RENO, NV: Two weeks ago, PR consultant Brooke Brumfield found herself sitting at the kitchen table of Carter Wilkerson, the 16-year-old behind the viral #NuggsForCarter sensation.
She was meeting with his parents, doctors J Wilkerson and Luz "Lulu" Molina, both pediatric dentists. And to say they were a bit overwhelmed with their son’s newly discovered fame – since Wendy’s challenged him in early April to amass 18 million retweets to win a year’s worth of chicken nuggets – would be an understatement.
The way Brumfield came to work with Wilkerson’s parents was through word of mouth and a sprinkle of serendipity. Abbi Whitaker, cofounder and president of The Abbi Agency, where Brumfield worked two years prior as PR manager, uses Molina as her child’s dentist. Molina explained what she was going through to Whitaker and said her family needed help to manage the deluge of media requests.
Whitaker put Carter’s mom in touch with Brumfield, who left her job as Bristlecone Holdings’ comms director just a week before.
Brumfield noted Molina and Wilkerson have obviously never dealt with something such as this, and in their first phone conversation, they were still trying to figure out what kind of help they even needed. They seemed unaware of what a PR consultant actually handles, something Brumfield finds common among people outside the industry.
Because of this, Brumfield had to prove to Carter’s parents not only how she could assist them, but also the value PR holds in such a situation. The best way to convince them, she said, was to meet them at their house, not far from Brumfield in Reno, Nevada, and talk them through the options.
"Part of helping someone understand the value of PR is getting them comfortable with using a PR person who is helping them manage an event to their best interest," the consultant explains. "It takes some trust building. They never met me, they never worked with PR, so I wanted to make sure they felt comfortable."
So on the evening of April 11, Brumfield sat at the kitchen table with Carter’s parents discussing the entire nuggs phenomenon – what was going on, what the family’s struggles are, its values, and its goals.
As for money, budget information was not disclosed.
"I told them, ‘I know you didn’t plan for this, and I don’t want to try and monetize on the situation, so why don’t I give you 20 hours work at half price and these are the things we will cover,’" says Brumfield.
The family is now paying Brumfield on an hourly basis because there is no telling how long it will be using her services or what direction this situation is headed.
The scope of work Brumfield has provided to Carter and his family has quickly evolved over the past two weeks. Initially, it was just about managing the onslaught of media. One of Brumfield’s first assignments was building the itinerary for Carter’s appearance on Ellen.
Since then, Brumfield has also been aiding the family with media relations, corporate relations, and message management. She has been managing the relationship between Wendy’s, its PR firm Ketchum, and Carter’s family.
Brumfield also helps Carter manage his personal social media pages "without standing in the way of his authentic self."
"In a lot of ways this is acting like crisis PR because it is so immediate and rampant," she explains. "Even though it is all positive, there is a crisis element to this, with the nature of the speed."
Carter’s main goal is raising money for charity. The main message he and his family want to get out is they don’t need the money.
"[Carter Wilkerson] has this platform all of a sudden," notes Brumfield. "He just thought it was going to be funny, and it got huge overnight. So they want to maximize the impact they are going to have on the world with this platform. At every turn their goal is trying to give back and do something bigger with this."
Carter created a website to raise money for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (DTFA), which was created by the Wendy’s founder in 1992, and Pinocchio’s Moms on the Run, a group that supports women with breast cancer and their families in Reno. The latter charity is one Carter holds dear, as his mom is a breast cancer survivor.
Wendy’s has agreed to match $100,000 to give to DTFA if Carter beats the world record for retweets.
"Maintaining a focused message on charitable giving when people are asking about what type of dipping sauce [Carter Wilkerson] likes can be fun and challenging," says Brumfield.
But the main challenge for Brumfield has been helping Carter Wilkerson, a teenager, to manage a situation that has become so incredibly time-consuming and demanding overnight.
"He is an incredible kid, but he has his own life and priorities," she notes. "He is an excellent student and cares a lot about not letting his track team down. So I want to make sure I help him maintain his priorities and manage expectations."
For example, Brumfield has to make sure media requests work within Carter’s schedule.
"We have a message strategy in place for when certain milestones are hit," explains Brumfield, who hinted a big announcement might come this week. "We are collaborating with Wendy’s to make sure those messages are distributed and maximized."