Checkers drives aid for troops

Checkers Drive-In Restaurants (operating Checkers and Rally's) last spring activated a relationship with America Supports You (ASY), a US Department of Defense program that recognizes support for US troops at home and abroad, by partnering with ASY nonprofit member Operation Gratitude (OG) on its existing Patriotic Drive campaign to send care packages in time for July 4 to all overseas troops who request support.

Checkers Drive-In Restaurants (operating Checkers and Rally's) last spring activated a relationship with America Supports You (ASY), a US Department of Defense program that recognizes support for US troops at home and abroad, by partnering with ASY nonprofit member Operation Gratitude (OG) on its existing Patriotic Drive campaign to send care packages in time for July 4 to all overseas troops who request support.

"Our mission is to put a smile on service members' faces and give the American people a means to express their appreciation," says OG founder Carolyn Blashek.

Strategy

Along with helping OG fulfill that mission, Checkers' objectives included positive differentiation, restaurant traffic, national and local media coverage, and franchise participation.

Kim Francis, communications director for Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, says the effort aimed to build customer loyalty by reinforcing that Checkers/Rally's supports troops. It also resonated with key stakeholders, as a number of employees are veterans.

"We made it clear this was about the men and women overseas, not the politics," Francis says.

"We didn't have a lot of money, but we did have a lot of relationships," she adds. "Initiatives are so much more powerful if you integrate existing resources."

Tactics

Checkers made its restaurants drop-off locations for donations and leveraged its existing relationship with NASCAR.

Joe Nemechek, driver of the No. 01 US Army car, was selected as Patriotic Drive spokesman.

Checkers/Rally's pledged to donate $100,000 to OG (guaranteeing $10,000) if Nemechek won the Richmond NASCAR Nextel Cup race. Pre-race press conferences were held with Nemechek, OG and ASY representatives, and Checkers/Rally's president and CEO Keith Sirois.

Checkers' in-house team of Francis and Elizabeth Sheridan enlisted franchise participation, educated employees, and coordinated supplies and gift collection.

A cup program (restaurants could pay 5 cents more per cup when placing inventory) was created to help fund the budget.

Efforts also included a TV PSA with Nemechek, RMT, ANR, and press releases. Grassroots initiatives, such as collecting messages for troops on postcards and distributing coupons and flyers, occurred at races and restaurants.

Other NASCAR sponsors also provided support and donations.

Results

"[Packages] raised spirits and also saved lives," Francis says. "In some cases, [troops] used the candy and toys to build relationships with locals, who would tell them where [improvised explosive devices] are hidden."

With more than 85% franchise participation, Checkers helped OG deliver more than 40,000 packages after collecting more than 4,000 pounds of gifts at more than 720 restaurants. More than 750 restaurants helped with the cup fund. In May, hits to the Web site's restaurant locator increased 165% from April, which Francis says is the best measure of success in building business.

Media reached more than 120 million. Placement included FX, ESPN, NASCAR.com, USA Today, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Future

Checkers will participate in the Patriotic Drive again next year.

"We're going to start publicizing before collecting to give people more time," Francis says.

PR team: Checkers Drive-In Restaurants (Tampa, FL)

Campaign: Checkers/Rally's Patriotic Drive Supporting US Troops

Duration: May 8 to June 14, 2006

Budget: $200,000

PRWeek's view

Everybody involved in this campaign benefited: Checkers, OG, troops, and NASCAR. It was a good fit all around, and the campaign is a glowing example of how to use synergy and relationships to everyone's advantage and meet multiple goals. ROI here is phenomenal, and it's very impressive that everything was pulled together and managed by Checkers' two-person in-house team. This campaign could have fallen short without franchise participation, cooperation, and employee willingness to get educated. It's a real testament to the PR team's efforts and the employees' commitment.

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