Overland Park, KS: The announcement three weeks ago that the Applebee's chain of casual-dining restaurants is partnering with Weight Watchers turned more than a few heads. The widespread media coverage included such outlets as USA Today, Fox News, and CNN, said Frank Ybarra, senior manager of communications.
Yet major PR efforts touting Applebee's addition of Weight Watchers-branded offerings to its restaurant menus are likely to come in the latter half of next year as the new items are rolled out. Applebee's announced on July 25 that it had inked a deal to develop a Weight Watchers section on its menu.
Early stories positioned Applebee's as a leader on the obesity issue because of the announcement, but Ybarra said the chain had been working on the agreement for more than two years, before media coverage of obesity intensified.
"We really listen to our guests, and the idea for this resulted from our guests, not media coverage of obesity," he said. "We're providing greater choices. How it's characterized otherwise is not our focus."
Applebee's handled PR for the announcement in-house, and likely will do the same when the Weight Watchers products become available.
Franchisees also have their own marketing and PR resources that will be used on the local level, Ybarra explained. Roughly 75% of Applebee's 1,500 US outlets are franchisee-owned.
"Reaching out to our guests and making them aware of this from a PR perspective is going to be very important," he said.