Commentary: Popeye’s and Chick-fil-A leveraged earned media to boost sales

Algenon Cash

Commentary: Popeye’s and Chick-fil-A leveraged earned media to boost sales
August 29
05:00 2019

By Algenon Cash

Earned media is organically-received publicity that elevates your brand and marketing efforts. The media is earned by receiving press mentions, customer reviews, awards, articles and social media shares. It’s the best kind of marketing for a small company because it’s the kind you do not pay for.

Popeye’s and Chick-fil-A captured headlines, dominated social media, and attracted new customers the past week during their battle for best chicken sandwich. Despite whatever people said about both well-established restaurants, they both came out winners as customers flooded their stores to participate in the feud.

For over six years, I served as a national spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute, where I led earned media strategy in 11 states. 

We focused on utilizing organic media channels to distribute our message about the benefits of fossil fuel technology while combatting opponents who attempted to demagogue our industry. We understood ordinary people often respond in dynamic ways to earned-media content because it allows the observer to join the overall brand story.

This week I would like to share a few strategies on how you can deploy earned media in your business to grow brand exposure, find new customers, and increase sales.

1. Turn employees into brand ambassadors.

Most if not all your employees are on Facebook or Instagram, so turning your associates into social media advocates is a powerful way to amplify your company’s voice. Tapping into your team’s personal following can dramatically increase your company’s total following. The more people talking about your brand, the further and wider your brand will grow organically.

 For example, if you own a small business with a total of 1,000 fans on Facebook, but you have a team of ten employees who have their own networks of 500 each, that’s another 5,000 people who have the potential to read your content, decide to follow your company, and purchase goods or services. 

2. Take advantage of your sphere of influence.

It’s critical you focus on developing a close group of relationships that will support and share your accomplishments. Once you build a robust network, reach out consistently with updates about your business.  Don’t send generic messages, but instead craft personalized messages and you’ll get a solid response. Be sure to do the same for them.

3. Sponsored posts can be effective.

All social media platforms give users an option to run paid ads targeted at your ideal customer. First, identify the platform where the majority of your prospects live. You may quickly discover each platform attracts different users for entirely diverse reasons. Facebook often has a mature user, while Snapchat draws in a large number of teens and college-aged users.

 Second, build a small-scale ad campaign to market your content. Initially go small and then make ongoing adjustments. You’ll be shocked at how far a $50 budget will go with digital advertising.

4. Always test and measure results.

Large marketing agencies have comprehensive analytics software that closely monitors their brand messaging against competitors in real-time. Deeply understanding the impact of your PR strategy is vital for your bottom line and to quantify your return on investment. 

 I can assure both Popeye’s and Chick-fil-A over the past week have studied what impact their “battle” had on customer traffic, sales, and inventory levels.

Small business owners may have to rely on more simple tools such as Google Analytics, which provides good feedback about web performance. All the social media platforms have tools enabled to provide users with basic insight reports. Employing a customer loyalty program inside the business can deliver additional insight. But never forget that just a simple conversation with suppliers and customers will give you information about how others perceive your brand.

5. Take direct control of your public relations.

Having the right strategy and team in place are critical to producing effective results, but don’t totally abdicate your responsibility. Always be present and seen. A good PR agency may open the door to media opportunities, but they will never know your brand better than you do. 

Naturally you’ll use a mixture of strategies to cultivate your brand – PR, television, radio, newspaper, and outdoor advertising. But earned media will always be one of the most effective and genuine methods to engaging customers – it’s routinely fun, more authentic, and embraces your customer with a customized message.

Good luck as you grow your business and contact me with any questions!

Algenon Cash is a nationally recognized speaker and the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Company, an investment banking firm. Reach him at

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