How Red Lobster turned a missed opportunity into the 'Beyonce Bounce'

#RedLobster started trending on Twitter, a first for the brand, but mostly for the wrong reasons a month ago after it was mentioned in Beyonce's song 'Formation.'

ORLANDO, FL: One month after Red Lobster got flack from the Twitterverse and media outlets for its delayed response to a shout-out in Beyonce’s song Formation, the brand’s comms director told PRWeek that, given a do-over, it might not change its strategy.

Erica Ettori contended that negative chatter or not, the mention helped Red Lobster to a boost in sales and the highest level of consumer engagement in the brand’s history.

Flash back to a day before Super Bowl 50. Beyonce released her latest single, in which she said she might take a man to Red Lobster after sex. Eight hours later, the brand posted a tweet in response.

#RedLobster started trending on Twitter, a first for the brand, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Social media users slammed the chain for taking so long with its "lame" response, and numerous media outlets covered the fumble.

Ettori, Red Lobster’s director of communications and external relations, said the brand was "a little late" with its response on social media. Yet she explained that she and her team had no prior knowledge Beyonce would reference the brand.

"When something like that happens, finding an authentic, credible position and voice that is true to your company and brand ethos is really important," Ettori said.

Although social media users were critical of Red Lobster, on Super Bowl Sunday it saw a 33% year-over-year lift in sales, which Ettori attributed to the pop culture reference, and the launch of Lobsterfest. That’s when customers can choose from the largest variety of lobster dishes on the company’s menu. 

"That suggested there was another story to tell," said Ettori. "While there may have been some initial chatter about the ins and outs of our Twitter response, and the timing of the response, the more powerful thing for us and the nugget we gleaned out of all this was that pop culture can have a really amazing impact on business."

Red Lobster’s comms team, with assistance from PR AOR MWW, set out to change the negative conversation into a positive story for the brand. However, instead of focusing its response on social media, the brand decided to target traditional outlets.

Red Lobster gave CNBC.com the exclusive on its sales increase, which the company referred to as the "Beyonce Bounce." Kim Lopdrup, CEO of Red Lobster, also gave CNBC an interview on the topic and talked with other outlets including Bloomberg Business, the Associated Press, and USA Today.

Red Lobster used the news cycle "effectively" with beat reporters, Ettori contended, adding that knowing the right reporter to contact at the right time with a specific message is "key."

"We said the Super Bowl was a surprise for us, unplanned, and we were late [with our response], but the bigger theme is that pop culture can drive relevance for businesses and brands," she said. "So that was the story we went to media outlets with."

Focusing on traditional media helped Red Lobster broaden the conversation around a tweet to "holy smokes, big pop culture stars and artists can drive sales surges for brands," Ettori said.

A focus on traditional media, instead of social, also worked well for Red Lobster because its customer base is broad; Ettori explained that it is not a brand that has a niche following.

"The traditional media coverage made the pop culture moment relevant to all of our customers, not just customers that might be in the demographic that love Beyonce," she said.

Red Lobster’s PR campaign has resulted in 2.5 billion media impressions, and more than 2,100 stories to date. Red Lobster received more than 42,000 mentions in one hour on the Saturday Beyonce’s song was released, was included in more than 300,000 tweets over Super Bowl weekend, and it has since garnered 180 million social media impressions. The brand has also received 40,000 followers on Twitter.

"We measure social media sentiment, and it was [initially] focused on an isolated moment, but then turned much broader with people sharing their love of Red Lobster in a really positive way," Ettori said.

Further, Foursquare’s new product, Attribution, which tells businesses when their ads bring consumers into a store, found traffic to Red Lobster grew 12% in the week following the Super Bowl.

When asked if Red Lobster would quicken its real-time response if a similar opportunity presents itself, Ettori said she could not answer that question from an "apples-to-apples" comparison, since something like this will probably never happen again.

"We will continue to balance speed and real-time with having a credible, authentic position that is true to our ethos," she noted.

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