SITUATION ANALYSIS

Tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women are deployed overseas, and it is their families, particularly the children, who experience the most anxiety and bewilderment during this time. The majorityofmilitaryareyoungfamilies,whichisacoreaudienceforrestaurantchainBuffets,Inc. In 2012, Buffets, Inc. – the nation’s largest steak-buffet restaurant chain that owns and operates Ryan’s, HomeTown Buffet, Old Country Buffet, and Fire Mountain – wanted to align itself with a reputable national charity that was reflective of its core audience and trade areas. Buffets partnered with the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) to support Operation Outdoors – a camp program that helps children of military cope while their parents are deployed. Buffets launched this partnership with a system-wide in-store music promotion featuring popular country music artists to raise much-needed funds and awareness for Operation Outdoors.

STRATEGY

Buffets established a yearlong partnership with the ASYMCA, an A-rated and Four Star Charity (Charity Navigator). To strengthen the partnership and fund the Operation Outdoors initiative, Buffets partnered with country music artists – country music was proven to be a genre favored by Buffets customers, and country music artists are known for their patriotism. Buffets, with the help of Ink Link Marketing, developed its first-ever in-store music program that was featured in all 340 restaurants nationwide. The profits from CD sales from a summer program featuring popular country music duo Montgomery Gentry, a holiday program featuring legendary country music artist Charlie Daniels, and a promotion the following spring with popular singer, songwriter and actor Billy Ray Cyrus were directed toward the ASYMCA Operation Outdoors. The objective of the program was to raise funds and awareness for ASYMCA and Operation Outdoors.

TACTICS

Buffets sold the latest CDs for the respective artists in all 340 stores. The CDs were featured exclusively during their promotional periods, and held prominent counter space at the front of all stores. Some locations sold out within the first week, and re-orders were made. The promotions were publicized in a variety of media platforms including: • Press releases • Satellite media tours (TV, radio, and online) • Radio promotions featuring giveaways of the CDs and free meals to Buffets restaurants • Direct mail • Social media by Buffets, ASYMCA outreach, and the artists • Corporate websites • Special radio programs • Online contests On the store level, the campaigns were promoted with POP including: • Life size standees of the artists featuring their CDs • Window clings • Counter signage The chain also integrated personalized messages from the artists for the military into their Muzak systems in the stores. There were internal contests for employees to excite them to promote the alliance. Finally, online contests offered consumers commemorative autographed merchandise as prize packs. For example, weekly winners were selected through a Facebook contest to win autographed prize packs from the artists. Buffets and Ink Link utilized as many touch points as possible with both campaigns to maximize exposure.

RESULTS

The three music programs combined generated over $1 million in publicity with broadcast, print and online media. The programs also generated new customers and new online fans (courtesy of the online contesting and social media efforts). The ASYMCA benefitted from all the publicity, as they were mentioned and listed in all media and promotional materials. They also saw a significant increase in their own online traffic and “fans.” The partnership with ASYMCA proved to be very rewarding for both parties, and Buffets is looking to extend that relationship for another year. The extended commitment includes naming a Buffets executive to the national ASYMCA Board of Directors. Due to all the efforts from the music promotions, the ASYMCA recognized Buffets, Inc. and Ink Link Marketing as “Outstanding Partners of the Year for 2012.” Buffets also ranked as the largest referral resource for the ASYMCA in 2012. Buffets achieved its goal of aligning with a reputable charity, and created a solid campaign that was beneficial for their partner charity and themselves.