By: Colleen Thayer, APR, CPRC – Central West Coast Chapter (Twitter: @coneil11)
Time to Dine
Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of two brothers and former firefighters, Chris and Robin Sorenson, the Firehouse Chain of Subs began 23 years ago and has grown to more than 1100 stores in now 45 states (Alaska as of tomorrow!) and 15,000 employees.
2005 and Hurricane Katrina provided a tipping point for the company and its founders. The realization that it was time to give back which paved the way for the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. More than 35 million donated so far!
As the foundation and company grew, Firehouse needed to continue to tell its story. In an effort to raise awareness for the Foundation and the organization and target the changing media landscape, Firehouse looked to get creative with its influencers (bloggers). Liz Anderson, Senior VP Public Relations for Firehouse Subs and her team along with their PR consulting firm created the concept of “Influencer Dinners” in 2013. These were coast to coast dinners with the founders in areas that needed assistance with a focus on conversation, food, the décor personalized in the stores and the Foundation to create personal connections to create local awareness. The company hosted nine dinners in nine cities with 60 influencers. Results strongly exceeded expectations including 562 blog comments!
Success led to conversations about next steps and how to continue the conversation with influencers.
Take it National…on the Ranch
The PR team’s next steps for the FAM (familiarization) tour with influencers was to take the tour to targeted national influencers and instead of doing this in individual Firehouse stores it was determined to host a weekend at the ranch of founder Robin Sorenson. The idea behind this was to immerse influencers in the brand without getting too branded. Pretty cool idea. They did this twice, in 2014 and 2015, tweaking the agenda as they went from lessons learned in 2014. Best practices included:
- A custom agenda for the attendees
- Having thought leaders in attendance
- Sprinkle in Firehouse throughout the weekend
- Enforce “real deal” messaging”
- Showcase food
- Including a donation event that highlight Firehouse foundation
- Creating organic brand ambassadors
These influencer weekends had fantastic results for Firehouse. Why? They were hosted in Montana where, until 2015, there wasn’t even a single Firehouse restaurant. They were successful because they made a connection with their influencers; hospitality was at its best; they all had dinner together; and they made new friends. It’s all about communication.