Chuck E. Cheese needs some digital crackers to give its autism initiative some bite

Occasionally you can count on a mouse to the right thing. And, America’s Chuck E. Cheese‘s restaurant chain dedicating the first Sunday of the month to sensory play, for children with autism, is both morally and reputationally good. 

Launching in time for World Autism Awareness Day last month, the organisation took a customer’s request to heart when she asked if her local branch would be willing to open earlier for her autistic nephew. 

By dimming the lights, switching off the music and unplugging its animatronic stage show two hours before its official opening time, the restaurant was able to transform into a suitable environment for children who face sensory challenges. 
 Chuck E. Cheese introduces Sensory Sensitive Sundays 

And it worked so well, after a series of regional pilots, Chuck E. Cheese is now taking a bite out of this big initiative. 

So, not only has the brand positioned itself as an organisation that listens (willing to evolve to meet customers’ needs), but also capitalised on this mass-market opportunity by catering for the 3.5m  people in the U.S. who are on the spectrum.

Now, this may sound a little cheesy, but isn’t that the type of company you’d like to associate with? 

It’s not just having an impact on the organisation’s bottom line, but the feel-good fever is spreading to staff too, who are embracing relevant training to enhance performance and service – another good sign that Chuck E. Cheese is taking this seriously. 

So, with customers sharing positive feedback and the company generating good PR write-ups in the likes of AdWeek, Huffington Post and various disability trade titles, now’s the time to ‘turn up’ its marketing strategy while the news is fresh. 

Chuck E. Cheese has issued virtually zero content to support its Sensory Sensitive Sunday’s project – and it needs to strike while the iron’s hot. 

 Chuck E. Cheese is supporting autistic customers 
I guess its marketing agency Current is nibbling on its next steps.

While it waits, I recommend Chuck E. Cheese commissions a video to capture young people enjoying these sensory sessions which can feature on its dedicated landing page on its website and used as a promotional tool across social media. This could also be supplemented with a simple social media strategy – predominantly focused on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – for restaurants to roll out to drive sales in the run-up; sustain an element of exclusivity during the sessions; and celebrate success after each event to boost customers and loyalty. 

To extend its reach, Chuck E. Cheese should also partner with a national autism charity – preferably one with prominent regional centres so it can maximise its presence across the U.S. – to raise awareness and promote advocacy through its e-marketing channels by offering discounts.

Of course, by working with a relevant third party, Chuck E. Cheese could also benefit from data to retarget potential customers (autism community groups for example) via digital advertising to ensure the messaging is landing in the right place. 

All in all, this is an epic opportunity for the party restaurant chain which could grow and grow. 

Will UK brands take notice of the big cheese across the pond? Here’s hoping. 

Crayola makes its mark with integrated campaign

It’s not often that this momentous event occurs in our lifetime. No, I’m not talking about eclipses, royal weddings or black Presidents. I’m talking about a new shade of blue.

A few years ago US scientists (accidentally) created a new shade of blue – currently called YInMn – by blending chemicals. And, Crayola has jumped on this discovery by putting it in its iconic box of 24-crayons.

Having retired ‘Dandelion Yellow’ from the pack, the brand ran a series of consumer polls to find out which colour people preferred and blue came out on top every time. So, what better way to capitalise on this than to feature the first new blue the world’s seen in over 200 years? (I know, that really is a thing!)

Crayola introduces YInMn blue
Jokes aside, kudos to Crayola for taking this PR stunt by the horns. After successfully involving its customer base in this ‘storytelling’ sequence, it’s now handing over the naming rights of the crayon – encouraging people to submit entries.

Supported with a social media campaign which uses the hashtag ‘#NameTheBlue‘, the most colourful company on earth is pushing its online contest across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – reaching millions in the process.

But, followers is not what Crayola needs; it’s digital engagement. So giving responsibility to its fans is an efficient way to drive likes, shares and comments to encourage advocacy, setting the product up for a sales boost.

Crayola's #NameTheBlue campaign needs some extra support
With a background in PR, I can appreciate it’s not easy for brands like Crayola to consistently generate shareable content that’ll hop the fence into the world of media coverage. Pantone does it well and Dulux has dabbled, but they’re the only campaigns I can pull out of the bag.

But, articles alone won’t get people talking. Sponsoring posts will ensure the conversation is driven by the right people.

All in all, the colourful company has done a great job of seizing the opportunity – with three hooks for the price of one: retiring Dandelion ‘yellow’ (Crayola’s selling boxes of this one colour to commemorate it); introducing ‘blue'; and #NameTheBlue. Now, that’s how you make your mark.

KFC comes clean after making up fictitious food blogger

Bloggers have taken the world by storm in the last few years. [Insert personal praise for Prime Time here]. Why? Because, the content they post is C.A.T: credible, authentic and trustworthy.

The social influencers that have risen up out of the ranks – having turned their hobbies into businesses – may be slightly compromised thanks to the introduction of #spon and #ad hashtags, which are required to clarify when they’re getting paid to say nice things about products. But, the micro bloggers who still turn up to work and find time to write about what drives them are able to remain true to themselves – which is why they’re still one of the most trusted sources for accurate online information.

So, to read that KFC (the brand that pushes the line with crude content when it comes to its digital activity anyway) cat-fished customers by creating a fictitious clean eating flogger (food blogger) to promote its Dirty Louisiana burger is quite outrageous.

Figgy Poppleton-Rice has a blog, Instagram and Twitter account with almost 30,000 followers combined and the idea to make her up came when the fast-food chain’s marketing team realised that 80% of the top-selling books on Amazon were about healthy living.

KFC's fictitious blogger Figgy Poppleton-Rice

In an attempt to reverse the trend – and capitalise on a slight lean towards fitness fatigue – it used social listening to plan a tongue-in-cheek campaign. Using Figgy to drip-feed countless images of kale, almond milk and cauliflower rice, it was part of a bigger piece to reveal the brand’s dirty burger, which has since generated millions of views and thousands of shares and comments on its Twitter and Facebook profiles.

A novel approach, most consumers have taken kindly to the campaign (which was mostly driven by KFC due to its potential reach) because of its humour and talkability. It’s even generated global PR coverage with articles on Mashable, Men’s Health and Yahoo! to name a few – although all of these publications did call KFC out on its stunt.

 

But, looking through the campaign, it didn’t matter. In fact, I can see why it worked so well. KFC researched its target customer, developed an anti-customer persona, and tied this with current trends to craft a relevant campaign that its actual audience would find hilarious.

Which prompts the question: Will more brands be willing to push outside of its comfort zone in an attempt to create unique content that’ll grab attention?

As long as the preparation towards the big reveal is balanced just right, most marketing teams will have the prowess to pass it off while having good fun with their followers. It’s a win-win situation.

In an industry where marketers are at constant risk of ‘content shocking’ their audiences (producing irrelevant content that consumers simply can’t keep up with), it’s a great example of content-first advertising that’s both interesting and entertaining.

With less than a month to go until April Fools’ Day, I hope KFC has still got buckets full of energy to make the most of this opportunity too.

Did PwC calculate a PR opportunity when it handed out the wrong Oscars envelope?  

As I type this blog, thousands of people are probably Googling PwC, but not for accountancy advice. The professional services giant is more likely to be researched for the award-winning role it played in the Oscars 2017 ‘Best Picture’ blunder.

Genuine mistake or risky PR stunt? 

Either way, it took the 88th Academy Awards ceremony from hero to zero when presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway named La La Land as ‘Best Picture’ instead of Moonlight, which was resolved when film producer Jordan Horowitz humbly handed the statue across. [Click the link to watch *that* moment via the BBC News website.]

Opening up the Evening Standard tonight, the awards ceremony not only dominates the front page, but continues inside with a colourful double-page spread with four mentions of PwC before page 4 – including an image of Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz who are the only officials who knew the identity of the winners before the announcements are made and carry back-up envelopes in a briefcase.

Are PwC's officials to blame for the Oscars 2017 blunder?
So, with two opportunities to get it right, why did it all go wrong? 

Coincidentally, the last time PwC made headlines in the Evening Standard was when over 150,000 people signed a petition demanding a change in the law, after one of their female receptionists was sent home for refusing to wear heels to work.

Just days after Cullinan boasted to the media that PwC’s contract with the Oscars never comes up to tender due to the quality of its work, which is based on trust and accuracy, the company has been forced to grovel (while making headlines across the globe).

Golin‘s Michaela Gray makes an interesting point on PR Week that the incident is unlikely to shake the organisation’s reputation among its predominantly business audience. So, no damage done. But, the cynical media consultant in me thinks PwC had everything to gain, considering this is the first time I’ve taken any notice of their involvement in the film competition.

Looking at its website, it’s gone above and beyond to squeeze dynamic content out of its partnership. From social media posts and official biographies to behind-the-scenes videos and interactive ballot maps, Cullinan and Ruiz are even held up as celebrities in their own right for having the inside track.

La La Land hands over the Oscar to Moonlight
But, this content didn’t translate into high engagement on social media until it issued an apologetic statement, which generated an almost 10,000% uplift in shares compared to its other backstage Oscar posts on Twitter and an average rise of 25,000% compared to its general corporate communications.

Hmmm, maybe they’re professional after all? 

The mistake gave the show a thrilling narrative – suspense, shock, sadness and sharing – which the audience embraced (Twitter memes are the greatest form of flattery, right?) And, whether PwC continues to be associated with the event going forward, it’s guaranteed international PR, marketing and digital coverage in 2018 when Oscars season hits the headlines again to remind people of who the new cohort of nominees have to live up to.

PwC's Oscars 2017 Twitter apology
What do you think? Will PwC be ‘moonlighting’ in other ways – away from the Oscars – next year?

If I ruled the company…

If you haven’t already noticed I’m pretty opinionated. But, in my defence, which hard-nosed PR and marketing blogger isn’t? 

We’re just a couple of weeks into 2017 and I’ve already caught myself using the phrase, ‘It’s not how I’d run my company’ – an easy statement to make when you’re not in charge of very tight budgets and vocal employees.  

But I still think it’s important to humour myself, believing that I do know what I’m talking about when it comes to business management. Care to join me? 

Here’s a round up of ‘ooh-er’ initiatives I’ve spotted savvy media agencies adopt in an attempt to recruit and retain talent. 

Goodbye Skint January
I’ll forgive Ready10 for using the colloquial term ‘skint’, (I prefer the classier quip ‘broke’) for proving it listens to staff and giving them the option to be paid twice in the New Year, to make up for an early payday in the run up to Christmas. 

Supported with money management advice and guidance during the festive season, this genuinely helpful ‘staff-first’ approach is just one way the agency stands out for the right reasons.

Golin B&B
Recognising that the cost of living in London creates a massive barrier for young people crafting a career for themselves in the capital, Golin‘s giving its next cohort of interns a break by footing their accommodation bill for the first month.

Accompanied with 0% loans for their initial rent and deposits, as well as reimbursing interview travel costs, this ethical approach goes a long way in levelling the playing field for all graduates. 

Go Growbot!
Digital agency Spongecell has begun using Growbot, a tool which monitors online conversations between colleagues and identifies praise based on predetermined keywords. If it spots an example used in a group chat, it’ll reinforce the compliment with a cheeky one-liner such as ‘You’re kind of a big deal @Donna’. (Aww shucks)

Aiming to deliver positive feedback in real-time, it seeks to motivate staff and, as a result, encourages people to give praise as much as get it by taking it out of the private inbox and into the public office. 

These are just a few ways that London agencies are making a difference to staff. But, you don’t need endless pots of money to get employees’ attention. 

After all, people just want to feel listened to, valued and inspired.

  

Here’s a few classic company perks:  

  • Flexible holiday allowance
  • Showcase sporting events  
  • Duvet days and birthdays off
  • Buddy system for new starters 
  • Middle management leadership programme   
  • Friday afternoon fizz 

That’s not to say creativity is dead. It’s very much alive in the form of Perkbox – a company dedicated to offering personalised benefits to subscribers via its website – proving there’s a healthy appetite (if not for PR’s sake alone) for original ways to reward staff.

What would your dream perk be? 

A dirt cheap PR stunt to promote a town of millionaires

When Kylie sang about being lucky (lucky, lucky, lucky), she must’ve been talking about Romford – because it’s no secret that the town has generated 51 millionaires since the National Lottery began in 1994.

With such a golden reputation, communications agency Threepipe was invited to capitalise on this to ensure everyone knows about Romford’s good fortune. And, what better way to spread the word than by installing a phone box in the high street for local people to share their lucky lottery numbers with random callers – to spread the joy? 

You have to hand it to the Romford Town Management Partnership which recruited the agency. For a campaign which prides itself on making locals rich overnight, it’s an incredibly quick and ‘dirt cheap’ PR and marketing stunt. 

All Threepipe have actually arranged is branding for an existing public pay phone, some callers from across the country to ring at the right time, coordinated statistics for a media release and manned a video camera – although the end film does do a good job of highlighting the positive and friendly nature of Romfordians. 

But, to add some extra clout to the story, it would’ve been good to see the area matched with the ‘unluckiest’ town in the UK to even out the good fortune. Or, even ask a local millionaire to pledge to share their (next) lottery winnings with someone else; should they be lucky enough to win twice. 

 Did you know Romford is the luckiest town in the UK? 

It’s these sort of hooks that would’ve taken the stunt from a local story to a potential heavyweight – meeting its objective to drive national awareness in the run up to Christmas. 

That said, the activity did generate some national coverage in the Daily Expresstrade coverage on Gorkana and also within local rags such as the Essex Enquirerbut it’ll be lucky to get anymore without sprucing up the story.

I’m surprised the campaign wasn’t translated online via social media over the weekend to highlight awareness during the National Lottery draw – if only supported by geo-targeted advertising. Has it missed a trick? 

At Prime Time, we’ll be watching this partnership with interest to see how the creative ideas continue. 

How Instagram is looking after users in mind, body and spirit

To be sung to the tune of Diddy’s anthem: The B. The U. The S. The Y, I’m busy.

Work is all too easy to blame, but it’s not the only reason I’m feeling a little ‘arghhh’. Even planning shopping trips and holidays has become stressful thanks to the list of jobs they create.

Working through such tasks takes time (more than I’ve got) which is why I occasionally remind myself via the medium of yellow post-it notes that productivity is key.

After casually writing a memo to my future self (Back to the Future‘s Marty McFly stylee), to sustain momentum and not drop the ball, (unless it’s to make a sweet cup of tea to keep energy levels up) I returned to work to find that the rest of the digital marketing team had led an intervention using post-it notes (obvs) to instruct me to eat, take regular breaks and generally not feel solely responsible for the entire organisation’s business objectives, least of all on a Friday. When did they get so smart?

Touched by their thoughtfulness I did what any savvy social media manager would do – posted the evidence on Instagram.

Can Instagram's mental health feature help change young lives?
Liked over 20 times (hey, I didn’t say I was a successful social media manager), it provoked comments from caring friends also reminding me to look after myself.

So, it was interesting to read in the same week that Instagram has launched a feature giving users the opportunity to report worrying posts, which prompts the recipient to read a supportive message signposting them to useful organisations.

With recent research from the Young Women’s Trust revealing that over half of people aged 18-30 are worried about their future; four in 10 feel worn down; and a further one in three are worried about their mental health, it’s no surprise Instagram has (finally) recognised the role it plays in protecting and empowering young people.

I ‘grammed’ my PC picture for fun but, on reflection, I wonder if there was more to it? I certainly try not to wear my busyness as a badge of honour (because these days who doesn’t have one?) but it’s always comforting to know you’re not the only one paddling like a duck underwater.

If a friend, or indeed stranger, were to have anonymously sent me a message I probably would’ve worried more about the state of my personal branding. But, one thing’s for sure. I definitely would’ve taken notice and, at the very least, have been assured that the feature works.

Although only currently available in the US, this move – which is part of the brand’s new #PerfectlyMe initiative which champions the development of a positive online culture – is set to roll out globally soon.

Looking between the frames, filters and hashtags, as Generation Z continues to live out its life online, all social media channels should unite with charities to look after their target demographics.

It’s not a tick-boxing CSR exercise, it’s a potential lifeline.

Is it ever acceptable for a dictionary to be a dick on social media? 

Manning your organisation’s social media control decks is both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand you’re in the privileged position to be the sole voice of the company. Whether you spend all day responding to customer service queries or exercise your poetic licence to raise awareness, there’s no limits to how digital channels can be used.   

That’s the message you push in job descriptions anyway. The honest truth is that you have to bat away some curveballs sometimes. And, the bigger the brand, the more frequently you have to be ready to strike. Day in, day out, sometimes it’s tempting to just tell it like it is. 

At least that’s what US dictionary brand Merriam-Webster did last week. Sharing words of the day and language facts with its 124,000+ Twitter followers (over 6,000 more than the Oxford English Dictionary to put it into context), it tweeted a link to an article posing the question: Can ‘mad’ can be substituted for ‘angry’?

 It all started with a question 
The original tweet generated over 500 shares, but the story didn’t end there. Gabriel Roth, senior editor of political magazine Slate, jumped off the back of this question and began comparing the brand to an easygoing parent. On the surface they’re everything you’ve ever wanted but in the end you begin rebelling against them due to a lack of rules. 

Odd? Yes. Funny? Yes. Called for? Not really. But, if Twitter was reserved for relevant content, it’d be less than half the size. 

What’s brilliant about this entire social media exchange is Merriam-Webster’s six-word direct reply to Gabriel: No one cares how you feel.

 Merriam-Webster owned Gabriel Roth on Twitter 

The mic-drop of social media marketing, the community manager was able to sum up everything I was thinking while reading up on the story on PR Daily with pure swag. And, I wasn’t the only one to appreciate the droll humour, as it’s accumulated over 17,000 re-tweets in less than a week. 

Gabriel has written about his experience of being publically ‘owned’ by the brand, questioning that once a company isn’t worried about the impact its actions could have on its bottom line or reputation, all rules go out the window. 

Some would say that’s when the real fun begins. All of a sudden, the company is in control of the conversation – not the consumer. And, in this case, it gains all the kudos and none of the drama. 

That’s not to say Gabriel hasn’t gained from this exchange. He’s picked up notoriety (standard 15 minutes of fame), followers and article views. But, while he continues to respond to the viral after effects, for Merriam-Webster it’s back to business as usual. My hero. 

It just proves that the best types of PR can’t be planned. It’s trusting your best players to steer the ship, using gut instinct to manage the waves and see you through to the other side of the storm. In Merriam-Webster’s case, it didn’t even consider putting its life jacket on. 

That’s what makes this brief breakaway from convention so brilliant. 

How would your brand fare in a conversation like this? Replicate at your own risk.