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There’s good news for those craving fast, delicious dining options. The quick service restaurant (QSR) industry – commonly referred to as fast food – is growing in both revenue and popularity with the U.S. consumer. In 2022, the market size of the fast food industry was forecast to reach over $331 billion, an increase of more than $100 billion in just a decade. And while your favorite hamburgers and french fries aren’t going anywhere, there’s a long menu of other grab-and-go establishments launching to satisfy a variety of taste buds, as these fast-food industry leaders are meeting the demand as quickly as their franchises can serve up orders. For instance, when plant-based meat skyrocketed in demand, QSR companies rushed to expand their menus; and during the pandemic, fast food chains quickly delivered clever, contact-free options to ensure safety.
Behind every quick-acting fast food restaurant are local and national PR teams who work around the clock to uncover the needs of the consumer and put engagement plans into action. We’re sharing first-hand knowledge from Bolt PR Senior Vice President Laura Murphy, who has over a decade of experience developing supercharged strategies for restaurant chains like McDonalds, Chick-fil-A, Chuy’s Tex Mex and Bonefish Grill. Here are some exclusive tips straight from our very own expert on how partnering with a powerful public relations agency will send customers running to your counters and drive-through windows.
The core purpose of PR is to tell a captivating story. As S.H. Simmons once said, “If a young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is – that’s advertising. If the young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, that’s marketing. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is – that’s PR.”
Successful restaurateurs, founders and franchisees partner with a PR firm because everyone loves hearing the story of what inspired a new restaurant concept or what led someone to become a franchise owner. Proactive PR allows the customer to hear the full story and connect to a brand through intentional and relatable messaging. The invaluable connection formed with a proactive storytelling approach allows for thoughtful engagement, increased loyalty and stronger relationships with existing or new customers.
In addition to forming connections, a proactive PR approach puts the brand in control of the narrative. If the choice is there and you aren’t already in a reactive state, it’s ideal to already have a communications strategy and well-thought out plan in place to help tell your brand message. As a PR professional and marketer, I am always uncovering unique founder stories and peeling back the layers to understand what differentiates each brand in a very crowded market. With proactive planning and a steady hand at pitching journalists, a brand’s authentic story can make headlines.
One of the most successful ways to engage with customers is through experiential marketing. This provides a myriad of benefits, from building reputation and credibility, to improving brand perception, attracting new customers and retaining customer loyalty, to name a few.
In 2009, I had the incredible honor to spearhead the launch of the McCafe brand in Raleigh as an identified test market. We knew we were going up against several other coffee giants in the region and needed to find a way to connect with customers to build their trust in a brand with a reputation originally established around burgers and fries. We launched a McCafe Mini Campaign statewide with a street team armed with BOG (Be Our Guest) cards, a wrapped McCafe Mini Cooper and product samples to hand out during events in high traffic areas.
We also worked with local media outlets to conduct onsite interviews and radio remotes and ensured that our campaign was seen all over social media. As a result of the diligent and consistent effort, customers waited hours in line to taste the limited test supply, secure freebies and be among the first to experience a brand rollout. This campaign occurred over a decade ago, but the importance of getting the product into customers’ hands by all means necessary has not changed today. In fact, it has become even more impactful for consumers to see, touch and taste products up front.
An experienced PR team will never just “wing it.” There must be a strategy and reasoning behind every message pushed out. While there are a number of ways to supercharge a brand campaign, establishing a social media strategy with the right content, SEO and digital marketing know-how is an excellent place to start. This keeps the brand top of mind and reaches consumers where they are - whether scrolling social media for mealtime inspiration or searching for local bites to satisfy a craving. It allows for a brand to ignite interest while deepening the connection with current customers and building trust with industry influencers for viral viewing.
Quick service restaurants are in a constant battle for customer acquisition and retention. While rewards and incentives will likely always remain a leading driver for customer loyalty, adapting to changing consumer demands and connecting the casual food experience with service and the story will always remain a critical part of attracting and retaining new customers.
At the end of the day, industry leaders shouldn’t be afraid of getting bold with message creativity. Customers love brands that provide a custom and personal experience, while also pushing the envelope and separating themselves from the crowd. Why should a customer choose you over the next place down the road? Make your brand stand out. Maybe even stage a flash mob-style event – yes, I did one for McDonald’s once! These kinds of creative efforts can help separate you from the old-school, linear approach to securing publicity. The best way to make news is to boldly tell a great story and to do things that are newsworthy.
At Bolt PR, we make it our mission to drive actionable insights and results that move as quickly as the customers in the drive-through. With storytelling that grips the hearts and appetites of customers, powerful media relationships that boost recognition and electrifying content that generates clicks, the right PR partnership will help your QSR franchise stay top of mind every time that food craving hits. Let us know when you’re ready to be one step ahead of the competition with a PR, digital marketing and content development agency that puts your name in neon lights.