Denny's CEO Nelson Marchioli speaks to Rose Gordon about PR's vital role in marketing programs
How has Denny's approach to PR changed in the eight years you have been CEO?
Nelson Marchioli: Everyone was geared to crisis and reactionary versus traditional PR… that could be used to promote products. Now, anytime anyone sits with me with a marketing message, I'm saying, “What's the PR play?” If there's no PR play, I don't want to do it. I don't think anyone's marketing budget can stand on its own anymore and be effective.
You recently told PRWeek that the Grand Slam Giveaway during the Super Bowl changed the way the brand is perceived. How?
Marchioli: I just thought that the consumer had forgotten about Denny's. We needed to do something bold, so people would put us back into their consideration set. This program did that. But what it also did was [spur] this outpouring of appreciation and, in return, kindness to this brand. PR did that – the ad didn't do that. The advertising… had no [planned] good will. It was just, “Hey, come on February 3 for a free meal.” It was the media and the interviews that did that. We got incredible coverage. One reporter said, “It looked like America needed a hug, and Denny's gave it to them.” I can't say it better than that.
PR often reports to a marketing manager or CMO, rather than a CEO. How is it at Denny's?
Marchioli: Technically, it still reports up to marketing, but I take an active part. I do not think marketing understands PR. They don't consider it the kind of tool it can be because marketing people, in their defense, are trained in different stuff than PR people. I will always have a hands-on approach to PR because I think the company benefits from it. It's part of brand-building and, ultimately, I am the brand manager, along with my chief marketing officer.