>>CHALLENGE

At the beginning of the COVID-19 global pandemic in mid-March 2020, Buddy’s went into survival mode, as restaurants were forced to close due to government orders. Buddy’s had never been impacted by a company-wide closure of dine-in operations, so this posed a unique challenge. Buddy’s turned to Franco to provide strategic media relations support and communications counsel to let customers know what Buddy’s was doing to adhere to CDC health and safety guidelines while still providing the same high-quality food through carryout and delivery.

Specific challenges included:

  • Adapt the business service model to adhere to delivery and carry out only model.
  • Communicate changes and updates internally (staffing changes, voluntary furloughs, roles, etc.) and externally (still open for delivery through DoorDash and curbside carry out, offers, etc.).
  • Generate sales while supporting the community and those most at risk – medical professionals and first responders.
  • Restructure two grand opening plans to open restaurants in new markets with dine-in restrictions.

>>APPROACH

With all Michigan restaurants mandated to operate with delivery and carry out only in mid-March 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Franco had to get creative with our media relations strategy to get the Buddy’s Pizza name in the media, beyond simply announcing that we were still open for business. Our initial approach was pitching the media information about Buddy’s adapted service model, new sanitation procedures and asking to be included in round ups of restaurants that were still open for business.

Since an integral part of Buddy’s brand has always been community giving, Buddy’s moved into give-back mode while simultaneously focusing on providing an excellent customer experience through carryout and delivery services. In a collaboration between Buddy’s marketing team and Franco, Feed the Frontliners was born. Buddy’s was one of the first companies in Michigan to launch a frontliners support program, where hospitals and law enforcement departments could nominate their teams/departments to receive free pizza from Buddy’s.

Additionally:

  • Throughout the month of April, the Buddy’s team donated more than $100,000 in free and discounted meals to frontline workers.
  • All healthcare workers and first responders received 50% off their orders for the month of April.
  • Due to being one of the first programs of its kind, Franco heavily leveraged media relations efforts to share details about the program, resulting in approximately 70 placements about Feed the Frontliners.

With restaurants being shut down for dine-in and new development construction placed on hold in mid-March, we knew our two grand openings in early spring would be postponed. We worked with the Buddy’s marketing team to develop new opening plans that accounted for healthy/safety guidelines and social distancing. We opened the West Lansing location for curbside carryout only at the beginning of June and adjusted plans to account for 50% dine-in capacity at Portage once it opened in early July. We employed the strategy of picking one key media partner to announce each grand opening date and then sharing the news more widely upon publishing of the first announcement article.

We wanted to ensure media knew everything Buddy’s was doing was to keep their employees and the community safe and healthy, so we included sanitation protocols in all media materials.

Each week we developed new media pitches informing customers of curbside carryout safety measures, delivery options (free delivery through DoorDash) and several promotions Buddy’s was offering. Our overall strategy was to stay at the forefront of the Michigan restaurant market and ensure people felt safe ordering from Buddy’s.

>>RESULTS

  • Coordinated more than 30 media efforts from mid-March through mid-June.
  • Distributed several targeted pitches and coordinated local and national interviews as a result of those pitches.
  • Generated more than 300 media placements from mid-March to mid-June, including coverage in Eater Detroit, Detroit Free Press, MLive, Cheese Market News and The Detroit News.
  • Formed new relationships with established reporters in new media markets at the Lansing State Journal and West Michigan MLive.
  • From mid-March to mid-June, media outlets sent more than 2,500 visits to the website.