Denny's Image-Boosting Campaign (Spring 2002)

Phase 1: Formative Research

Analysis of the Issue

Unexpected changes and new innovations constantly effect the restaurant industry and alter the way business is conducted. Every restaurant from the up-scale dining hall to the fast food drive-thru experiences rapid change and must continually administer a planned campaign to resolve these changes. One such restaurant is Denny's. A recent plummet in sales has created a new belief among upper-management to re-ignite those flames that once moved customers to dine at Denny's. Less sales resulting from a poor image has caused the company to address the issue immediately.

Sales and profits are the most crucial aspects to Denny's success, and regaining that prosperity can only be accomplished through a sustained image-building campaign designed to promote sales and raise the over all guest count at restaurants located in Western New York. Beginning in early spring, this campaign is designed to turn huge obstacles on the path to prosperity into positive opportunities for the company. By the middle of summer, Denny's locations in the Western New York area will have gained new customers as well as re-gained old ones, attained more sales, and boosted the image of the restaurant chain so that people will look at the company with pride and respect. Every location where potential customers gather will be targeted by a public relations effort to raise acceptance levels accompanied by an advertising campaign to increase sales. Integrated into a single movement, these two determining factors will lead Denny's communication process toward getting more people to understand what the restaurant has to offer. Communication, however, is a two-way process. This plan will involve ideas adjusted to increase customer comments and responses allowing locations in Western New York to hear what customers think. From this information, the restaurant chain will respond accordingly to those comments ultimately keeping its organization up-to-date with the constant changes in the industry as well as new wants and needs of different customers.

A negative trend in sales in the Western New York area has led Denny's to make this campaign a top priority. In the past, this problem has existed and it is found that dealing with it immediately yields the best results. Three years ago, Denny's faced several unrelated allegations that the restaurant unfairly treated minority customers. The company was labeled prejudiced and racist; customers began to go elsewhere. Through a complex effort, the entire company from the CEO to the bus boys changed the way they served their customers, and it effected the way people perceived the company. As a result, Denny's is now ranked as the best company in the nation for African-Americans to work at. That may sound impressive but when complimented by these two facts its more than impressive, its unbelievable considering the turnaround:

Denny's believes that if the employees experience equality, so too will the customers. 48% of all employees are minorities and 4 of the 11 Board of Directors are a minority.

Like the discrimination campaign, Denny's must deal with the situation immediately before it gets out of hand. As seen clearly in the previous campaign, it is very possible to completely erase and replace what people negatively perceive about the company with a stronger reputation. Upper-management knows this is a very important issue and in the past has showed cooperation and support for the public relations efforts which have become an integral part of the company's success. Now, support needs to be given throughout the spring and early summer to increase both guest counts and sales just like in previous campaigns. The company will drastically be changed by this plan as will the customers. Benefits for both will create a more positive image for the company in the Western New York area.

With an 8.9% decrease in sales revenues from 2000 to 2001, slumping sales have forced management to focus its communications efforts on forming a campaign to raise not only awareness for the company but also acceptance. This will also attract more guests to restaurants resulting in an increase in sales. This campaign will explore several possibilities and activities in order to accomplish numerous goals stemmed from the same motive: strengthening Denny's overall image.

Analysis of the Organization

Denny's is sit-in restaurant with emphasis on hamburgers. The Grand Slam Sandwich is perhaps the most well known meal provided by the chain. Open 24 hours, Denny's is an all-whether environment providing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for restaurant patrons hungry at any hour. The food is of good quality and combined with a low price this restaurant attracts many people. Not as elegant as a restaurant like Applebee's or Red Lobster but much more fulfilling than McDonalds or Burger King, Denny's is the perfect restaurant for a quiet breakfast before work, a nice lunch, a place to take the family for dinner, or even a nice spot for night-goers to dine at. The chain has several locations in Western New York to provide great meals to customers throughout the region. Providing not only quality meals and food, Denny's stresses customer service and has used that strategy to become America's full-service restaurant chain.

The current CEO Nelson Marchioli has placed communication as an important role in the company and has just released other campaigns displaying strong support toward public relations such as the new Denny's Classic Diner concept capitalizing on Denny's heritage as "America's Original Breakfast Diner." Part of Marchioli's philosophy is to communicate the benefits of Denny's service or products over its competitors. Companies like Perkins, Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel Old County Store serve as the strongest opposition to Denny's and offer customers opportunities to experience competition. Marchioli has made it clear through extensive communications efforts that Denny's will rise above the others in the food service industry.

Denny's biggest advantage is their service. No where else will restaurant patrons be treated with the respect and class that Denny's employees provide. Their next biggest asset over their competition is the $2.99 Grand Slam; a mouthwatering obesity of a sandwich for such an affordable price that no competitors have been able to replicate. Last year was the 25th Anniversary of the Grand Slam Sandwich showing that stability has created an ideal item for the Denny's menu. People come to the restaurant strictly for the Grand Slam Sandwich that is exclusively offered at Denny's and no where else.

Because of these advantages, the company that owns Denny's has changed their name to Advantica. Last year Advantica was ranked by the Fortune 500 as the 860th most profitable company in the U.S. In 2002, the company was ranked 895. This year bringing in $1,390.7 million, Denny's has faced considerable losses when compared to recent years. Although buying patterns change throughout the various seasons of the year, a downward trend has left Advantica, the company that owns Denny's, wondering what to do next.

Public perception is the target of this campaign; Denny's must raise their image to increase guest counts. With 1,677 locations in the US, Denny's is obviously well known. People everywhere know the name and symbol of Denny's.

The public's current perception of the company is incorrect, however. Advantica is often labeled as a cheap restaurant and even sometimes classified as fast food. This campaign will be aimed at changing the existing public perception and misconception. As many people already know of Denny's, there is a need to repair the reputation of the company. Most strategies and tactics enacted during the course of this campaign are attempts to gain more acceptance from the public; this in turn will reverse the recent slump in sales.

Public Perception of the company is partly down due to the recent discrimination cases haunting Advantica. Although a successful campaign averted most crises, people won't forgive and forget that quickly; feelings of dissent toward the company still exists. Race is a hot topic for a lot of individuals, and Denny's, throughout this image-boosting campaign, has to make an attempt to avoid further racial encounters by not falling to the same mistakes. For this campaign to be successful, there can be no more actions of Denny's employees perceived by the public as questionably prejudiced. Public perception means everything to gaining a higher approval rating and increasing sales.

As the people's opinion of about Denny's and Advantica begin to fall, they view competitors better. Although Denny's is still the nation's largest full-service food company, competitors are constantly chiming in on existing customers stealing business away from Denny's. The top competitors, as stated earlier, are Bob Evans, Perkins, and Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel brought in $1,963.7 last year where as Bob Evans' sales netted $1,024 million. (Remember Advantica brought in $1,390.7 million although being the largest of the three by far).

It is important to consider the competitors throughout the campaign because they play a major role in how a company stands in the industry. It is also important to mention weather in Greater Buffalo. The Buffalo locations face a mind-altering change caused by unstable weather conditions and constant uncertainty. Our campaign will bring these familiar yet often despised symbols of Western New York weather together to represent Denny's as a place to go all day long no matter what color the sky is. By tapping into the external environment, Denny's will attract more appeal from Western New Yorkers ultimately raising the company's image.

Identification and Analysis of Key Public

One of the most important publics that can be addressed is customers. They are the target of this campaign and the missing link needed for both image-boosting and attaining profits.

Customers can be broken down as follows:

Senior Citizens:

Business / Working Class


Young Adult / College Age

Customers are the most important public that needs to be addressed in this campaign. Broken up into four different groups, the customers' needs and wants must be met to ensure that the guests will continue to return. Different customers, although the most important, aren't the only publics that need to be addressed to raise the overall image of Denny's and maximize profits.

Employees are almost as important. A company can pretend to be something they are not… but it will not last. To raise potential customer's perception of Denny's, employees must first hold respect for their own organization. The service provided by the restaurant relies on the hard work of employees. This campaign addresses that issue and communicates to the employees just how important they are to the company. The reason is because the restaurant will never be able to raise its image if employees aren't on the same page. There is a need to educate, entertain, and organize employees molding them into a perfect customer service-oriented group ultimately increasing sales and eradicating the downward climb toward disaster.

The advantage to communicating with this public is that the major opinion leaders are those in upper-management making the decisions. Employees will listen when management speaks and informs them of new policies, programs, or events helping the restaurant chain gain more guests and approval. This often fails, however, because CEO's have forgotten that communication is a 2-way process and have failed to listen to employees.

Employees want to be paid; that is the most fundamental motive driving people to work for Denny's. Certain hours of the day and various schedules are taken into consideration by supervisors who adhere to their employee's wants. These, not so coincidentally, are also the needs. Employees need to get paid at a certain time. They also want to have fun at work enjoying the day. These needs and wants must be addressed to keep employees happily serving customers. Job security and interesting tasks must also be taken into consideration when dealing with employee wants

With such an important role to the success of the organization, Denny's can spend a lot of money establishing communication with employees. Videos are often sent to different locations and franchises displaying a current issue or policy that employees watch. A monthly newsletter entitled Denny's Today also helps to keep employees and employers on the same page.

Customers have been identified as the most important public to this goal and can be broken into four different groups to aid in dissemination of Denny's numerous messages. Employees have also been targeted as a group that needs to be focused on. Many other publics also exist and must in one way or another be addressed as well. Although none of these groups is a key public, they are still very important to raise the image of Denny's.

Lesser publics include:

These publics have been identified and all have some importance to the overall success of this campaign. Denny's must change how people think about the company and these groups can help achieve that goal. Each public, especially customers and employees, is important and must be considered. Needs and wants from both the publics and Denny's have to be discussed in order for the issue to be resolved. If Advantica wants to raise sales, these several publics need a greater perception of the company.

Phase 2: Strategy

Goals & Objectives

Successful reputation management is the process that needs to be examined for Denny's to regain its profits. Various goals and objectives have been established in order to address issues that are of significance to Denny's key publics.

Goal 1: Raise the overall image and acceptance of Denny's among senior citizens creating more support for the chain.

Goal 2: Raise the overall image of Denny's among late-night consumers as a full-service and friendly environment suitable for everyone's needs.

Goal 3: To raise the company's perception by business people and working class customers also drawing more guests to Denny's.

Goal 4: To raise the image of Denny's as a family restaurant and increase attendance by families.

Goal 5: To condition a work environment and mind set in which employees work together efficiently serving customers and providing a service that can be found no where else.

Public Relations Action & Response

All public relations maneuvers throughout the course of this campaign are designed to draw more customers to Western New York locations. With goals rooted in audience participation, this campaign is a call to arms. It has initiatives created to raise the quality of the restaurant chain eventually resulting in the increase of both guest counts and sales. An action-oriented plan conducted throughout the Spring and early Summer will gain Denny's the respect needed to advance sales and reputation from the downward trend recently experienced by local restaurants.

Organizational performance will need to be addressed and altered in order to provide the necessary service needed to create a feeling among customers of pride and respect for the restaurant they just dined at. Denny's will attempt to not only educate employees, but also help them maximize their opportunities creating the best possible environment in Western New York not only for customers, but workers as well. By increasing organizational performance through a sustained campaign to address and communicate with employees, Denny's will become an all-weather environment perfect for everyone's needs.

Increased audience participation is the over-arching theme of this campaign. Raising public perception about the restaurant will eventually lead more customers to choose Denny's and spend their money on the products offered. By breaking up this extremely important public into four sub-categories, the customers' needs and wants will surely be addressed by the company creating an atmosphere that is centered around customer service. Sales have been slumping throughout all of Western New York with two areas highlighted as the most troubling times of day. Lunch hours (12 to 4 p.m.) and late night hours (after 11p.m.) are the lowest they have been in a long time creating a need to conduct a massive campaign designed to increase audience and customer participation.

Public relations activities conducted during this campaign will also form tight alliances with publics that can become major assets to the company. Channel 4, for example, will work in conjunction with Denny's restaurant to promote both the restaurant and CBS-Buffalo (especially the news and weather). With a major theme of the campaign revolving around the unpredictable Springtime weather in Buffalo, who better to have as a spokesperson and form an alliance with than Don Paul, the region's most famous whether reporter. "Denny's is an all-weather environment" is the slogan dubbed by this campaign and an alliance to Channel 4 will help people understand that the restaurant is changing its ways and creating a service based around the needs of all of its customers. An alliance will also be made with numerous businesses around Buffalo and Western New York as well as Darien Lake and a few charity organizations.

All of these public relations initiatives revolve around successful communication between the organization and its key publics. Customers will be addressed through a wide array of mediums including TV commercials and promotions with local network-affiliates, radio announcements and contests, as well as several print and broadcast ads explaining the benefits of Denny's. Employee newsletters, a defined mission statement from CEO Nelson Marchioli describing how vital employees' work and welfare are to the company's success, feature magazines, company videos, and even events designed to promote unity and moral among employees are all necessary actions that need to be taken in order to raise the company's image among employees as well. Successful communication is needed with all publics in order to ensure the turn around to prosperity is accomplished with unquestionable results.

This spring campaign will possess both offensive and defensive characteristics used by the company to raise the image and profits of Advantica. A problem exists for the organization that needs to be dealt with. In a defensive manor, Denny's will need to change policies and participate in image-boosting events changing negative attitudes into positive ones. The organization first, on the defensive side of the strategy, must examine itself and deal with existing problems. On the offensive, Denny's must then take its concerns or problems and act in a way that promotes a turn around in sales. The company must act in a way that exemplifies its mission and philosophy to serve customers and provide the best possible experiences in restaurant locations.

Effective Communication

Verbal and non-verbal communication is one of the most important aspects of this public relations campaign. A two-way process is needed between the organization and its publics sending information back and forth in order for needs and wants to be learned and dealt with. This communication will only be successful if it presented clearly, intelligently, and logically.

In conjunction with Channel 4 CBS-Buffalo, Don Paul will act as a spokesperson enhancing the company's new slogan that it is an "all-whether environment." Already known as a prominent meteorologist in Western New York, perhaps the most well known, Don Paul will bring credibility to the campaign by adding his knowledge and authority to the whether theme. A very charismatic speaker, Don Paul responds well to many audiences and seems to have a knack for getting through. Speaking across Western New York at various colleges, senior citizens homes, and on commercials, Don Paul will help Denny's raise their image and draw customers back to the restaurants increasing sales and successfully managing its current crisis.

Speaking to employees, district managers and individual store managers who are already opinion leaders for this public will address the issue that something needs to be done immediately to solve the downward trend in sales. With a lot of credibility and respect among other employees, these spokespersons are experienced and informed on the topic, well known by the public, and face a potent need to solve the problem. Obviously, some managers weren't made for giving speeches or becoming a spokesperson therefore a careful screening process of managers had led this campaign to choose the District Manager to visit different stores with new policies and ideas. This district manager is highly respected and has been seen as a clear communicator in the past. Store managers will definitely have to address their employees, but the image-boosting campaign to this public will be spear headed by District Manager.

The best spokespersons in the world could speak on behalf of the Denny's organization but the overall image of the company will never increase if the message does not have appeal to target audiences. Key publics need to respond to messages throughout this campaign by choosing local Advantica restaurants for their dining needs. The overall message to customers is that they need to come to Denny's. Disseminated in a way that customers can associate with, this message will tap into the unpredictable and abnormal whether patterns during spring in Western New York. Explaining that the restaurant chain is suitable for everyone' needs, the slogan is "Denny's is an all-weather environment, 24-hours a day." Built with a sense of both emotional and rational appeal, this theme brings togetherness and unity to Western New Yorkers who are bound together by a confusion and hatred of unexplainable weather patterns that have been haunting the region for centuries.

The message to employees must also tap in on a sense of togetherness and unity. By raising the standard of service, employees will respond to customers better and customers will react more positively to the restaurant. By offering benefits to employees who go "above and beyond" Denny's new standard of service, employees will strive for excellence and demonstrate a new aura in and around Denny's resulting in an increase in customer support and sales. If employees perceive Denny's greater than before, work performance will rise and customers will be able to see a pride among co-workers.

Through strategic verbal communication, the message to our customers uses many 'power words' and themes that Western New Yorkers will respond well to. "All-weather environment," "customer service," "affordable," and "drastic improvements" are just some of the key words and phrases throughout this campaign that Denny's will use to trigger customer beliefs and raise the image of the company. The message structure to customers is organized in a way that first shows them something they all know too well - terrible weather. The message then goes on to explain a solution to the weather problems in Buffalo. This solution will enable customers to choose Denny's over competition because most people know the unstable weather and will seek a restaurant that is "suitable for everyone's needs" keeping the weather away from hungry restaurant patrons. With several spokespersons who will provide the best relation and association to various publics, the message will be presented clearly and concisely increasing the way people view the company.

In different broadcast ads for television as well as several print ads, nonverbal communication will be used to help customers respond to the message in a way that will ultimately increase sales. Pictures of heavy Buffalo blizzards in '77 and '01 will help people remember the harsh winters of Buffalo. Historic Buffalo architecture highlighted with beautiful spring and summer weather will trigger an idea among customers of sunny days and good times. Next by showing pictures of hard rain, it will all come together and people viewing these ads will understand that weather in Buffalo can abruptly change in a matter of minutes. By using these images, the goal is to increase guest counts and bring Denny's to a local level. Pictures of happy employees conversing with smiling customers will also help the two major publics see a unity in the restaurant increasing the overall image of the organization.

Phase 3: Tactics

Interpersonal Communication

This campaign is needed due to several weaknesses in Denny's existing organization. By changing several policies and standards that are not helping the restaurant chain, this campaign will communicate these changes to the various publics that need to be addressed. By setting new standards and employee benefits like rewards based upon excellent service, employees will strive for success.

Policies will also need to be changed to gain customer approval as well. Between noon and 4 p.m. every day, a free beverage will accompany any entrée. This will in deed raise recently struggling lunchtime sales. Also, special opportunities must be offered such as every 100th party that dines at Denny's between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. will receive $20 off of their meal. Not only will little service-cards be left on tables, a host or hostess will now ask restaurant patrons who are leaving how their service was. Results are recorded, and it increases communication between employees and customers. Before this campaign can successfully convince people that Denny's is the best restaurant out there that is suitable for their tastes and needs, upper-management must alter several internal rules, regulations, and relations within the organization.

Due to examination of past campaigns such as the successfully averted discrimination crisis, management will adhere to the advice and increase guest counts by offering these sales, specials, or unique opportunities. In a newsletter sent to employees, CEO Nelson Marchioli spoke about the public's perception of Denny's and stated, "The fact remains that the American public doesn't know all the wonderful things about Denny's." Upper-management should create these specials and sales and get these new messages out to the American public.

Several special events throughout the course of this 10-week campaign will attempt to draw crowds of people who will later purchase Denny's food.

Organizational Media Communication

This campaign will only be successful through the extended use of several publications and organizational media.

News Media Tactics

Generating news is perhaps the best way to raise public awareness of the company. As stated earlier, most people know about Denny's so this is not an awareness-gaining campaign. The problem is that although many people know about it, the restaurant is negatively perceived by the public. Through use of extensive news media tactics, Denny's image will be changed and the restaurant will turn around the trends of poor sales and red ink.

Advertising & Promotional Media

This campaign will only be successful if several policies are changed. Communication of these changes needs to be identified. Special promotions are needed to give Denny's an edge over opponents.

Implementation Outline

This campaign must confront several separate but interrelated issues that are influenced by the decisions and actions of Denny's. A very likely way to provide a successful and logical approach to this situation is to examine it with a focus on the Organizational Department. Denny's is the only one to be at fault if the company fails to sell food. Profits rely on the quality of the restaurant; if improvement is wanted, the restaurant must change itself to receive results. Denny's must offer more price specials and value for the customers' dollars by offering deals such as the free beverage during lunch hours promotion or the every 100th party receives twenty dollars off their bill special. Practices and policies will need to be changed by examining the situation from an organizational standpoint.

Administering public relations and advertising iniciatives with a focus on the Goal as well should be done. The overall goal of this campaign is to not only address problems within the Advantica organization, but also to raise Denny's image in Western New York. Although the public had a high awareness rate, it was a negative perception of the company. Denny's must take this negative awareness and turn it into acceptance; this is an acceptance-gaining struggle the company needs to conquer.

A focus and priority on achieving this goal is an effective way to see immediate results. A focus on improving the Organizational Department and accomplishing goals however, are not the best ways to confront this situation. Communication priorities should lie with the public because the strategy offers the greatest likelihood of program tactics that are cohesive and logical. The two most important publics are customers and employees, and an obligation to these publics is vital for improvements. Customers will be surveyed as they leave restaurants and asked about the service. This will show an emphasis on the public. Also by increasing employee standards, quality of service will rise. There is a great significance on using a Public-oriented strategy in this image-boosting campaign.

Campaign Schedule

[Note: This Gantt chart does not translate to the Web site.]


Total Budget: $650,000

Phase 4: Evaluation

Evaluation Methods

Many new plans and policies have built in devices installed to create communication, feedback, and evaluation among customers and employees. It is important to find out what people think of the company and how it is perceived. The reason this campaign is needed is because Denny's formerly failed to recognize that public approval and participation is needed for success. Although this is a 10-week campaign, there are built in checkpoints to evaluate performance and results as time goes on.

Customers are asked at the door weather their performance was satisfactory or above. That is a surefire way to gain a response - just ask. The web site has also been expanded to encourage more feedback. These comments lead to evaluating the major issue behind this campaign: how is Denny's perceived by the public. By creating organizational policies designed to promote more communication, evaluation points naturally occur on a regular basis.

Another goal of this campaign is to increase guest counts. An action-oriented objective, raising the guest count, is a pivotal part of this image-boosting strategy. Servers record their tables and the numbers of guests are kept. As evaluators read these books, the number of guests can be easily calculated. This shows weather or not action objectives have been met.

Surveys can be mailed to Denny's participants both from our own mailing list and from an outside polling firm Denny's should hire. By doing both internal and external surveys, it guarantees that no bias or curve is exhibited, and the votes are counted fairly. It is important to understand how people feel about the organization.

Customer service relies around giving people what they want. Evaluating past responses is the best way to find out what the people want. In doing so, Denny's needs to use this campaign to boost its image. Focus groups of people representing families, seniors, businessmen, and young adults will dictate how well Denny's actions fared to the public. Employees too will join in a meeting similar to a focus group. If need be, perhaps plans will need to be changed or altered depending upon the results of these focus groups. Audience participation and audience feedback are the most important evaluation categories to this campaign. If the image of the company is to be increased, the organization and its publics need to be on the same page.

This is a 10-week campaign. Most advertisements will end at that period, but numerous new policies are designed to promote long-term results. Immediate results are needed; 10 weeks will offer enough time to recover from the current crisis. Denny's, however, will continue to attempt to strengthen its reputation and boost sale well after this spring campaign comes to its successful end.

Critique and Evaluation

Formal Research



Evaluation Research

Creative Execution of Advertisements


Overall Project Grade: 96% = A

Comments: You guys have done an outstanding job with this! You have addressed each step thoroughly and creatively. And in doing so, you show a very good understanding of the strategic planning process. Continue to build on what you began in this class, and I'm sure you'll find much success in the future. It has been a pleasure having both of you in class this semester. Enjoy your well-deserved time off.