Top of the Year: Greggs - from PR masterclasses to shifting perceptions

Greggs started 2019 on a (vegan sausage) roll and never looked back.

The introduction of the meat-free snack in January 2019 was a PR masterclass, tapping into 'Veganuary' with a launch that included an 'accidentally' leaked teaser email, mock Apple iPhone packaging, and, memorably, stoking Piers Morgan on social media to fan the flames.

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Sales surged, and reports of a vegan sausage roll shortage generated yet more publicity.

Some of these activities aside, Greggs actually moved away from 'stunt' marketing for most of 2019 - there were no themed Valentines dinners or sausage roll Jesuses.

Instead, the focus has been on consistent messaging; shifting perceptions of Greggs away from a provider of 'stodgy' food staples to a modern 'food-on-the-go' operator with some healthy and more upmarket ranges and decent coffee.

Big credit goes to CEO Roger Whiteside, an effective media performer whose witty and self-effacing demeanour, and understanding of what makes a good headline, have kept the company in the news for the right reasons.

Take this example from March, which followed news that Greggs had broken the £1bn annual sales barrier. He joked with the media: "It’s taken us 80 years to reach £1bn, which is slightly longer than it took Kylie Jenner, but we got there eventually."

When Greggs announced in November that it was broadening its vegan range, Whiteside revealed he had moved to a plant-based diet himself after watching Netflix documentary The Game Changers.

It was a perfect piece of on-brand 'colour' to accompany the launch and received widespread publicity.

In December, Greggs topped the annual Britain’s Most Admired Company list. It's testament to a high-street staple whose comms expertise has helped it remain a relevant and valued part of British culture.

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