Campaigns: Consumer - Pizza chain's Living Lab sounds terrific

Campaign: The Living Lab
Client: Pizza Express
PR team: Unity
Timescale: October 2010-February 2011
Budget: £150,000

After turning 45, Pizza Express wanted to reinvent itself for the next 45 years. Unity was asked to come up with ideas ranging from design to service and food, to build on Pizza Express' heritage and give it a new twist.


- To align the brand with talent that could create the restaurant of the future

- To drive sales and make the 'new generation' concept commercially successful

- To reach out to a new, younger audience and increase Pizza Express' presence on social media.

Strategy and plan

The PR team introduced Pizza Express to designer Ab Rogers and other talent including critically acclaimed 'singing baker' Liliana Tameri and DJ Nick Luscombe from Xfm.

The plan was to create a restaurant that was scientifically geared towards managing sound and that had design and service that would get people talking. The restaurant was to be presented as a 'Living Lab' rather than a finished product, and people were invited to test and experience new ideas to help create the final product.

A blog was set up to house videos, interviews and news, to build excitement ahead of the launch of the Living Lab. This also meant people who could not visit the restaurant could still experience it online and have their say. A story was released detailing how front-of-house staff were being taught how to flirt, to generate news interest and hooks. The partnership with Rogers saw him design 'parabolic lights' that hung above tables, creating an intimate chamber that absorbed sound. This was released to national and trade media.

Pizza Express launched an all-day menu, which provided a news hook to discuss how the founders of the restaurant originally introduced pizza to the UK. The chain's Dean Street venue in Soho was used to showcase up-and-coming jazz talent and a new playlist for the restaurant was put together by Luscombe.

Measurement and evaluation

The flirting customer service story was covered in every UK national news outlet and appeared four times on BBC Breakfast.

The design work was covered in an eight-minute package on BBC2 and in The Sun, as well as on tech blogs and in Elle Decoration and Creative Review. The new menu sparked coverage in The Times, The Sun, the London Evening Standard, Restaurant Magazine and OK! Features ahead of a launch party appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and The Guardian, and the launch event was covered in The Times, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Star, as well as on numerous blogs.


In the weeks following the launch of the Living Lab restaurant, footfall to Pizza Express increased by 75 per cent. Evening sales increased by 20 per cent and overall sales rose by 15 per cent. The new restaurant gained a guest satisfaction score of 93 per cent and is being rolled out nationwide. The Pizza Express Facebook page generated 38,387 fans and the Twitter feed has 3,072 followers.


The London restaurant scene never stands still but the past couple of years have seen a seismic shift in cheap eat-out options - and we are a fickle lot.

Pizza Express needed something big, engaging, relevant and new if it wanted to build a loyal and new customer base.

And Unity delivered. A multi-faceted approach; thinking beyond the usual PR boundaries and a strong theme 'feeding great conversations' to hang it all on.

But it was a big ask to make a restaurant chain relevant to a 'cooler crowd', and I'm not convinced this element was entirely pulled off.

It is a shame the menu did not reflect the theme more strongly with some 'food for conversation' options. Tapas-style dishes would have been an obvious choice.

But I am just being picky.

The results seem impressive.

The approach meant there were plenty of strong stories to sustain the campaign and generate coverage.

Unity attempted to give the entire restaurant experience an overhaul and the results would suggest it worked.

However, the experience on the ground was not quite the same. The look of surprise on our waiter's face when we said we did not have a money-off voucher spoke volumes.

It revealed just how prolific these vouchers have become. It also makes you question the real value of a 15 per cent increase in sales. After all, would you pay full price for a meal at Pizza Express any more?

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