Sunday, October 11, 2009


Wendy's founder Dave Thomas
(photo: Wendy's International)

Earlier this week, Wendy’s International and its PR firm, Ketchum Inc., reportedly gave The Wall Street Journal (“WSJ”) “the exclusive” on the fast-food chain’s new marketing campaign.

The WSJ’s story with all the details appeared on Thursday, a day ahead of Wendy’s official campaign launch on Friday; as PR Daily pointed out, however, The New York Times (“NYT”) was on to the story on Wednesday, but was unable to get Wendy’s to comment. In its “Media Decoder” blog Wednesday evening, the NYT outed the campaign and the PR launch strategy:

"Wendy’s declined to discuss the campaign because executives at the company and at the Ketchum unit of the Omnicom Group, the outside public relations agency for Wendy’s, arranged to give the story exclusively in advance to The Wall Street Journal."
There are many reasons for which an organization might choose to give one particular media outlet an “exclusive” on a story.

Granting an exclusive can be a way of attempting to ensure either a minimum amount of coverage, or early coverage from a certain perspective: for example, you might choose to give a particular story to a certain reporter or media outlet ahead of all others, because you anticipate the resulting coverage could reflect well on your organization, and you want coverage that follows it to reflect the same positive image. Or, you might give a reporter an exclusive story as a relationship builder. Other times, it might be because the journalist or outlet was on to the story anyway, and agreed to hold off on reporting it until the organization was ready, in exchange for the assurance they could break the story.

Granting exclusives can have a number of advantages for the PR pro – but it has to be done carefully. While the media outlet receiving the exclusive will likely view the transaction positively, not everyone else will; so the PR pro must weigh the short-term value of giving the story to one media outlet against the potential for burned bridges or soured relationships with others.

If you Google “Wendy’s real campaign,” you’ll find the WSJ story, the NYT’s Media Decoder blog entry, and a number of stories in smaller market publications – the story never appears to have made it into any of the other top US newspapers post-announcement.

Did Wendy’s burn its chances of coverage in USA Today, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and others by giving the exclusive to the WSJ? It’s possible, given that one of the NYT’s reporters must have been interested enough to call Wendy’s on Wednesday, looking for the story.

Or maybe, on the other hand, Wendy’s and Ketchum correctly predicted the story wouldn’t attract much ink at the level of the major papers, so threw in the appeal of an exclusive to get the WSJ to bite. It’s tough to say.

Related notes:

If you’re interested in seeing Wendy’s new commercials, you can see one here, on the company’s website. And for an interesting look behind-the-scenes at a major company’s branding and marketing strategy, check out Brandweek’s “Why ‘Freshness’ is Wendy’s New Marketing Ingredient.”

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