Rita's has been giving away cups of Italian ice every spring in Philadelphia for many years.
Now, with the franchise's plans to open 1,000 stores in three years, the company wanted to use its annual giveaway to target not just regulars, but future customers, as well. FCF Schmidt PR signed on as AOR for Rita's last year and the agency decided to build a campaign that used many features, but focused on utilizing social media outreach.
While Rita's is a household name in some areas, it was important to boost name recognition in all 54 of its markets, says Kate Shields, VP and partner at FCF Schmidt. The team wanted to expand on pitches to regional media and emphasize on heavy follow-up before the event on March 20.
By utilizing social media, the campaign could better reach college students, 20-something professionals, and teens. It also aimed for moms browsing the newspaper for places to take their kids. "In previous years, we relied on the tradition itself," says Kelly Banaszak, PR manager for Rita's. "We used it to tell our story with the giveaway."
The team encouraged day-of participation by sending out Facebook reminders and MySpace bulletins. The agency staff took over the accounts and started to respond to comments, even helping users find their nearest Rita's location.
It also targeted on-air weather staff, dailies, and weeklies for first-day-of-spring story coverage. Other efforts included sending Italian ice samples of its new birthday cake flavor to radio stations and targeting calendar listings published in regional publications. Banaszak adds that 60% of efforts were geared toward online listings or blogs and the team started media outreach earlier in the year.
About 55,000 people RSVPed to attend the event, 110,000 visitors went on Rita's Facebook page over the course of two weeks, and 125 articles and 60 blogs mentioned the giveaway. Throughout the year, 1,008,000 cups were distributed.
"It was very important that it helped remind people," Banaszak says about the reminder messages and viral e-mails. Print mentions for the campaign are up 200% compared with 2007. About 70 of Rita's franchise partners were featured in media coverage surrounding the event and 40 TV stations sent camera crews
to the event.
Rita's plans to emphasize social media more in next year's campaign, Banaszak says, but it will continue to utilize print, broadcast, and radio outlets.
While the campaign ramped up its social media element, it still focused on pitching stories, Italian ice samplings, and calendar listings to traditional media outlets. That combination made the event successful. Aggressively following up with media also ensured better results for the franchise when it came to coverage.
Previous giveaways did not always coincide with the launch of a new flavor, so it will be interesting to see how the results differ in other years. But the campaign formula should fare well in 2009, as Rita's plans to expand into other markets and develop more of a national brand.
PR team: Rita's Water Ice Franchise Company (Trevose, PA), FCF Schmidt Public Relations (Plymouth Meeting, PA)
Campaign: Rita's First Day of Spring Annual Italian Ice Giveaway
Duration: January-March 2008