Fast food nationals

This is an article by Caroline Gibson.
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‘The client is king’ is a common phrase used in PR agencies. Everything the client wants the client gets. But what happens when the client wants to make a burger a major talking point in the media and the public?

They enlist Cow PR, Public Relations Consultants’ Association’s (PRCA) agency of the year for 2008. Cow PR didn’t receive this prestigious title for writing press releases and doing generic PR. They won it for doing outstanding PR with the ability to make people sit up and take notice.

Cow PR took on the challenge of making the world’s most expensive burger the world’s most talked about. Burger King, one of Cow PR’s biggest clients wanted to convey their quality messaging through launching a limited edition burger costing £95, called THE Burger. You may have read about it, at least you should have done because the launch successfully created 139,098,922 opportunities to see within the media.

Burger King and Cow PR used this campaign to demonstrate the quality they put into all their products. THE Burger was created by Mark Dowding, Burger King’s Director of New Product Development and Innovation, a professionally trained chef. This acted as a unique selling point that no other quick-serve restaurant chain had to offer.

The £95 burger combined the best ingredients including Kobe beef, saffron, truffles and pate negra to produce a memorable taste sensation. But with no advertising being used to promote the limited edition burger it was up to the PR team to make sure that everyone knew about it, including typical Burger King customers as well as people who would never usually eat at their restaurants.

The official launch of THE Burger was on June 19th 2008 at the Gloucester Road restaurant in South West London, probably one of the few places in the UK where people could afford to buy a £95 burger.

To gain the maximum amount of media interest, journalists from key publications were invited to taste and review THE Burger the day before the official launch. Journalists who attended the pre-launch included influential ‘foodie’ Tom Parker Bowles, a well-renowned food journalist who writes for The Daily Mail.

Burger King wanted as much coverage as possible for this campaign. However with hugely expensive raw materials and a final cost of £95 the PR team were not able to offer free burgers to all the journalists who wanted to taste it. Each potential reviewer had to be assessed by the PR team, taking account of the total readership of the publication, the demographic of the readership, the influence of the journalist wishing to write the review and if they had written any articles about Burger King previously.

The goal was to change people’s perception of Burger King but if these journalists were overly negative towards the brand then it could have resulted in a negative review, which could have jeopardised the campaign.

Then onto the launch, proving that PR isn’t always about sitting in the office ‘phoning journalists. It was all-hands to the deck, with the majority of the team out of the office ensuring that the launch went smoothly. We were dealing with the restaurant staff, making sure they were fully briefed, taking enquiries from customers and, most importantly, dealing with the large number of media that attended the official launch.

My first responsibility was to deliver THE Burger to London-based radio stations for the breakfast shows. This included Alex Zane’s show on XFM and Johnny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen on Capital FM. Although it seems odd to be delivering £95 burgers to celebrities for breakfast you have to consider that the breakfast shows are renowned for achieving very high listening figures. These presenters could review THE Burger live on air to a big mass audience.

Back at the Gloucester Road restaurant a photo-call was taking place for online publications, late editions and the evening newspapers. Photographers from major newspapers and press-wires came to the restaurant to collect images of the first £95 burger being sold to a customer.

Throughout the day various print and broadcast journalists visited the restaurant to taste THE Burger, and to do some filming for FHM online, amongst others. The PR team had to help all of these journalists, ensuring that they had all the information they needed, setting up interviews with Mark Dowding if required, overseeing the preparation of THE Burger, ensuring it was ready in time as well as dealing with customers who wanted to purchase THE Burger.

Every good public relations professional knows that the most important aspect of any campaign is the result – not just the amount but the quality of the coverage. Getting a couple of mentions in newspapers sometimes isn’t enough to create a real impact. With THE Burger we wanted people to be talking about it at work, on the Tube, in the pub; we wanted it to encourage debate and discussion. In terms of “advertising value equivalent” it achieved £5,254,029, with major articles in The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Sunday Mirror.

However what was more interesting were the number of blogs written about THE Burger including world-renowned Perez Hilton, showing that it was a story with global appeal. THE Burger also appeared in the reader comment section of the London Lite and Style magazine on the Going Up/Going Down column, demonstrating how the story managed to get people talking about the brand and THE Burger.

Of course many people saw this as a money-making scheme for Burger King, but they were wrong. All of the money (not just the profit, the entire £95) went to “Help a London Child”, a charity that Burger King has supported in the past.

So did the PR team manage to create a successful campaign and meet the brief? Following analysis of the coverage we reached 61% of all UK adults on average 3.5 times, with 98% of this mentioning the Burger King brand and 86% of this being positive. Proving that for this campaign THE Burger really did become King.

Photography:, Victoria Louise Crampton, Chris Ramsden


  1. Nathaniel Southworth-Barlow says:

    Reading this article – especially the opening phrase ‘The client is king’ – reminded me of an interview I read with Al Golin some time ago that touched on burgers and what the customer wanted (and didn’t get!) demonstrating one of the other sides of PR: business acumen.

    Great campaign by CowPR and great background information in the article.

  2. What an excellent PR campaign! Such a simple idea – make a burger fit for a king – and yet such an effective way to generate some great PR. The coverage and the advertising equivalent value gained from this are absolutely staggering! Sounds like a really exciting campaign to have been part of.

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