Starbucks' tastemaker lends brand to movies

Nikkole Denson has a hard time walking into a Starbucks and simply ordering her signature tall soy chai. DVD displays, book racks and point-of-sale items all invite her scrutiny.

“I will circle the store and sometimes I’ll ask, ‘Did you run out of these?’ knowing there’s 40 in the back room.”

As Starbucks Entertainment’s director of business development, she’s the company’s resident tastemaker, coordinating with publishers and the film business to lend the Starbucks brand to literature and movies, which, to hear her tell it, should be good and good for you.

Denson spearheaded Starbucks’ maiden book deal with Hyperion for “For One More Day,” about maternal love and sacrifice by bestselling author Mitch Albom (“Tuesdays With Morrie”). She also struck a partnership with Lionsgate to market and promote “Akeelah and the Bee,” about an 11-year-old girl from South Central Los Angeles who earns a spot to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

In February, Starbucks threw its weight behind Ishmael Beah’s harrowing memoir “A Long Way Gone” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) about his days as a child soldier caught up in Sierra Leone’s civil war. According to Denson, the book sold more than 115,000 units in Starbucks alone, and the partnership helped propel sales to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

“I’m still floating on air around that,” says Denson, “because we were able to share such a fantastic message about that kind of human connection and what we all overcome.”

Vocation: Director of business development, Starbucks Entertainment

Recent breakthrough: Bestselling book “A Long Way Gone.” “Starbucks absolutely took my recommendation and we just killed.”

Role model: “My mother inspired me to be that person who just doesn’t quit.”

Career mantra: “I always want to innovate, do things a little differently.”

What’s next: Release of doc “Arctic Tale” (Par Classics)

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