ICology: Internal comms challenges in the fast food world

ICology ep #25, Jason Rollins and Amanda Eglin with Arby's

One of the great things about internal communication is that it's everywhere because (simply put) employees are everywhere. But IC is not even close to the same within companies because each market often faces its own challenges. Imagine if you had more than 70,000 employees and the majority did not have access to traditional IC channels. This is Arby's. Jason Rollins is the manager of corporate communication and Amanda Eglin is the associate manager of internal communications there. 

In this episode, you'll hear them talk about the IC practice within Arby's, along with the channels they use. They also talk at length about the corporate philanthropy Arby's contributes in local communities, along with an impressive item on Arby's secret menu. Listen in. 

Resource: PurposeFULL, Arby's Corporate Social Reponsibility

ICology is available on iTunes as well as many other platforms and apps. Or you can listen to the media player above. 

Episode Transcript

Chuck: I'm your host of ICology, Chuck Gose. So when it comes to internal comms, I like to tell people I cut my teeth on the manufacturing side of things both at Rolls Royce and General Motors and in the manufacturing space, internal comms certainly does have its challenges. But while IC is everywhere which makes it so great and powerful, every market and vertical is different and that's honestly what fascinates me about the world of internal communications. Again, internal comms is everywhere and employees are everywhere but the challenges can be very unique like with the case of our guests today who are both communicators with Arby's.
Jason Rollins is the corporate communications manager there and Amanda Eglin is the associate manager of internal communications. Jason and Amanda, welcome to ICology.
Jason: Thank you, thank you. We're thrilled to be here.
Amanda: Thank you.
Chuck: Well, and it was great. Just a little bit of background how we met. We met at PRSA Connect at the networking event in the evening so that certainly shows the value of attending those at events and I know sometimes for people that's not the most comfortable thing for them, but it's certainly a great way to get to know people like you in the world that you work in. And we'll go and get started with the questions because we do have a lot to get through in this episode.
And so Jason, Arby's is one of those brands that I feel like everybody knows and there's probably tremendous brand value there from a marketing standpoint, but I feel like people might not realize how large the Arby's brand actually is. So give us some details on the Arby's brand size, scope, scale, but also including the makeup of your employees, both in the communications team because other communicators like to know how teams are structured, but also globally, what does Arby's look like.
Jason: Absolutely. Thanks, Chuck. So yes. Arby's is definitely a household, iconic brand. We're 52 years old. We celebrated our big 50th anniversary in 2014 which was a big deal for our brand. We have just over 3,300 restaurants in 4 countries. We're primarily in the U.S., we do have a good number of restaurants in Canada and interestingly, we have some restaurants in Turkey and Qatar. We have a couple of franchisees who are passionate about the brand in each of those two countries as well and a few weeks ago we signed a deal to add some restaurants in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait which is also exciting. We're starting to look at some other international markets. As far as our employee base, we have about 75,000 team members, both company and franchise. We are about 60% franchised as far as our restaurants go with just over a 1,000 of those being company owned and about 24,000 of the 75,000 employees are Arby's Restaurant Group or company employees.
Chuck: Okay. Then Amanda, when it comes to internal communications and Jason's done a good job with laying the landscape for us. What are the channels that are most...from a tactical standpoint, what are the channels that are most viable to you in internal comms? And then give us an idea about what your internal comms calendar looks like from a flow of communication?
Amanda: Sure, sure. Well, as Jason mentioned, we communicate to a wide range of audiences and so oftentimes we'll be communicating to the entire system which would be all of our franchisees and all of our company restaurants and all of our support staff. Those are big communications and then other times we're just communicating to a pocket of those communications. Maybe just franchisees or just our support staff or just our company operators.
I would say our primary channel to reach those audiences would be email, through electronic communications. We do publish electronic newsletters as well. We use Newsweaver. If you're familiar with Newsweaver, we use Newsweaver to publish and distribute those electronic communications.
We also do webinars and webcasts as needed and we do lend our help to other departments that need to communicate out there, messaging. We do meetings and events as well. That's a big part of what we do. We have meetings just here at the support center with our internal staff here. We have biannual worldwide franchise conventions where we bring all of our franchisees in and do large two to three day events for them, give them a lot of exposure to what's going on with the brands or directly from the executives. We do internal videos. We're really starting to ramp up our internal video channel where we look for really inspiring stories from around the system whether here in the building, whether a franchise employee, whether it's a company operator somewhere in the country that's doing something really cool. We go out and we profile them and then we publish their story to the system and that's really meant to engage and inspire and really create some buzz around that. So that's something cool that we're starting to ramp up and do more and more.
And then I guess last is our intranet and that's just...we're beginning to redo our, I would say pretty archaic intranet that we currently have. It's a huge project that we're about to embark on and so when that's done, that will be, we expect, a very great, new ramped up tool for us to be able to get our communications out and engage our employees as well.
As for calendar, we probably put out anywhere upwards of 500 different communications on any given year. We do three weekly newsletters. We do one biweekly newsletter and those are operations focused. We do one quarterly newsletter that specifically speaks to our development, meant to engage and inspire franchisees specifically to build new restaurants, remodel their restaurants. And so we really have a lot coming out of our team. At any given time, we're pushing out something and then we've obviously got our one-off communications that happen as needed. Could be urgent, could be planned out, but we definitely have a lot of volume coming out.
Chuck: And so then what's the value of face to face communication with an Arby's? Because you mentioned the meetings and events. I would imagine face to face is still very, very critical to your business.
Amanda: Yeah, it is. I mean, I think we all agree that face to face communication is really the ideal though not always totally possible. It's challenging for us especially when we're working with a system that's spread out across the country but we do hold...I guess first to speak to our face to face meetings with our support staff. So we conduct an annual employee engagement survey and so last year, a year and a half ago or so we heard a lot of feedback that folks wanted more face to face communication. They wanted to hear more directly from our executive team. So we heard that. We were fortunately in a position to be able to build out some meeting space here at the office that could accommodate the entire office staff and we did that. We did just that. We began scheduling monthly all team meetings to give our support staff here and those that could listen in on the phone that are field based the opportunity to hear monthly updates from our executive team. So hear what's going on in the business, hear what's going on financially, hear what's coming down the line marketing wise and then we always try and bring something fun and different into each meeting to keep it light, keep it fun.
So that's something that's really...we've heard a lot of feedback that's been really, really successful. When we're talking about the field and operators, that's where it starts to get challenging with the face to face communication, but we do really rely on our field based support staff as well as our operations leadership to take our communications and cascade down in as many face to face opportunities as possible. We do rely on their region meetings and attend when we can to really get the face to face communication going out there.
Chuck: And then from LinkedIn, so I reached out to my network, both on Twitter and LinkedIn and asked if there were any questions people wanted to know and Rachel Butts submitted a question. She wanted to know Amanda, how is communication different or is it different at all when you're talking about communicating to those restaurant group employees in the field versus the franchise employees that are out in the field?
Amanda: Yeah, yeah. So there's definitely a difference when it comes to how we communicate to them. Franchisees are technically their own businesses. They are their own business owners and so it is a very sharp line in the sand as far as what we can and what we cannot say to them and so anything related to HR practices, hiring, firing, anything that even alludes to anything like that, we can't touch. We cannot communicate those things to them.
So when we communicate to our franchisees, we always have to involve our legal team. They are big partners of ours, they work with us to make sure that what we're communicating to our franchisees is something we're allowed to say. Now, that being said, we do...for example, we publish two different operations newsletters. One is for our company operators and one is for our franchise and the reason we do that is for that reason. Because we have to be careful about what we say to our franchisees.
A lot of the times information is the same and so it does cross over from one to the other but we also do include specific information that is only applicable to one of those audiences. So we do have to always be mindful of that. We do have a good franchisee/franchisor relationship. We do want our franchisees and expect our franchisees to follow brand guidelines and so we want our guests to go into any restaurant in any town, USA and not know if they're in a company restaurant or not know if they're in a franchise restaurant. They're just in an Arby's.
And so it's really important that our messaging is still clear and our standards are still clear and we do have franchisee buy-in. So it's challenging but we do work hard to make sure that we are as consistent as we can and obviously as appropriate as we need to be.
Chuck: Now, Jason, Amanda mentioned the engagement survey that you guys do and she mentioned some of the feedback. What other interesting feedback do you get from employees and what are they telling you?
Jason: Absolutely. And Chuck, I'll back up real quick. You had asked about the makeup of our team and I skipped over that. Apologies. But just real quick. So we are a small team. We are a six person team lead by a VP who oversees internal and external. Myself, I work about 50% internal, 50% external also supporting crisis and issues management. Of course, Amanda leads a lot of our internal communication efforts. We have a meetings and events coordinator who focuses solely on some of those big internal meetings, those big franchise meetings Amanda mentioned. And then we also have a graphic designer and a director who oversees strictly external, mostly consumer PR and brand buzz working closely with our digital social team. So that's the makeup and just one other thing I'll add to the question from LinkedIn about the difference between corporate and franchisee, specifically on the crisis and issues management front. So a lot of times we'll learn of an issue at a local franchise restaurant that has the potential, maybe it's via social media, to blow up and cause a crisis or an issue for the brand as a whole. A lot of times franchisees will downplay the potential severity of something like that and say, "No, this is just an issue in my local restaurant. I've got it." Well, in many cases it's already made its way to social and it's become more of a brand issue and that's where our team can really jump in working closely with our legal team to provide counsel for them for how we would handle it as a franchisor, and more often than not, they will follow that counsel because we framed it up in the right way saying, "This is not just a local issue at your local restaurant. This has potential to go viral and really damage the brand so let's have a conversation. This is what we would do if we were you." And more often than not, they will. So I just wanted to add that example. That happens all the time for us.
Chuck: Okay.
Jason: And then going back to feedback from employees and what they're telling us. So we do have that employee engagement survey that we do annually. We always get a ton of good insight from that. We will, on occasion, do a one off Zoomerang survey if there's a new project or initiative that we're curious to get some feedback on. We have utilized that. We do participate in some third party surveying. For example, the local, you know, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Atlanta Business Chronicle both have their Best Places to Work Awards. We always participate in those. Those are nice local recognition. We're also gearing up to pursue some of the bigger best places to work awards like Fortune and Forbes. We have new leadership who, in the past few years, has really been able to move the needle in terms of improving and enhancing our corporate culture so we now feel like we're in a better position to go after some of those big ones.
And then we also do some franchisee surveying. We just were named a world class franchise by the Franchise Research Institute and that involved a third party survey to franchisees which was really exciting for us. It really demonstrates that our franchise base has a lot of trust in the brand and a lot of belief that the brand is headed in the right direction.
Chuck: Okay. Now, Amanda, the typical Arby's customer...and I'm sure you guys know exactly who that is, but they know you guys through the commercials and their local restaurant or restaurants that they might frequent. So how do you equip your employees, those out in the field, to be the best brand advocates they can be for Arby's?
Amanda: Yeah. That's definitely something that's really important to us. We have a program that's called Brand Champ and it's a class of sorts. It's part training, part goal setting. All of our restaurant teams, both company and franchise, go through this and it's really designed to energize our teams, get them excited about the brand, really embrace the brand and everything it stands for. In this class they learn about our fast crafted brand positioning, our vision, all of our values and so we're really pumping them up to be brand advocates through that.
We also are launching a new initiative, a new communications tool and we are testing putting monitors in the back of the house. So they're basically smart TVs and we control the content and it is a way to get to those, as we mentioned before, difficult to get to front line team members which is one thing that we are pretty excited about and it's doing really well. But we push out important information, highlights, information that the front line team members need to know, should know, operations related, training related, but also we stream our commercials through there so they can see what's airing on television at any given time and also what's coming. So what will be on air soon. So that's a way to get them excited about the ads and also, if a guest comes in and mentions, "I saw your latest commercial on the such and such product." We don't want an employee to be standing there going, "Yeah, I've never seen that. I have no idea what you're talking about." So that's been really successful for us. It's really gotten our team members out there really excited about that.
We also publish in our newsletters a small section that's called "Arby's in the News" and so that's where we push out brand buzz, the things that brand is being mentioned in, cool stories, whether it's our executive team winning an award or being recognized for something or the brand being put out in social in a cool way. So just to keep our front line team members engaged and seeing what's going on with the brand as a whole. So they feel engaged that way.
Chuck: I love that, I love that. Because it's definitely a way to, like I said, makes them more familiar with the brand and the brand messaging versus what you said, being maybe caught off guard by some content out there.
Amanda: Right, exactly.
Chuck: And then Jason, when it comes to mission statements and values and things like that that companies put out, I'll admit that a lot of times I get lost in them. They seem pretty vague and full of buzz words or things that people should be anyway. Honesty and respect and all those things and it's just a lot of corporate speak sometimes as well. Not to say that they're bad, but they just don't mean much to employees, but you shared me with yours and I like them because they're very direct and to the point. So just quickly share with the listeners your values.
Jason: Sure, yeah. I guess, to start, we do have a purpose statement, too, that's fairly new in the past few years and I think has really resonated internally and that is...our purpose is inspiring smiles through delicious experiences and for us that's really what it boils down to is creating that guest experience in the restaurant that is going to inspire that smile because we feel like at the end of the day all the marketing, all the internal comms and PR and stuff that's happening, if we fail to deliver when that guest comes into the restaurant, it's all for naught. So that's really what we're focused on as a company and as a brand is that holistic guest experience.
And then I will say we've had a lot of logo changes, tagline changes over the year on the external side but we're very proud and happy that our core values have been in place for many, many decades. They have not changed. There are six of them and they're very straight forward and they seem to resonate all the way down to that front line team member. The first one is dream big. Then we have work hard, get it done, play fair, have fun and make a difference. And the make a difference is a big one for us so I'll talk about that a little bit later and some of the things that we're doing in the CSR space and with our Arby's Foundation, but those six values have been something that we can rally around both here at the support center as well as in the field. They're easy to digest, easy to understand and I think that's why they've been able to stand the test of time.
Chuck: I agree. I think it is. It's the quick and to the point and meaningful responses. It's not necessarily so important that every employee be able to recite those though they probably could pretty easily compared to other values that I've seen some companies have, but it's like you said, it's more important that they live that.
So Amanda, I would imagine recognition plays a big part there and it's huge for engagement. We all know that. So what does employee recognition look like at Arby's and how do you align that to the values?
Amanda: Sure. Well, this is something that Arby's does really, really well. It's a company that really recognizes its team members all the way from the team member level up through the support center all the way to the top. So there is no lack of recognition programs out there. Everyone really gets behind them and there's a lot of official recognition programs, there's a lot of unofficial recognition programs. There's large ones, small ones but the ones that really stand out in speaking about the values, those pretty much...the values are recognized consistently here. And so in the restaurant, for example, they have pins that the leadership, the restaurant leadership can present anyone with at any given time and each pin represents each of the six values and so if they recognize a team member doing something that really represents well one of those values, they present them with a pin and it's usually spontaneous and it's ideally in a public setting, meaning in a shift meeting or in front of their peers to really get them recognition that way.
Here, at the office, we have those all team meetings that I was talking about earlier. We have something called pass it on values recognition and so during each meeting, the...I should back up and say that in each meeting the attendees are recognized with values awards and so the next meeting, the recipient that received it at the previous meeting passes it on and so forth and so it's a way to keep things going. Just passing it on. So if I win the Dream Big award this month, I recognize somebody that either I work closely with or has done something great for me over the month and so at the next meeting I'll pass it along to the next recipient and so it just keeps things going that way and that's been...we received a lot of feedback that that's been a big hit.
Other programs in the field. We have something called Red Hat Heroes. Those are again spontaneous shift meeting recognition where...a peer to peer recognition. A peer recognizes another peer doing something great for them and they recognize them with a Red Hat Hero card.
Going back to pins. We have Inspiring Smiles pins for somebody who's recognized for doing something great for guests. Even our CEO. He has his own pin that he gives out to select folks. So if you receive a pin from Paul Brown that's a really cool thing.
We also have newsletter recognition so in those newsletters that we put out, folks can nominate other folks to be recognized in the newsletter for doing something great and every month...at the end of every month we take everybody who was recognized over the course of that month and they become team member of the month. That's decided on by the executive team. So they look at who all was recognized throughout the month and they choose a team member of the month. This is here at the office so they receive a parking spot. We have a pretty big parking garage here. Sometimes we have to walk pretty far to the office and so that's a pretty cool thing to be team member of the month and have a front row parking spot right in there with the executive team. So that's pretty cool.

And then the last thing I'll mention is something new called the Bright Light Award and that's something given out by our executive team. There have not been many of them. They are spontaneous as well. They are given out to somebody who just has gone above and beyond for the brand. They have just done something really incredible for the brand as a whole and that deserves to be recognized and so when you get a Bright Light Award given out by Paul and the executive team, that's a pretty special thing.
Chuck: It certainly sounds like it and I love just the variety and activity of that because it's not just this once a year event or it's not just a casual event. There's a structure of all of that so that employees could be even surprised by the recognition which...I think which is great.
Amanda: Yeah, and I'll add that...oh, I'm sorry. I was going to add that our folks in the field really...they love recognition. I mean, everyone does, but we're constantly getting emails from folks in the field saying, "Hey, so and so did this for me or so and so was recognized in our local paper for doing this. Can we get this into one of our newsletters?" And so we really try as much as we can to highlight those stories from the field through our newsletter so that it's not only just peer to peer, it's not only just their immediate team seeing these great things. We try and highlight recognition across the system whenever we can to really give recognition where it's due.
Chuck: Well, honestly, that's a great segue to my next question because I thought there was this really interesting post that went viral. It was actually from a competitor of Arby's, but it was a McDonald's worker in the UK who wrote...it really was quite an inspirational post on Facebook, just on his own personal account that ended up going viral. Not just defending fast food workers, but honestly really talking about what amazing inspirations his coworkers were and all the other things they did in the community and you touched on that. I would assume you have people like this all over Arby's when you talk about 70 plus thousand people and you mentioned sometimes you get emails, but is there a way to help capture and celebrate those stories and feature them there within the corporation?
Jason: Yes, absolutely. There's an incredible volume of amazing people and success stories that we're constantly hearing about from the field. So recently we started partnering with our HR team to rebrand and enhance our employer value proposition and one of the initial things that's come out of that work has been a new program or tagline I guess I should say called Start Gere, Go Anywhere and it's essentially the notion that Arby's is often...more often than not a launching pad for many folks' careers.

If you think about our front line, more often than not, they can be 16 to 18 years old so for many people it is that first job that's going to give them some good work experience and then they're going to be onto the next challenge in their life. So that Start Here, Go Anywhere I think really encapsulates the reality of the situation. And a really amazing story is actually our Chief People Officer Melissa Strait, who has been with Arby's for over 30 years and actually did start as a front line team member while working in college, has risen through the ranks and is now in our C-Suite. I mean, it's incredible and we have stories like that all over the place. Operators who started on the front line and now they're in senior level positions in the field or perhaps here at the support center.

So it's...we've been working really hard to curate those stories from the field and a program that we're getting ready to launch very soon we're calling fast crafted correspondence. It's essentially a roving reporter type program where we are incentivizing folks throughout the field to put on their reporter hats and send in stories to our team for consideration for amplifying via one of our channels, whether it be putting something in the newsletter, creating a video about them, perhaps we bring them to our worldwide franchise convention and recognize them on stage. There's lots of different ways we can amplify and if we choose to amplify one of those stories then whomever submitted it gets a reward whether it be cash or swag or something like that. So that's getting ready to roll out. We're very excited that it's going to be successful.
We have a similar program that's been up and running for a few years to solicit new menu ideas from across the system. I think a couple of years ago when we rolled it out we got a couple of hundred submissions and now we're getting over 1,500 a year in that and it's this new fast crafted correspondence program is going to be set up basically the same way. So we're really hopeful that the great content's going to come pouring in from the field.
Chuck: Oh, yeah. I have no doubt and I think especially what you said was making their...training your front line employees at times even into reporters. With the technology available, I think they could be amazing reporters. You might even uncover some talent coming out from the field.
And this is where I mentioned in the intro about us taking a bit of a shift in the conversation because we talked before. I think a lot of people would be really surprised at how much Arby's does in the communities that you're in. So Amanda, why don't you talk about some of the charities that are supported locally and nationally that allow your employees to help...get behind the brand and get behind the company to make a difference.
Amanda: Sure. Well, I'll specifically to our Arby's Foundation which is our nonprofit arm of the brand. This is actually the 30th anniversary of the foundation. The largest national partner of the foundation is Share Our Strength and their No Kid Hungry campaign. We've been a core partner with them since 2011 I believe, and we've donated close to $76 million to youth related causes over the course of the 30 year history of the foundation. So very active, very passionate things for the brand. Specifically, I guess in the fall our main program, I would say, is our national restaurant fundraiser. For six weeks every fall our restaurants all get behind this fundraiser with all the proceeds going to No Kid Hungry. Guests are asked to donate a dollar to end childhood hunger and that's the big push.
What's interesting about that though is 50% of the funds raised in the state restaurants in that state stay in the state and so local restaurant operators have the opportunity to nominate local organizations that they want to see the funds go to. So they're really the voices from their own local communities and help the funds stay right there where they're raised. So that's a cool thing.

Then another program that the foundation has is called SOFI. It's School's Out, Food's In. This is a meal card program. I believe this is the second summer that this program has been in existence. It is in 11 markets. They're looking to expand it to more, but what it is basically is the foundation works with school systems, local school systems and gives out meal cards, punch cards so that children, during the summer, in communities that may not have access to meals as they do during the school year do have access to meals and come to Arby's for them. So that's been a really nice program. It's doing really well.
And then I guess here at the support center, we're also really active in foundation events and the foundation puts on lots of volunteer efforts for us to do here in the Atlanta community and one of those...and it's a variety of volunteer events all year long, but one of the big events that we do and an ongoing one is the backpack stuffing program and again, this speaks to children that may not have access to meals when they're outside of school. We partner with this local school that we put together backpacks each week during the school year for children to take home these backpacks of food on the weekends for their families. And so we're a big partner with them. They love us, we love them and it's been a really good program and a lot of departments have gotten behind it here at the support center as well.
Chuck: Yeah, I just think it's great to see companies not just get involved but then truly make a difference especially if you...obviously, Arby's is focused on youth but making a true difference in their lives. Then Jason, for the first time you put together this full CSR report, I guess basically, detailing all these contributions to the community. It's called PurposeFULL with two Ls at the end and when we first talked about this, I could tell in your voice how excited you are about it.
Jason: Yes, absolutely. This is a really big deal for our brand and something that's been coming together over the past six months to a year or so. So on June 20th, we are going to launch our first ever CSR report both internally and externally. PurposeFULL is what the platform is called and there's four main buckets to it. The first one is called skillful and that is all about reinvesting in our work force and our team members and giving them the tools, resources, education they need to achieve their goals even if it is outside of Arby's. We are mindful going back to how Arby's is often a launching pad and that's okay with us. The second one is called flavorful and that's all about our food, the high quality of our ingredients, making sure that we're being responsible with how we're sourcing products and ingredients. The next is called resourceful. That's all about being good stewards of our environment, reducing our carbon footprint as we're building new restaurants and remodeling. It's a perfect opportunity to look at how do we reduce the energy, how do we look at everything from ovens and equipment and lighting and everything to make sure that we're being as energy efficient as possible.
And then the last one is useful and that's all about the Arby's Foundation as Amanda was talking about and that's all about youth related causes. Primarily hunger, but we're broadening it to be more focused on youth empowerment. So very exciting for us as communicators to have this new formal CSR program. I think we'll be able to regularly insert all of the new messaging included in the report into our various internal communications channels, laddering a lot of our messaging back up to this and using it really as a rallying point and something our entire system can get excited about and really be proud of. So that's very much hot of the press and very exciting for us.
Chuck: And then so how will employees...I mean, I assume this is available to employees, the community. I mean, who will be able to see this?
Jason: Yeah, it'll all be online on our arbys.com and we're in the process right now of trying to figure out how best to roll it out internally. We've talked about having maybe an all team meeting dedicated to this. Maybe it's even a one off town hall facilitated by our CEO at the support center to debut this and walk folks through it. We've talked about basic block and tackle things like desk drops with the report with some fun piece of swag or something like that.
So that internal communications roll out is coming together as we speak but we're going to do everything we can to make a big splash.
Chuck: Great, and then man, I want to jump back into specifically into the internal communication side. Obviously, this podcast is ICology. So I want to know have you guys identified what is a key challenge that you have when it comes to communication and what are your plans to take it on?
Amanda: Yeah, I think that easily our number one challenge is reaching down into our restaurants where a large segment of our audience, our operators aren't working at desk jobs. They're not in front of computers all they. They are not sitting there waiting for the next email to come in and so it's a challenge getting to them. We do have the ability to communicate directly via email down to the general manager level but then you've got a whole level below them, their team that report in to them, their team members, their front line folks that we really have...I would say that's the biggest challenge is getting all the way down.
So we really do rely on a cascade. We do rely on cascade communications. So restaurants in the areas that they're in, in the districts that they're in all do hold meetings in the field and so we really do rely on supervisors and directors to take what's important that's cascaded out to continue to cascade it down.

But basically we try and be...when we're keeping our general managers in mind, when we're sending our communications that we really have to get to them, we just try and be as succinct as possible to really control how often we're sending to them, keeping in mind the time that they're going to be checking their emails, knowing that they're only going to be checking probably a few times a day, really trying to combine where we can to give them one communication instead of a bunch. It's really where the newsletters come into play. So we're really just trying to keep them in mind as much as we can.
With regards to the team members, I mentioned before the back of the house monitors. That's something that we're really launching and taking on which we're really excited about as a new way to get down to the team member level and make sure that they're seeing really the important information that they need to see and have it right at their fingertips and make it easier for the general manager as well and to...during a team huddle or a pre-shift meeting they've got all the information at their fingertips, they can spend just a few minutes covering on all the topics and to make sure that the information does reach down to them.

Another challenge we face is that our...we have a no cellphone policy in our restaurants so we have a very digitally disconnected audience there and so we really have to think outside the box and be innovative on how we get to them if we can't necessarily use emails to reach certain segments of the restaurant population. We can't rely on an app or a digital platform of any sort, but Arby's as a brand is embarking on a whole digital platform I guess. A digital marketing platform that's really external facing, internal facing. It's a very multi-faceted plan and that does include utilizing every screen that's in the restaurant. So beyond these back of the house monitors that we have, we're looking at even POS systems. So there are cashiers, there are cash registers I should say that...their point of sales systems would actually have the capability of being a communications tools as well. In the event of a recall something could pop up there where they literally cannot move past anything unless they address something.
So those are the kind of things that we're really excited about is just coming up with different ways to get to them, but that is definitely the challenge is when you can't really rely on traditional means.
Chuck: And I'm glad you mentioned the mobile policy because I imagine some listeners along this way are thinking, "Why aren't they using an app?" Because that's a hot topic but you're right. That in and of itself could be a bit of a barrier but you guys are finding ways and being creative in working around that policy. So Jason, next question. This is a slight step away from internal comms but it's news that still impacts employees and this isn't brand new news but for those who aren't familiar, Jon Stewart, who had the show on Comedy Central, was famous for taking cheap shots at Arby's but what I was always impressed with was how the brand took it in stride and this was something we talked about when we met at PRSA Connect. Tell the story about how Arby's got to be this obsession of Jon Stewart and then also the brand's response when he left Comedy Central.
Jason: Absolutely. So we obviously had a lot of fun with this at first with the initial cheap shots. It wasn't so fun but we came up with what we think was a clever plan and strategy to address it. So it all began...we heard a few jokes about Arby's on Jon Stewart's Daily Show and they were fairly negative. He was making fun of our food so we huddled as a team and we were like, "What are we going to do about this? I mean, do we want to reach out to him and see what's going on?" And so we did a little bit of digging into it, reached out to his production team and apparently one of our competitors who had been advertising on Comedy Central, he had been making fun of them and they chose to reach out and threaten to pull all of their advertising if it didn't stop and they were big, significant advertisers. So Jon's production team went back to him and said, "We can't make fun of these guys anymore. We need that ad revenue." So he said, "Well, bring me...I want to keep making fun of fast food players. So bring me a list of who's not advertising with us." So he was presented the list. It was in alphabetical order and there was Arby's right at the top and he said, "All right, it's going to be Arby's."
So the jokes continued for a while. We like to think that as a brand we have a good sense of humor so we didn't retaliate. Instead we continued to send his team lunch. One time we sent them lunch with a letter from our CEO that basically said, "Hey, we've heard the mentions. I guess we're flattered that we're culturally relevant and we're being included on your show which is obviously such a hit." So they responded with some tweets and stuff and we kind of thought after that that it was done. Well, it continued and continued and continued. I think there were over 40 some mentions over a period of a couple of years. It was pretty incredible.
Well, when he announced his retirement, that was when we felt like...as a brand, like this is the time to do something. This is the time to engage. It's perfect, he's center stage in national media right now. Let's come up with a game plan. So we actually decided to send out this tweet that basically encouraged him to consider Arby's for a job after he leaves the Daily Show and the tweet was a huge hit. It went completely viral. Jon followed up on the next show and spent a huge bulk of his show talking about what gall Arby's had and how funny it was and all of that. So it really took on a life of its own and then on the very last episode, Jon invited our CEO to do a pre-recorded message to him. The last show featured a lot of the people that he's made the most fun of over the years so Arby's was included and our CEO got to deliver a jab back at him that was just hilarious. The news coverage was just incredible following all of this. Our PR firm estimates it was about $20 million in earned media at the end of the day and really just got us...reinserted the Arby's brand in pop culture conversation and it was really incredible.
We were able to package a lot of that up via Sizzle videos and other mechanisms and really share that throughout the system internally. We really got folks excited. I think everybody was following. We had viewing parties for the last few episodes. It really became pretty cool and a big celebration internally.
Chuck: Well, and what I liked...I remember specifically this very oddly romantic compilation video that it was produced of all of the various jabs and comments and nothing was edited out and it was sort of like a we'll miss you kind of message at the end.
And I decide...what I want to do...you know what? I'm trying to put words together on this. It was so impressive due to its emotional brand maturity that, as you mentioned, it would've been very easy for Arby's to have lashed out or threaten lawsuits or gotten angry but knowing the context of the jokes, knowing the background of it, knowing that they were just jokes. The fact that Arby's, as a brand, handled it the way that you did says a lot about the maturity of the organization, knowing where you fit and having some fun with it. So kudos to the corporation, the brand and the team there for what I think is handling it not in a great way but the best way possible because honestly, I don't think a lot of brands would've had that same maturity.
And then also...I mean, again being thrust in the social media, one of the other things was Pharrell who...I forget what awards show it was but he wore...looked like a pretty ridiculous hat at the time that people thought it looked like the Arby's logo and I remember Arby's responded right away to that during the awards show and again got all sorts of praise from people being very socially responsive and being engaged in the conversation.
And so when we met you told me this hat has now lived on. So sort of update listeners on where this hat is right now.
Jason: Yeah, absolutely. So Pharrell's hat on the PR social front was probably the biggest thing that's happened to Arby's in 5 or maybe even 10 years. It really got us back into the conversation. All started at the Grammy's when Pharrell came out on stage with that hat and our social media manager sent him a tweet saying, "Hey, Pharrell, can we have our hat back?" And that was deemed one of the top brand corporate tweets of all time which is...and it just went...it took off from there. Pharrell immediately reengaged with us, sent us a tweet back, eventually put the hat up for sale on eBay. Of course, we had to win the hat. Particularly when we found out that the proceeds would go to his charity which is another youth related charity so it aligned perfectly with ours. So we won the hat. We now have it...well, actually, I should back up. We were able to extend the buzz around this via a number of different ways. For example, we pitched the museum in Washington, D.C. to house the hat as an exhibit and as an example of the power of social media and how social media is now influencing traditional media not knowing if they would bite or not, but they did and they had it on display for several months right in the main lobby. It was the premier exhibit as you walked in the front of the door. We got a ton of press around that. It led to another wave extending it even further and we've been able to do a lot of other fun things and now it's probably on display. We have a shrine in the lobby of our support center where you can see the hat and take pictures with it. We've got a lot of things internally. We had a giant cake made in the shape of the hat and presented it to our social guy who sent the initial tweet. Sent him and his wife to the Grammy's the following year.
We've allowed all of our employees to take pictures with the original hat. We've had replica hats made that we've distributed internally, we've done...externally, we've done street teaming stuff with those hats. I mean, they really...the whole thing has been incredible and that, we estimate, was about $30 million in the earned media equivalency. So it's...you just can't buy exposure like this and Jon Stewart. It's been incredible.
Chuck: Well, and I think again, that was such an intelligent response, right? It wasn't a typical corporate speak. It was as if Arby's, the brand, the message, the person really wanted their hat back and again, that was clever and smart and obviously that helped elicit some of that response and I think those last two examples are really great to teach any brand how not only to engage in social media but how that can also then reflect back on the employees because it helps that tone and the values that you guys have.
And then Amanda, to close out this round of questioning, as I mentioned I went and reached out to LinkedIn and Twitter. A friend from Twitter wants to know if the five for five beef and cheddar deals are meant to be eaten in one sitting or are you supposed to share those with people?
Amanda: That's hysterical. That is completely diner preference. I'm sure it has been done. It would be fun to share with friends and family as well and share the love of Arby's, but I can actually say that maybe a more impressive challenge if this friend is looking for a challenge would be our Meat Mountain sandwich which is actually on Arby's secret menu. You may or may not know about this.
Chuck: Whoa, whoa. Secret menu, this is news.
Amanda: This is news. We do have a secret menu and the item you can order off of it is the Meat Mountain. It is a $10 sandwich. It is worth every dollar. It actually is a tower of a sandwich which contains every one of our proteins that we serve, as well as cheese. You name it, it's on there. It's a beast but we've actually...when we first launched it...and it's actually interesting because...I'll spend a quick second talking about this but the...we had some POP in our restaurant that basically was just a picture of all of our proteins stacked on top of each other just to highlight that we're all about meat and I think one of our franchisees saw it and said, "Okay, I want that. I want to order that." And so we said, "All right, maybe some guests will, too." And so we created it as a sandwich. It got out there. It became the secret menu item. It was a huge hit. It became a challenge. It was an underground thing where people would be posting on social taking on this challenge of how fast they could eat or if they could completely eat in one sitting one of these Meat Mountain sandwiches. So it's been really fun. So there's another challenge to try next time you're at Arby's.
Chuck: Well, though Jason and Amanda, you don't know me well, but you have seen me. I've been known to tackle a few food challenges in my day.
Amanda: Well, there you go. We want to hear all about this.
Chuck: That is, this summer I pledge to ICology and the listeners and you, I am going to order the Meat Mountain because this is mind-blowing that this exists.
Amanda: We want to hear reports and we want to see pictures.
Chuck: Okay. And then we're going to close it out with this question because it's always been a great way to summarize the episode. What's a final piece of parting advice that you'd want to share with listeners? Now, people listening in come from all over the world. There are obviously a lot of communicators that listen but also business owners, small business owners. It could be even franchisees of yours, but what's a final piece of parting advice you'd want to share with them to inspire them around the world of internal comms?
Amanda: Jason and I were talking about this earlier and I think we're aligned on this one is in what we do as communicators and especially with the ever evolving field that it is, is be innovative, to be constantly searching for new, innovative ways to reach your audience. Be open to new things. Don't always fall into the, "Well, this is how we've always done, this is what our audience is used to." Go outside of your comfort zone. Try something. If it doesn't work, it's not the end of the world. Try something different. Nothing is permanent. I think audiences would appreciate something new and different given the opportunity and given the choice. Just seek outside the comfort zone and really try new ways.
Chuck: Okay.
Jason: Yeah, just to build on that real quick, Chuck, I would just...our leadership often challenges us to apply innovation to the routine so even with our recurring channels and things that are the long time tried and true, how can we plus up those things and how can we try new things, fail fast, learn from them, rebound and keep innovating and keep trying to bring new and exciting ways to engage internally?
Chuck: Well, it's interesting you mentioned the fail fast because at the event we both met and also past guest of the show Ally Bunin, in her presentation, she mentioned about the value of failing quickly because it allows you to correct much more quickly. So I agree with you. I would love to see communicators take more chances, calculated risks and sometimes just go with your gut on what you think your employees and other in the business might respond to.
And Jason and Amanda, I want to thank you for being a guest here on ICology and sharing your stories and sharing insights and sharing this now mind-blowing aspect of the secret menu and Meat Mountain. Again, I'm speechless about that. ICology is a listening post for communicators, a place for them to hear stories from professionals like you who can inspire them to be better communicators because I think we can all be better communicators. Always appreciate a follow on Twitter, @learnicology, that helps you pick up show announcements as well as other internal comms news that I share. If you're not a subscriber, listen to ICology on iTunes and wherever you can get your podcasts and if you love what you hear, those reviews mean the world to me on whatever platform you happen to listen in on.
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