When Dreamland Bar-B-Que's Montgomery, AL, restaurant opened in 2004, it was met with much excitement - only to fall on hard times after mismanagement from a franchisee.
In mid-2005, Dreamland corporate bought back the location and spent many months bringing the food and service back to Dreamland standards.
"We had been in there about a year and wanted to get the word out that the original proprietors were running that restaurant," says Betsy McAtee, director of marketing and purchasing for Dreamland Holding Co.
Dreamland Bar-B-Que worked with Sullivan-St. Clair Advertising/Public Relations to come up with a unique way to get customers back into the Montgomery restaurant.
"When our client came to us with this problem, our challenge was to basically turn around an image that had been kind of soiled," explains Jennifer Jenkins, VP of PR for Sullivan-St. Clair. "The biggest challenge for us was that it's always harder to turn around a bad image than it is to create an image, period. So we had to be out-of-the-box."
The team also wanted that image to tie back to John "Big Daddy" Bishop, the founder of Dreamland Bar-B-Que, famous for conveying the message of his restaurant incorporating a "what's good" taste, feel, and service - an inherent part of the Dreamland brand.
Because of the media competition with politics - being just a few weeks out from a major gubernatorial campaign - Jenkins says that "instead of trying to beat it, we joined it."
The team set out to show that Big Daddy was back by creating a fun-spirited election campaign, urging people to "Vote for Big Daddy" as a posthumous write-in candidate.
The effort was designed to mimic a real political campaign, and outreach centered around an October 21 election rally, complete with bumper stickers labeled "Keep the pork in politics," buttons with similar messages, T-shirts, streamers and yard signs.
The founder's daughter, Jeanette Bishop Hall, was at the rally spreading the message and also was made available to the media.
The team also created a Web site as a vehicle for all campaign communication. And capping off the effort was a results party held on Election Day.
"We had over 200 people who attended the rally," says Jenkins, and traffic to the restaurant doubled that day.
Although Big Daddy "conceded" the election to Gov. Bob Riley, the effort generated 1.9 million media hits, including stories in the Tuscaloosa News, Advertising Age, and Nation's Restaurant News, along with broadcast news coverage of the events.
"The campaign was successful in that it brought awareness back to our location and brought some humor back into politics," says McAtee.
"We had so much buzz about it," adds Jenkins. "And once we got them in the door, it was up to Dreamland to sell them on that great barbeque taste and service they had been known for."
Sullivan-St. Clair will continue to work with Dreamland Bar-B-Que on a project basis. The firm recently helped bolster PR efforts for Dreamland by landing a segment on the Food Network series Road Tasted.
This campaign did a great job not only bolstering awareness, but also really winning back a positive image.
The idea of going along with an election was clever because the campaign was able to ride the political wave without having to set out on a new course. By bringing back "Big Daddy," the restaurant was able to manifest its quality food and service without
being too overt and by simply building upon the original proprietor's message.
Taking the story of "Big Daddy" and a cue from current events was a unique way to parallel the two and create a fun, unique way to build momentum for Dreamland.
PR team: Dreamland Bar-B-Que (Tuscaloosa, AL) and Sullivan-St. Clair Advertising/Public Relations (Mobile, AL)
Campaign: Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Big Daddy Rally
Duration: October 2 to November 9, 2006