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Innovation in PR as Told by Alicia Thompson, APR of Edelman

Updated: Feb 24, 2019

Creating innovative content is increasingly becoming more and more crucial in public relations. Alicia Thompson, APR, general manager of Edelman Atlanta, is someone who appreciates the challenge all too well. For over 20 years she has gained experience in creating and implementing marketing, as well as corporate, crisis and issues management communications strategies and programs. 

As former vice president of corporate communications and PR for Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, Ms. Thompson certainly has a firsthand look at fast food public relations. While discussing with attendees of The University of Alabama Southeastern Regional Conference what her career at Edelman Atlanta entails, Ms. Thompson was confident in the fact that she and her team implemented one of the most successful campaigns to hit the market—The Vegetarian Support Hotline for Arby’s. With scientific research leading the way, the team based the campaign for the new brown sugar bacon on the fact that bacon was seemingly “scientifically irresistible”. According to Barclay (2011):

Our story was familiar to Johan Lundstrom. He's a scientist who runs a lab at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. He studies how the brain processes sensory information, like smell, for a living. He also told us he had an ex-girlfriend who became an ex-vegetarian once she tasted bacon. Because bacon is one- to two-thirds fat and also has lots of protein, it speaks to our evolutionary quest for calories, Lundstrom says. And since 90 percent of what we taste is really odor, bacon's aggressive smell delivers a powerful hit to our sense of how good it will taste.

It must be tough to be a vegetarian around Arby’s brown sugar bacon. The start of the chain’s humorous run at success originated from a video that Thompson’s team developed, entitled “Are You a Vegetarian?”. The video is only 30 seconds long, but it received 60 views on YouTube in the first hour and 76,000 views in the second hour. So far, the video has received over 22 million impressions. 

While Ms. Thompson was discussing the numbers behind the success of the campaign, she had a slide within her slide deck dedicated to audio clips of the customers who called the “Vegetarian Help Hotline 1-855-MEAT-HLP.” While she was playing the audio, customers could be heard confessing they are no longer vegetarians and how “it’s the funniest damn commercial.” 

The ability to think outside of the box was key in gaining such a significant amount of impressions and getting picked up by just about every major news affiliate. Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback, Ms. Thompson and her team broke PR Week records for views. The success of this campaign is a reminder of how important innovation and creativity are in today’s world of public relations.

-by Ethan Flynn, PRSSA President, Georgia Southern University


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