Burgerville touts sustainability

Last year, the Pacific Northwest restaurant chain Burgerville was revered in the community where it started more than 80 years ago, but it was a bit taken for granted.

Last year, the Pacific Northwest restaurant chain Burgerville was revered in the community where it started more than 80 years ago, but it was a bit taken for granted.

Media coverage of its 39 locations was a little spotty and haphazard, and messaging was inconsistent.

It had a cherished local history, building from its founder Jacob Propstra, a Dutch immigrant, down two generations to his son, George, and today, to George's son-in-law, Tom Mears.

But Burgerville was hardly a typical fast-food chain. It had attributes that made it a standout in the region, and those messages weren't being translated.

Parent company The Holland hired McGrath/Power PR, and it got to work.

Strategy

The team set out to identify Burgerville's differentiators and leverage them in the community: its fresh ingredients, commitment to working with local suppliers, use of sustainable energy sources, and community involvement.

The sustainable energy commitment included using 100% wind power at each of the restaurants, recycling cooking oil into biodiesel fuel, and composting.

The goal was to emphasize environmental practices first and the food second, with The Holland's key messages delivered by the company's chief cultural officer.

Along the lines of company culture, McGrath/Power aimed to showcase Burgerville's unique employee benefits, such as full medical benefits for part-time employees.

Tactics

McGrath leveraged the popularity of the film Fast Food Nation.

"We had the opportunity to make them the non-Fast Food Nation," said Jonathan Bloom, McGrath/Power CEO. "Where all the other chains were claiming to do this, do that, these guys were the most socially responsible people we'd ever seen."

The firm set out to talk about how Burgerville was, as Mears says, "changing the way business does business," and making the community thrive.

McGrath/Power reached out to local media, such as daily newspapers The Oregonian and The Columbian, building relationships with local reporters and providing them with access to executives and information usually given only to national papers.

Results

Sales increased 15% over the duration of the campaign.

"It has been a transformation for us," says Jeff Harvey, COO of The Holland.

The story of The Holland's commitment to environmentally sustainable practices netted about 100 local and national news stories, including in Inc. and QSR.

"We more than doubled the PR exposure," Harvey says. "We got consistent and powerful national attention. Before, any attention we got was reactive."

The company also secured a cornerstone spot at Bite of Oregon, an annual food festival.

In addition, it has won seven PR-driven environmental awards in the past year, including the EPA's Green Power Leadership Award.

Future

The Holland and McGrath/Power continue to work together in 2007.

Burgerville

PR team: The Holland's Burgerville, (Vancouver, WA) and McGrath/ Power PR (Santa Clara, CA)

Campaign: The Anti-Fast Food Nation

Duration: February 2006 to February 2007

Budget: $180,000

PRWeek's view

This was a smart strategy on the part of both McGrath/Power and The Holland to communicate to the region that Burgerville practices what it preaches, so to speak, and shows by its actions that it is committed to the environment.

In that sense, it mirrors the highly environmentally conscious community of the Pacific Northwest, and makes them feel good about patronizing the business - a fact likely reflected by the restaurants' sales increases.

It also marks a step forward for The Holland's communications strategy. The campaign streamlined the company's efforts, unified its messaging, and, by directing all media inquiries to the agency first, was a departure from previously having reporters just walk in the company's doors and go sit in the CEO's office.

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