Smashburger picks Mullen Lowe as PR AOR

The agency beat out finalists M Booth, DKC, and Exponent for the account.

DENVER: Smashburger has selected Mullen Lowe as its PR AOR, following a competitive review.

The restaurant chain issued an RFP at the start of December and selected Mullen Lowe later that month. Aside from Mullen Lowe, 10 agencies pitched for the business, including DKC, Canvas Blue, Connect PR, Kaplow Communications, Stuntman PR, MWW, M Booth, Spong, Exponent PR, and Allied Integrated Marketing. The finalists were Mullen, M Booth, DKC, and Exponent.

Mullen Lowe will manage Smashburger’s media relations nationally and locally. For instance, the firm will help to get the word out about the chain’s promotion windows, which change every eight weeks, and support restaurant openings with proactive and reactive communications.

The firm’s first order of business is helping Smashburger put together a core PR strategy, including key messaging points to be included in all pitches throughout the year, and defining what beliefs drive Smashburger from a consumer and internal perspective.  

"We are trying to better define our audience and why they would care about Smashburger," said Ferris. "All of that is leading into what will eventually be a bigger PR idea."

Mullen is also helping Smashburger put together thoughts about cultural conversations the chain can be a part of and how it can challenge the norm.

"We are definitely hitting the consumer side of things a little harder in the coming year," said Ferris. "In the past, we have pitched a lot to the business trades, and we will continue to do that. But we are trying to better tell our Smashburger story in a way people want to hear."

For example, Ferris said many people don’t know about its unique cooking process, which includes literally "smashing" burgers. Ferris said the technique creates a juicier sandwich.

Smashburger also wants to come up with "bigger" campaigns with a greater digital focus.

"One of our biggest goals this year is to layer in PR more digitally and run some more digital campaigns that can reach the Millennial audience better," said Ferris. "That might be through a video series or running things through social that ultimately tie into PR."

Four Mullen staffers are working on the account, led by Tony Labriola, Mullen SVP and group account director. The budget is to be determined.

Boston-based Mullen is primarily known for its creative chops. That’s a "plus," said Smashburger PR and marketing manager Christine Ferris, who added that the firm was not selected solely because it is a marketing agency.

"We loved Mullen because they did some awesome work for their clients JetBlue and American Greetings," she said. "They had the bigger ideas we were looking for and the work they did for previous clients really told the story of those brands in a new and different way."

Legend PR, which started working with Smashburger last January, previously handled the account. The relationship ended in October.

Ferris explained that Smashburger decided to issue an RFP because the chain was looking for "bigger ideas."

"[Legend] was a really great agency and I have nothing bad to say about them at all," she said. "It just wasn’t the best fit."

Smashburger handles social media internally, and Blue Bear Creative has supported the chain for the past year on its social media strategy. The two companies will continue to work together.

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