As the director of business development at Starbucks Entertainment, Nikkole Denson is the colossal coffee company’s link to the entertainment industry. And she doesn’t drink java. But don’t be misled. She understands coffeehouse culture.
In the two short years she has been with Starbucks, Denson has expanded the company’s seemingly endless reach (an average of 44 million customers a week) beyond coffee connoisseur to cultural tastemaker, extending the brand’s already fruitful partnerships with the record labels to studios and publishers.
“Film and books were the next organic steps from music,” says Denson. “When you walk into a major retailer it’s hard to sift through all the book and DVD offerings. Our customers appreciate us doing the homework for them.”
Starbucks was already successfully selling CDs when Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment, handpicked Denson, then the president of entertainment at Magic Johnson Enterprises, to lead the initiative. She’s since teamed up with Lionsgate to market “Akeelah and the Bee” in stores, the story of an inner-city girl’s journey to the National Spelling Bee, released last April.
“I’d probably screened about 90-100 films, and talked to a number of studios before I stumbled across ‘Akeelah and the Bee,’ ” says Denson. “Once I screened it I knew it was the perfect first film for us to partner on.”
Next up is a special DVD/CD package of “White Christmas” (Paramount Home Entertainment), currently in stores.
Denson also has spearheaded a program to sell books in Starbucks stores. Mitch Albom’s bestselling novel “For One More Day” is the first of many to take its place among French-press coffeemakers and 16 oz. bags of Guatemala Antigua beans.
“Books and reading are so aligned with the coffeehouse experience,” says Denson. “Utilizing the trust we’ve built through the music, we’re bringing quality content to our customers that they otherwise might not have had exposure to.”
While she won’t name names, Denson says she is “aggressively” fielding new film and book opportunities, with plans to introduce more films “that are enhancing people’s lives.”
So what is Denson’s beverage of choice at Starbucks?
“The chai soy latte,” she says. “That’s my drink.”