PR pros should always be on the lookout for ways to shine a light on their brands. When the right circumstances converge with preparedness, even the national spotlight is within their grasp. That was the case a few weeks ago for Chicago-based Henson Consulting (HC).
HC felt it had found a way to elevate Giordano’s Famous Stuffed Pizza, a well-known Chicago deep-dish pizza brand, into trending conversations. The hook was Major League Baseball’s National League Championship Series. Giordano’s is the official pizza of the Chicago Cubs, and HC saw the MLB playoffs as a major news opportunity for Giordano’s and began strategizing opportunities from the moment the Cubs clinched a place in the postseason.
When it was announced that the Chicago Cubs were to face off against the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series in mid-October, HC jumped at the chance to reignite the age-old debate—Chicago deep-dish vs. NYC thin-crust pizza—to promote Giordano’s. It was HC’s goal to make Giordano’s the most buzz-worthy brand in the conversation locally and nationally. This was an extension of their goal to position Giordano’s as the number one deep-dish pizza in Chicago.
The challenge was to make Giordano’s the most talked-about pizza in Chicago during the series, and HC needed to craft a strategic plan to ensure the brand was visible to consumers while the Cubs were in the postseason. HC turned to some of its well-tested tactics and crafted a few new ones to execute the effort.
Capitalize on Current Events: HC strives to keep Giordano’s in the news. When something with a possible national angle presents itself, being ahead of the curve is key for earning media coverage. Even before the Mets won their divisional series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the HC team was aware that it needed to prepare a strategy surrounding a New York vs. Chicago pizza debate. This meant that once the Cubs and the Mets won their respective series, the HC team was able to mobilize immediately, informing Giordano’s of its plans and bringing the brand into the conversation fully.
Foster and Cultivate Relationships: “Relationships are the currency of our business” is a common phrase in PR. In cases like this, it was evident. HC reached out to news outlets that showed interest in the pizza debate. The HC team contacted Chicago’s top morning talk show, Windy City Live, and received confirmation that Giordano’s would be part of a wager its talent and staff made with the nationally syndicated morning show Live! with Kelly and Michael, based in New York and starring Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan. Each show bet that its hometown team would win the championship series. Upon a win for the Cubs, Ripa and Strahan would deliver New York pizza to Chicago hosts Val Warner and Ryan Chiaverini. In the event of a Mets win, Warner and Chiaverini would bring Giordano’s to Live! with Kelly and Michael.
To add buzz, HC reached out to recommend a similar bet be placed between Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). Knowing Mayor Emanuel is a fan of Giordano’s, HC reached out to the mayor’s office and offered up Giordano’s pizzas to be part of a wager between the mayors. Chicago’s mayor agreed. Although Mayor de Blasio never responded to the bet, Mayor Emanuel was quoted in The Chicago Sun-Times saying if the Cubs lost, he would make a contribution to a New York-based organization of mayor de Blasio’s choice, and “sweeten the pot” with a case of Lagunitas beer and some “real pizza” from Giordano’s. Several news outlets, including The Chicago Tribune, Fox and Friends and amNewYork, covered Mayor Emanuel’s offer.
Always Move Quickly: On Thursday, following the final game of the series, the hosts of Windy City Live informed HC and their audience that they planned to make good on the bet. The Mets’ four-game sweep meant they would supply the entire Live! with Kelly and Michael crew with Giordano’s deep-dish pizza on Monday.
To capitalize on the news, HC needed to move quickly to make the segment come off just two business days later. Without a restaurant in New York, Giordano’s and HC needed to brainstorm how to ship, bake and present, on-air, nearly 40 deep-dish pizzas.
It was never a question of if, but how to make it work. After reaching out to numerous NY-based restaurant contacts, test kitchens, hotels and more, HC decided the best option was to enlist the help of the ABC Studios Catering team, which had kitchen storage space available only two minutes away from the Live! with Kelly and Michael studio.
HC began coordinating on Thursday afternoon and facilitated and confirmed the following prior to the segment on Monday morning:
• Ensured enough pizza could be shipped and cooked in time for an on-air mention and visual first thing Monday morning, the day of the segment. To accomplish this, the deep-dish pizzas were frozen and put on dry ice to ship, and the ABC catering team received them on Saturday to handle and store prior to Monday morning.
• Worked with ABC Catering to store the pizzas from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning to ensure the pies shown on-camera not only looked appetizing, but also met the brand’s standards for taste and appearance.The ABC Catering team handled the pies on Saturday and Sunday morning, with specific instructions from Giordano’s. Upon arrival in New York, the pizzas were placed in a freezer and removed Sunday at 6 a.m. to begin thawing.
• Ordered and coordinated the delivery and pick-up of two large convection ovens to cook pizzas onsite at Live! with Kelly and Michael to maintain quality and freshness of the product; this ensured the pizzas were cooked and prepared with the same care and attention as they are given in Giordano’s restaurants, which was a high priority for the client.
• Organized a shipment of pizza boxes with client branding along with other necessary materials for the segment, including pizza knives, spatulas and aprons for optimal brand awareness.
• Enlisted the help of one of Giordano’s best pizza cooks to be onsite to prepare all the pizzas for the cast and crew.
Deliver on Value
On Sunday the HC and Giordano’s teams headed to New York. To remain on budget, Giordano’s sent its marketing director and senior pizza chef. HC sent one representative. Monday, the day of the segment, HC and the Giordano’s team managed and facilitated all on-site activations in New York with vendors and show contacts, delivering the Giordano’s pizzas to the studio, setting up the ovens on site and starting to cook the pizzas at 7 a.m. The Giordano’s chef baked the pizzas for approximately 20 minutes, adding fresh sauce and parmesan cheese as needed, cooking up to six pizzas simultaneously in the portable ovens and six more in the studio’s onsite kitchen.
By 9 a.m., all 36 pizzas were hot and prepared to perfection, with 12 pizzas for the on-air segment coming fresh out of the oven only ten minutes prior to the live shot. Val and Ryan delivered the pizzas to Kelly and Michael on camera, ensuring multiple brand mentions for Giordano’s.
HC continued the conversation by delivering pizzas to Windy City Live hosts for on-air mentions and visuals on the show the following day, resulting in more earned media impressions for the brand.
• Stories about the bets between the television shows and the mayors of New York and Chicago received strong play in print, television and online. Total impressions topped more than 16 million for Giordano’s—and this was before any baseball games were played between the two teams.
• Prior to, during and after the national segment, HC garnered an additional 24.8 million impressions for the Giordano’s brand surrounding the wager between the hosts, including notable mentions in AdWeek and on Chicago’s ABC 7 Eyewitness News, Windy City Live and Live! with Kelly and Michael.
• After the show, the talent and producers from both shows said the segment and logistics could not have gone any better and that the integration was a major success.
• Relationships Are Key: The plethora of media coverage surrounding the celebrity bets can be directly linked to HC’s relationships with journalists. Multiple mentions in print and on television allowed HC to make Giordano’s the most visible pizza brand during this timely occasion. While the story was tailor-made for press coverage and would have received plenty of play on its own merits, HC’s contacts helped augment the extent of coverage. This is truly where the value of an established PR agency can come into play.
• Make it a Habit to Capitalize on Current Events: For PR professionals, it’s important to constantly monitor trends, news and events that could be relevant to clients. One never knows when a competitor may jump in first and beat you to a big story, and staying ahead of the game by anticipating news stories and capitalizing on major events can pay off in the long run. Keep up with trending stories by enlisting a team to monitor for news every morning, including watching national and local morning news. Also, set proactive alerts to capture when clients are mentioned in the media.
• Take Risks to Make Headlines: Even though the mayor of New York never responded to the wager, media was eager to cover Mayor Emanuel’s promise of Chicago pizza and beer to Mayor de Blasio. While the bet was never executed, the wager itself was newsworthy and drove the conversation.
• Hustle: Instead of saying that cooking 36 Chicago pizzas in New York was impossible, the HC team worked nights and weekends to make it happen quickly. Sometimes it seems like the easier option is the only way, but with a lot of hustle and passion, the team delivered major results.
By hustling and capitalizing on current events and relationships, Giordano’s was visible on a national scale following the Mets-Cubs series in October 2015.
This article originally appeared in the November 9, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.