Have you ever eaten at Five Guys? I hadn’t before I stumbled upon the red and white checkered storefront in my haste to grab a quick meal last week. I’m not a fast food fan. I never eat at McDonald’s. But the bold signs boasting Five Guys serves the best burgers on the gulf coast piqued my interest. As I entered the joint, I immediately thought to myself, “This restaurant knows the power of PR.”
Bold pull-quote signs with excerpts from food critics and copies of full articles promoting the taste, brand, and experience of eating at Five Guys decorated each wall. This hamburger chain had figured a way to maximize the benefits of its press coverage.
As I roamed around in awe of all of the hype covering the walls, I was reminded of my baptism into the world of PR as a college intern. During the first week of my unpaid internship for a prominent Los Angeles hospital, I was brought into a crisis communications meeting (coincidentally with five guys, all administrators and executives of the hospital). The LA Times had recently published an article about the mortality rates in hospitals in Los Angeles, with our hospital having one of the highest. During that meeting, we set out to combat these negative stats with a PR campaign that highlighted the hospital’s successes in saving lives… which it did far more than the numbers represented.
The LA Times article basically reported the actual numbers of people dying on the operating table rather than the percentage of death rate based on total number of patients that were treated. This drastically changed the perception of the hospital’s competency and reputation, which up to that point had been one of the best in cardiology in the country. The hospital was also the official hospital of the Olympics, which had just come to L.A. three years earlier. As a Catholic hospital, it took more risks, operated on anyone regardless of their age and included one of the only round-the-clock emergency rooms.
At the meeting’s conclusion, we decided to combat the negative review by developing success stories and writing testimonials from patients whose lives we had saved.
I was in charge of interviewing patients coming out of open-heart surgery after being revived 3, 4, or even 5 times. I remember meeting a diplomat from Israel who was flown to our hospital for heart surgery, and another man who told me he had seen the light and was so thankful to be alive. These testimonial success stories were published in a variety of local newspapers including the very one that promoted the negative stats. We enlarged these clips into poster-sized artwork and hung them through the halls of the hospital for every visitor to see. Our campaign was highly successful.
As I sunk my teeth into my lettuce-wrapped burger with grilled onions and mushrooms, I was reminded of the lessons learned while working my first internship. Twenty-five years later, Five Guys is using the very same tactic to grab the attention of loyal customers as well as passersby like me. It’s no surprise Five Guys is America’s fastest growing restaurant chain.
How are you managing your reputation? What are you doing to combat negative press? Five Guys is proactively putting positive images out there. Should something negative creep up, the company is armed with enough positive to combat it without having to be on the defensive.
The power of PR is in your hands. You just need to sink your teeth into it!