When tragedy forces a marketing break

Photo courtesy of Champion Management

Marketing bites

Welcome to RB’s weekly roundup of the latest developments in restaurant marketing.

I spent some time on Tuesday afternoon writing a quick and fun little story about a well-known limited-service restaurant chain’s goofy marketing promotion.

The article was embargoed until 5am the next day, so I put it up for publication then and forgot about it.

Soon after, the world became aware of the tragedy unfolding in Uvalde, Texas, in which a gunman murdered 19 elementary school students and two adults.

The marketing manager for the restaurant brand I had written about emailed that evening to say the story was being pulled until a more appropriate time – a completely understandable decision, of course.

But how do marketers and brands decide to resume advertising efforts after such a tragedy? And what immediate action should they take with their customers when such a horrible thing happens?

Ladd Biro founded a Dallas-based PR firm Champion management 20 years ago, and the company has a long list of restaurant clients, including Raising Cane’s, Golden Corral, Tim Hortons and Bar Louie.

When some sort of local or national devastation occurs, Champion first tells its clients to keep all non-essential messaging, such as press releases, email outings, digital campaigns and spots to local television.

The duration of the marketing blackout depends on the nature and scale of the tragedy. Biro recalled that publicity efforts were silenced for weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

On Wednesday afternoon, for example, I couldn’t find a single major restaurant brand that had posted anything on Twitter in the previous 24 hours.

“It’s really about being sensitive and understanding that people don’t want to hear about your OLT when tragedy strikes,” Biro said. “It never hurts to dwell on marketing in the face of tragedy. The only mistake you can make is pursuing your brand goals too early or ruthlessly. Something that seemed funny or clever yesterday when you planned it may be insensitive or downright awkward the next day.

In the days that follow, marketing plans will need to be assessed on a local basis, he said.

Restaurants with locations in San Antonio near the school shooting will likely want to delay their marketing efforts longer than others.

“Everything is on hold at the moment until we feel like the time is right to get back there,” Biro said. “That will likely happen more quickly in markets other than San Antonio.”

Champion never advises customers against delivering an “authentic message” in times of tragedy, he said, but it must fit the brand’s identity.

“Everyone is tired of thoughts and prayers,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend a generic statement.”

After the initial horror of a tragedy has passed, Champion often works with clients to raise awareness of relief efforts. This could take the form of raising awareness of free food for those affected by a tornado or, in this case, participating in a fundraiser for devastated families.

“The first thing we’re going to talk about is, ‘Let’s take a break,'” Biro said. “The second thing is, ‘What can we do to help?’ We will work with them to publicize the relief efforts. We will always step up to help our customers do the right thing.

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