The iconic Tim Hortons restaurant and brand took St. Louis by storm in recent years. So much so that the fanfare eruption on social media even caught the attention of traditional media outlets like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Denise Bentele and Maria Lemakis of Common Ground Public Relations and Tine Bryan of Tim Hortons St. Louis, spoke on April 28 about their award-winning efforts to make St. Louis the most successful market launch in Tim Hortons company history and how they’re continuing the intense interest and unique events more than a year and a half later.
These endeavors earned Common Ground Public Relations and Tim Hortons St. Louis an Award of Excellence as well as the top prize of the 2015 competition, the Best in Show Award. Here are 7 tips to step-up your communications game to the “award-winning” level.
- Do your research
“Research is the least appreciated aspect of our jobs.” But it’s important! Figure out what drives the business and create goals and put the measurement criteria in place in the beginning. Base everything (goals, objectives, strategic plans and tactics) you do on those goals and measurements. If it’s not contributing, it’s inhibiting.
- Listen to your client
They know their business. They know their customer. They can have fantastic ideas and making the client’s “dreams come true” can be a big win in more ways than one.
- Find local influencers
Dean Martin said “You’re nobody ’til somebody loves you.” While you may not be a “nobody,” it certainly helps to become “somebody” when you’ve got the backing of local celebrities, decision makers, thought leaders, etc. In this case, Tim Hortons partnered with the St. Louis Blues, serving their signature coffee and hot chocolate at the Scottrade Center an entire season before any brick-and-mortar stores even opened. It helps, too, that Tim Hortons is a Canadian brand with a light smattering across the northern United States, where many hockey players, families and fans venture or hail from.
- Connect with the community
When you’re the new kid in town, it’s helpful to get to know the neighbors, the community leaders and the other business owners. You’re going to become part of or influence what was first their community. What are people excited about? What are some potential issues? How can you all help each other? Also, make each opening, event and pitch, unique to that community and the people therein. For the Maplewood opening, there was a social media contest where the winners got to be the First Customers and arrive in a limousine. In downtown St. Louis, they used the unique drive-thru for a hockey shootout with Brett Hull and had an award-winning high-school marching band play.
- Honor the brand integrity
If they don’t already exist, define clear brand standards, message platforms, a mission statement, a vision, etc. Once these are done, or if they’re already in place, stick to them. Diluting your message, your standards, your brand, only dilutes your effectiveness. When you’re a champion for your brand you create other champions, too. One thing that makes Tim Hortons unique and special is its “middle ground between Panera and Starbucks.” To venture from that well established, and clearly highly adored, model and quality would be a detriment to the business, the customers and the communities.
- Expand your reach
Pair traditional outdoor advertising and earned media coverage with social media posts, contests, ads and video. Pitch “non-traditional” media outlets like niche market trade publications or hyper local weeklies. Pitch “outside the (donut) box” stories. In this case, it’s not just about the food and coffee coming to St. Louis. It’s about new business, new jobs, new fans, new celebrities—sometimes being one in the same as the fans (Can we say #SocialContest?). There are compelling stories in every one of those areas. Use every chance to tell those stories. For example, there’s a ground breaking and a store opening and a new location announcement and a new product launch. COPE: Create Once, Produce Everywhere. A 5-minute highlight reel can easily be used for orientation for new employees, website content and investor meetings. That same 5-minute video can be spliced into multiple :30 and :60-second ads and clips for social media.
- Keep the momentum
Take what you learned from past events, pitches, clients, etc. to make better informed decisions for the next opening, product launch, etc. But don’t rest on your laurels. If there is a new or wildly different idea, give it a try. Keep up with your client. Keep up with their business goals. Constant, open and honest communication is necessary to be able to quickly address new needs. Keeping a client relationship healthy will help you know how to best support a growing, changing organization and its evolving needs. Tim Hortons is making (and baking) big moves on the east side of the river in O’Fallon, IL. Maintaining their solid relationship has our speakers ready to go for more locations and more donuts to come.
“It’s nice to be important, but it’s also important to be nice.”
Thank you to our fantastic speakers for being so gracious with both their time and their knowledge—and for the donuts, we really enjoyed the donuts.