade against ineffective government. In a few short weeks, Pop, an agency that works with brands including Target, Nike, and Nintendo, developed an initiative called Upward Spiral, complete with a website, Facebook presence and online pledge platform inspired by Schultz’s call for “citizenship, not partisanship.”

upwardspiralAOL CEO Tim Armstrong, along with top execs from firms including Gilt Groupe have also been named as “key supporters.”

Tonight, Schultz is set to speak about ways to stop partisanship in Washington during a town hall teleconference hosted by non-partisan group No Labels.

In an August 15 missive, Schultz challenged corporate CEOs to commit to withhold campaign contributions to incumbents – including President Barack Obama – and agree to hire more people. Since then, more than 15,000 people – up from around 13,000 this morning – have signed a pledge on Facebook agreeing not to fund election campaigns of any current congressional members, or Obama.

“I join my fellow concerned Americans in pledging to withhold any further campaign contributions to elected members of Congress and the President until a fair, bipartisan deal is reached that sets our nation on stronger long-term fiscal footing,” states the pledge on the Upward Spiral Facebook page, which launched August 24.

A pledge to “do everything we can to accelerate job creation before the end of 2011” has been virtually signed by around 2,000 people through the Facebook page and

It all started the night of August 15, when after reading Schultz’s letter earlier that day, Bill Predmore, founder and president of Pop, happened to attend a dinner with a Starbucks executive. “One thing led to another,” said Predmore, and Upward Spiral was born. The initiative – named after a phrase in the August 15 letter – is not a separate legal entity outside of Pop; rather, it’s an internal project that so far appears to have the support of the agency’s 200 employees, according to Predmore.

“I thought it was the right time for the business community to get involved in the debate,” he said, referring to the partisan gridlock hindering action on the debt ceiling around the time of Schultz’s first letter. According to Predmore, the purpose of Upward Spiral is to support the goals that Schultz put forth in that first letter. “We wanted to provide what amounts to infrastructure to supporting his goal,” said Predmore.

Pop’s staff created Upward Spiral and produced the social media underpinnings of the project on their own volition, said Starbucks spokesperson Jim Olson. “They called us and said, ‘Would you guys mind if we created a web site?” Pop also wanted to use the Facebook page to spotlight corporate executives who had privately agreed to Schultz’s donation and hiring pledges.

Those “Key Supporters” include AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, and others with connections to the digital media and advertising industries, such as Kevin Ryan, Gilt Groupe founder and CEO and former DoubleClick honcho, as well as Lotame Chairman Scott Kauffman.

Momentum behind the pledges has increased with help from recent print ads in the New York Times and USA Today. In particular, those ads promote tonight’s telephone town hall, which will allow callers to ask questions and voice their opinions. Starbucks also sent a note via email from Schultz to members of its My Starbucks Rewards loyalty program to promote tonight’s virtual town hall. Some Starbucks customers complained online about receiving the email, as well as robocalls from No Labels that promoted the event and featured Schultz. Olson called the emails “consistent with [the company’s] guiding principles.”

No Labels has also bought Google search ads promoting the phone conference. “Join Howard Schultz this Tuesday & discuss moving our country forward!” state the ads. Thus far, said Predmore, Pop has not purchased any media to promote the Upward Spiral initiative.

A challenge to stop donating to incumbents, including to Obama’s reelection campaign, could be seen as partisan by some people despite the proclaimed nonpartisanship of the effort. Olson said Starbucks is not concerned with that reaction. As for Predmore, he said, “The focus is around encouraging our elected officials to effect some positive change…. We certainly hope there are not unintended consequences to the approach.”

Related reading

Website landing page vector graphic