Profile: Kai Boschmann, Burger King International

Burger King comms director takes up the baton on global health concerns.

Kai Boschmann, the communications director for Burger King International, claims to eat 'at least two or three' BK burgers per week, an unsurprising statistic, given her passionate commitment to a brand she represents across 58 countries. Indeed, the fast-food company's 4x4-driving, kick-boxing, trilingual brand evangelist describes herself proudly as 'a Whopper girl'.

But despite the regular visits by Boschmann and her four-strong in-house PR team to their local outlet in suburban Uxbridge, these are tough times for PROs at the US fast-food giants, which are feeling the repercussions of global anti-US sentiment and have been accused of causing obesity.

Although Boschmann says that 'the competition' - McDonald's - has suffered more than BK, these have undoubtedly been interesting times for her firm, with its protracted sale by drinks giant Diageo to a US-based private equity consortium, led by Texas Pacific Group, finally completed last year for almost £1bn.

Boschmann's is now very much an international role - she co-ordinates comms across all BK's markets outside North America - and one to which she is suited, given her upbringing.

Offspring of a soldier father and artist mother ('I inherited my father's discipline and my mother's creativity'), Boschmann left her native Germany for high school in Las Vegas, business school in Paris and then an MBA in Brussels.

After various marcoms roles in mainland Europe for transport and logistics giant FedEx, she moved permanently to the UK five years ago.

Event management remains important to Boschmann - the week before last, she organised a 'five-year strategy conference' at a Scottish hotel, at which staff from each BK market met to thrash out policy.

'We plot countries on a matrix as to where they are in terms of burger and PR maturity. The UK is very high and this influences our PR,' she says. Countries in the Middle East, for example, are low on the chart.

Across all the markets in her remit Boschmann has laid a three-stage comms strategy template: 'consolidation, evolution and maturity'.

'The consolidation phase is behind us. We had to align what we were doing on a global basis,' she explains, in a strong German accent, citing examples such as the setting up of an 'e-room, where agency partners can connect, so we can be more consistent with the media'.

Boschmann says she has reached the 'evolution' phase, with her office becoming 'more proactive' in respect of tasks such as media relations.

She has recently turned to Edelman, her retained UK consumer PR agency, to handle what the agency's deputy CEO Stuart Smith describes as an 'issues audit'.

One such issue facing the sector is obesity, but Boschmann points out that BK is no stranger to engagement with health concerns. Boschmann, who keeps herself fit by attending kick-boxing classes twice a week, joined the firm during the aftermath of the BSE crisis and chairs what she describes as a 'cross-functional health task-force', to thrash out BK's policy and PR stance on such issues.

'Our challenge is to educate and inform consumers, to give them choices,' she says, citing the introduction of salads and other healthy options to the carnivore-skewed menu.

In respect of anti-globalisation protestors, Boschmann's response is similar to the line favoured by rivals: 'We do so many things right - such as our selection of franchisees. More than 90 per cent of our restaurants are operated through independent franchisees, and PR can convey this.'

Her methodical approach impresses Smith, who says: 'You can see how she's mapping out strategy to take it forwards. But Kai can affect operational decisions, not just comms strategy.'

Boschmann is committed to team-building events. Two months ago, she spoke to PROs at the Communication Directors' Forum on the subject of using comms to motivate staff. Her theme was an event two years ago at BK, in which 110 managers from across EMEA converged on Rotherham in South Yorkshire, to construct a restaurant from scratch within 24 hours.

The walls of her office are adorned with framed press coverage of the event, which Boschmann helped to organise. She has also written a book, currently untitled and unpublished, on communications skills, which she uses for staff briefings.

Returning to her strategy matrix, she says: 'There's so much still to do - I'm looking forward to the next few years.'

BK's Uxbridge branch should keep those Whopper orders coming for a communications boss hungry for success.

HIGHLIGHTS

1994: Marketing specialist, FedEx Germany and Eastern Europe

1998: Comms manager - EMEA, FedEx Brussels and London

2000: Comms director - EMEA, Burger King

2002: Comms director, Burger King Int

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