Capitalizing on the craze for all things pumpkin, Villa Italian Kitchen aimed to take a slice of traffic away from the competition by introducing the first-ever Pumpkin Spice Pizza—and tasked its agency BML Public Relations (BMLPR) with increasing brand awareness and driving traffic to its more than 230 locations nationwide.
With the challenge of generating media coverage during the saturated season of pumpkin spice products at the forefront of the campaign, BMLPR had a goal of producing the most out-of-the-box creative and press materials possible to generate interest among media and consumers while still holding the core DNA of the Villa Italian Kitchen brand.
The campaign aimed to create a massive brand splash for Villa Italian Kitchen and to cement the brand’s budding status as an industry innovator. The budget for the initiative allowed for minimal dollars to be earmarked for distributing ingredients to prepare the pizzas to Villa Italian Kitchen locations around the country.
Read on to see how BMLPR achieved and exceeded those goals with some clever positioning and outreach, and stellar results that catapulted the message nationwide and beyond—earning the firm and its client a pair of recognitions for this PR program in Bulldog Reporter’s 2018 PR Awards: a Silver Award in the “Best Food & Beverages Campaign” category and a Finalist placement in the “Best Viral Campaign” category.
BMLPR’s strategy surrounding the Pumpkin Spice Pizza campaign utilized a mix of traditional tactics with a spunky, creative twist. To cut through the clutter of thousands of pumpkin spice stories, BMLPR knew that the Pumpkin Spice Pizza’s press materials would need to include impressive visuals and tongue-in-cheek language. With the simple headline of ‘IT’S LIKE FALL IN YOUR MOUTH,’ the press release distributed by the campaign team received the most engagement of any of Villa Italian Kitchen’s 2017 press materials.
Food, features/lifestyle and seasonal writers were pitched at print, online and broadcast outlets both nationally and throughout Villa Italian Kitchen’s retail footprint, locally in over 85 DMAs. To create both consumer and media urgency, the Pumpkin Spice Pizza was sold nationwide beginning on September 22, in honor of the first day of fall. The Pumpkin Spice Pizza also helped to increase visibility across Villa Italian Kitchen’s website and social media channels—another goal of BMLPR’s ongoing PR initiatives throughout the 2017 calendar year.
“The most difficult obstacle when pitching the stories was not only expressing the veracity of the campaigns to disbelieving reporters who thought we were playing a joke on them, but remaining organized when coordinating so many segments, food drops and media opportunities in over twenty cities,” says Brian M. Lowe, BMLPR President & CEO. “Since this promotion was focused around a one-day event, most media opportunities were in a concentrated window of time that required a dedicated amount of focus from our team.”
In addition to researching media covering the pumpkin spice epidemic and making sure to include them on the distribution list, BMLPR also researched and developed several iterations of the pumpkin spice pizza, eventually settling on the option that was a perfect storm of low stress on the more than 200 locations nationwide and high quality.
As all initiatives must remain in line with Villa Italian Kitchen’s core values and branding, the Pumpkin Spice Pizza was created with the same quality, fresh dough used in all Villa Italian Kitchen’s, along with its 100% whole-milk mozzarella. Keeping all of this in mind, BMLPR’s core goals of driving traffic, increasing visibility, creating a brand splash and national buzz around Villa Italian Kitchen—and achieving this with minimal budget while keeping in mind the brand’s values—were achieved.
To begin, BMLPR boosted a number of Pumpkin Spice Pizza-related Facebook posts on the Villa Italian Kitchen page to ensure the images would reach maximum shareability and achieve viral status. This proved to be key as a number of online outlets embedded Villa Italian Kitchen’s Facebook post in their coverage. Many TV news stations shared the content on their Facebook and Twitter pages, prompting a nationwide discussion among viewers and consumers. Print and online media outlets were also pitched with heavily branded messaging, and the BMLPR team continuously swept the web for pumpkin-spice related stories to target reporters already covering the topic that could be pitched as well.
“Creating engaging press materials with super visual images and quirky headlines had a significant impact on each campaign’s success,” Lowe offers. “Crafting an attention-grabbing headline for our press materials made each story stand out from other headlines and cut through the clutter of other seasonal stories to make the biggest impact. This was a crucial component of our success as it helped us gain the attention of key industry leaders who pushed both stories over the edge.”
This resulted in massive local-market television coverage, in addition to several national hits secured. BMLPR facilitated an extensive number of food drops nationwide including “The Dr. Oz Show,” ABC’s “The Chew,” “The Today Show” and locally at news stations in Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, Denver and Detroit, to name a few. To make these segments a reality, BMLPR first facilitated securing the ingredients necessary to prepare the pizza in each of the locations, a challenging lift for the small team now working around time zones, franchise owners, ingredient availability and operations issues.
The sharable nature of the campaign’s creative and branded content allowed for a robust discussion on social media, with customers worldwide providing their opinions on the thought of a pumpkin spice pizza. Diehard fans of the Villa Italian Kitchen brand, along with those who had never heard of the brand before, sounded off on social media to make their voices heard. Many were introduced to Villa Italian Kitchen’s brand messages for the first time, as a majority of the stories generated included the brand’s core DNA, highlighting the fresh ingredients and authentic Italian flavors all Villa Italian Kitchen products hold.
Despite joining an over-saturated market of pumpkin spice products, the Pumpkin Spice Pizza was able to generate media coverage within Villa Italian Kitchen’s footprint at staggeringly high levels. More than 990 stories generating over 1 billion consumer media impressions and a publicity value of more than $20.6 million were recorded, though new placements continue to appear every day as the pumpkin spice craze is far from over. The pizza was featured on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” an unprecedented three times, and was also mentioned in The New York Times, on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “Good Morning America” and more.
Buzz surrounding Villa Italian Kitchen reached a record high, with the number of corporate inquiries skyrocketing after the bulk of coverage incurred. Villa Italian Kitchen’s social traffic and sales have both trended upward since the initiative, with various media outlets continuing to mention the initiative months after its completion. Therefore, the initial goals of generating buzz and driving traffic were certainly met. BMLPR was also able to achieve its goal of cutting through the thousands of pumpkin spice stories occurring every fall and dominated the national conversation around one of the most media-exhausted food topics of the year.
“The results were far beyond even our wildest expectations and we could not have been happier with the amount of coverage secured,” Lowe relates. “Our team worked so hard on the campaign, so it was very rewarding to see the amount of coverage that we were able to secure. Every placement was 100% earned—we didn’t pay for any of our placements—and neither campaign was supported by an advertising budget, so to see the results that we did was both startling and incredibly satisfying. Our team was most proud of our three recurring segments on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’—especially when we were able to secure a visit to the studio from Villa Italian Kitchen’s COO, Andrew Steinberg.”
Impressions were tracked throughout the campaign by reporting media metrics and social media analytics, as well as monitoring for restaurant traffic, consumer inquiries and sentiment, using audience numbers and publicity values to record data. Placements were indexed with a variety of monitoring tools including Lexis Nexis and TV Eyes Broadcast monitoring. During the results recording process, which was time-consuming and difficult to measure given the vast amount of coverage, the team called on lessons learned during previous initiatives throughout the 2017 calendar year for Villa Italian Kitchen in order to measure the results accurately.
Due to the coverage on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” social media engagement on Villa Italian Kitchen’s channels skyrocketed. Villa Italian Kitchen’s Facebook post surrounding the final Jimmy Kimmel Live segment, where COO Andrew Steinberg hand-delivered the pizza to Jimmy and watched him sample the product live, reached more than 40,000 viewers. The first Facebook post, which shared the creative and announced the launch of the pizza on September 18, generated a reach of over 80,000 with more than 279 reactions that leaned positive-neutral. Additionally, Villa Italian Kitchen’s three segments on Jimmy Kimmel Live alone reached over 8 million viewers with a total publicity value of over $8.8 million.
Creativity & Innovation
In order to stand out from the competition, BMLPR crafted witty, engaging press materials and multimedia content, doing its best to continue to foster the viral nature of the story as it progressed. BMLPR continuously facilitated food drops at local morning shows nationwide to keep the story going, as the pumpkin spice pizza story was far better told with the physical pizza present during news broadcasts. BMLPR knew that traditional media outreach needed to be supplemented with tangible product placement and acted accordingly to provide it nationwide.
Finally, when Jimmy Kimmel discussed the Pumpkin Spice Pizza on his show, BMLPR orchestrated a response video from COO Andrew Steinberg. This creative response prompted Jimmy to invite Andrew on his show to deliver a Pumpkin Spice Pizza to the host in person, so Jimmy could try it as the video urged him to. The quick, funny and creative response led to Villa Italian Kitchen’s third mention on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” over a two-week span, but was a risk for its social channels as with any post on social, Villa Italian Kitchen ran the risk of negative user commentary.
Pitching joke writers of national late-night programs also led to a joke about the Pumpkin Spice Pizza landed on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” again helping to continue the discussion among popular social media channels and programs nationwide. By ensuring the information was shared on the social pages of key influencers in media, including popular morning show anchors and radio hosts, BMLPR was able to monitor the sentiment amongst consumers who would sound off in the comments with their thoughts on the pizza.
Overall, website traffic to the Villa Italian Kitchen corporate website spiked over 60% as a result of this initiative when compared to the week prior, with over one hundred more hits to the website’s menu page. Additionally, traffic to individual locations’ Villa Italian Kitchen website pages also spiked, with Google analytics reporting an uptick in searches and page views.