What the Public Affairs Industry Can Learn from a Cup of Coffee

Fall is upon us – the weather is starting to cool down, leaves are starting to change colors, and before you know it, you’ll see countless people walking down the street with their cup of coffee with the letters “PSL” scribbled on the side.

For the seasoned coffee aficionado, “PSL” refers to the popular “Pumpkin Spice Latte” coffee beverage, first introduced by Starbucks Coffee in 2003 and since has sold over 200 million times. As you read this, you’re probably thinking of all the Instagram and Facebook posts you’re going see of your friends enjoying their first PSL of the season. Love it or hate it, the beverage has earned a strong following, with its own Twitter and Instagram handles having over 115,000 and 37,000 followers, respectively. It was also most recently in the news when American lifestyle icon Martha Stewart shared her less than favorable views on the beverage.

But what is it about this beverage that has people all over the world flocking to their local coffee shop to indulge in the flavors of fall? While there are some emotional triggers that come into play (the scent of pumpkin spice makes us think of happy memories), probably the biggest driver of the PSL’s popularity is the beverage’s scarcity.

When there is a product or event that only comes around once a year, there’s a built-in marketing opportunity that can grow over time – think of the Cadbury Egg commercial that has aired every year during the Easter season since 1994.

You may be thinking, “Ok, but what can public affairs professionals and organizations learn from these products that have natural, seasonal markets?”

Many organizations have used natural opportunities within their industries—and the legislative calendar—to create events, products, and campaigns that are relevant to their stakeholders and constituents.

A great example of how public affairs can employ the “PSL Model” can be seen in the American Chemistry Council’s Chemistry Matters August tour. The ACC has created a brand around their annual tour across the U.S. with elected officials to showcase the importance and innovations of their industry. The council creates an opportunity for members of their industry to connect and share their experiences with elected officials all while promoting the event across social channels.

Unique opportunities like these allow constituents to have a memorable experience with an elected official or industry leader they otherwise may never have the chance to meet or speak to. The key to the success of programs like this is to make sure that they are consistent, annual and that your brand is at the forefront. Like many things in our industry, success won’t happen overnight and will require some attention to detail, consistency, and even some trial and error to determine what works best for your industry and constituents.