The general manager of the Edelman Atlanta office mesmerized attendees at The University of Alabama PRSSA Southeastern Regional Conference with her presentation on the changing food industry in the new millennium on Jan. 29.
Alicia Thompson, an extraordinary public relations professional with 24 years of experience in the industry, exemplified the conference’s theme of ‘innovating tradition’ by explaining how the Atlanta Edelman office is implementing a new principle: “earned-centric, digital by design.” This shift to a communication marketing approach means that Edelman wants to authentically engage the customer and make sure its campaigns can be picked up by the media and marketed through different channels.
Thompson explained how marketing today is no longer one-directional. She said that professionals must know that communication is two-way, and they must find which channel is most relevant to pinpointing their target audience and making sure that their message gets through to the consumer.
“We’re human,” Thompson said. “Our ability to absorb that infinite content is finite.”
Specifically applying the Edelman approach to the food industry, Thompson said that food is “glocal” and now takes on different meanings.
“I’m a foodie; you’ll have to excuse me,” Thompson chuckled.
Thompson referenced Edelman’s current Arby’s case study. Edelman took on Arby’s as a client in 2012 because the company was looking for a way to become relevant again. The firm asked itself the question, “What is the best way to reach our audience in the new millenia?” Through research, the Edelman team found that the Arby’s core consumers were meat-lovers. They needed to amplify this demographic and also attract people who no longer thought of Arby’s as their pit-stop for fast food.
Thompson took a counter-intuitive approach to promoting Arby’s brown-sugar bacon. She asked, “Who is least likely to support bacon?” The answer was vegetarians. To achieve the earned-centric goal, the campaign used vegetarians to help tell a story of meat lovers. It was unusual and funny, which attracted the media on multiple platforms.
The campaign included writing a one-page apology letter to vegetarians that stated Arby’s was sorry if any vegetarians gave in to eating Arby’s bacon because it is so irresistible.
The news was first broken by Time magazine. Eventually, the story was covered on “Good Morning America” and featured on YouTube. A meat helpline was also set up. Because the message was accessible on so many channels, the media picked it up and ran with it.
The campaign was extremely successful, with over 19,000 calls, 15,000 voicemails and 22 million media impressions in a 30-day period.
Thompson emphasized that this campaign could have been taken the wrong way by some audiences and that it is always important to have a crisis plan in case things go awry. Thompson’s memorable presentation on the constantly changing food industry and how public relations practitioners can go about adapting to it was definitely a favorite at the Southeastern Regional Conference.
What part of Thompson’s advice did you find most resonating? Do you think other public relations firms will start implementing similar approaches to campaigns? How will a marketing-communication approach shape the future of public relations?
-by Sydney Denninger, PRSSA Member from the University of Florida