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Reputation management and authenticity: A case study of Starbucks’ UK tax crisis and “#SpreadTheCheer” campaign

Diana C. Sisson (School of Communication and Journalism, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA)
Shannon A. Bowen (School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 7 August 2017



Following a report released by the UK Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, multinational corporations like Starbucks, Google, and Amazon found themselves in a firestorm of criticism for not paying or paying minimal taxes after earning significant profits in the UK for the past three years. Allegations of tax evasion led to a serious crisis for Starbucks in the UK, which played out in a public forum via social media. The researchers explored whether Starbucks’ corporate ethics insulated its reputation from negative media coverage of alleged tax evasion evidenced in its “hijacked” social media “#spreadthecheer” campaign. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


Using an exploratory case study analysis of news articles, Starbucks’ annual reports, #spreadthecheer Tweets, and David Michelli’s The Starbucks Experience, data collection helped to inform the discussion of authenticity and whether it helped to insulate Starbucks’ reputation during its crisis in the UK.


Authenticity is key when organizations face a turbulent environment and active publics and stakeholder groups. Findings from this study also suggested proactive reputation management strategies and tactics, grounded in the organization’s corporate culture and transparency, could have diffused some of the uproar from its key publics.


Authentic corporate cultures should align with corporate business practices in order to reduce the potential for crises to occur. It is possible that ethical core values and a strong organizational approach to ethics help to insulate its reputation among publics during a crisis.



Sisson, D.C. and Bowen, S.A. (2017), "Reputation management and authenticity: A case study of Starbucks’ UK tax crisis and “#SpreadTheCheer” campaign", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 287-302.



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