In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) decided to pull out a playbook that had worked well in the past.
In 2001, the trade group hosted an event to raise money for victims' families following 9/11. For that event, more than 8,000 restaurants participated, raising nearly $20 million in proceeds from the one-day event, where participating restaurants donated part or all of their sales from that day.
To help those devastated and displaced by Katrina, the association knew it had to respond with a greater show of support.
"We were inundated by calls," says Sue Hensley, SVP of marketing communications and media relations. "Everyone wanted to help, from the largest chains to the smallest restaurants."
The NRA worked with Hill & Knowlton to boost participation among members and the public.
"We knew what the 8,000 restaurants could do [from 2001]," said Steve McAbee, GM for H&K in Atlanta. "We knew people would want to help, so having more restaurants participate was critical. We wanted people to know that they didn't have to do anything different, that they could make a big difference in the smallest of ways. That by buying their coffee in the morning, going to lunch at work, or having dinner with friends, they would be making a difference."
H&K researched Hurricanes Katrina's and Rita's impact on the restaurant industry in the Gulf Coast, to personalize and localize the devastation to restaurant owners.
H&K also helped create a website where restaurants could go to take part, and diners could go to find out which restaurants would be contributing proceeds from the one-day event.
With only five weeks to plan and promote Dine for America, H&K also sought to work with celebrities to raise awareness of the event, conduct outreach to local community newspapers and online event calendars, and develop partnerships with convention and visitor bureaus.
McAbee said since the charitable event wasn't hard news, coverage wasn't guaranteed until event day. So the NRA teamed with the Food Network to develop PSAs with celebrity chefs, including Rachael Ray.
The group also generated early broadcast coverage by focusing on the morning shows, which initially balked at giving early coverage to the event, as the shows had their own charitable efforts to promote. But the NRA convinced the shows to book cooking segments that let chefs talk about their participation in Dine for America.
H&K also used information on the hurricanes' impact on the restaurant industry to get business stories on CNN and Fox News, with association executives, and executives from participating restaurant chains, validating the event and its members' commitment to disaster relief. Additional media outreach targeted the top 25 markets.
To increase participation, the NRA partnered with regional and local convention and visitor bureaus, and state-level restaurant associations, to encourage local restaurants to participate.
The NRA also worked with online partners, including Evite. com, which notified its 30,000 members of the event through its "Party Tips" newsletter and Meetup.com notified its 19,000 group organizers, who in turn notified their group members.
Dine for America received coverage prior to the event on major media outlets, including NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, Fox News, and the Weather Channel. And numerous industry executives appeared on both cable and network TV shows to help position their companies and the NRA in a unified effort for disaster relief. More than 700 local broadcast and print outlets covered Dine for America the day of the event.
And while the 2001 Dine for America saw 8,000 participating restaurants, nearly 20,000 restaurants took part this time around.
Because restaurants had until the end of December to turn in their proceeds, the NRA did not know how much had been raised at press time. But Hensley anticipates it will far exceed the nearly $20 million raised in 2001.
The NRA will consider similar PR plans for future Dine for America events as needs arise.
PR team: National Restaurant Association (Washington, DC) and Hill & Knowlton (Atlanta)
Campaign: Dine for America
Time frame: August 2005 to October 2005