Utah-based Summit Group Communications has been a Subway Restaurants partner since 1988. The company has won Media Agency of the Year at Subway's annual convention numerous times, including the past three out of four years (the award wasn't given during that fourth year void).
Summit Group Communications represents 32 of Subway's markets throughout the U.S.
Fresh off its latest award handed out in July, QSRWeb.com had the chance to talk to Bill Paulos, president and partner of Summit Group Communications, about what marketing strategies have worked for the QSR giant and how messaging is changing with the advent of digital.
QSRWeb: How does your process work with Subway in a way that you keep getting recognized by the company for doing it right?
Bill Paulos: We put a plan together annually for each market that we cover, and then purchase that media and ensure the media is accurately run. About 80 percent of Subway's marketing budget is put into media – everything from outdoor to digital, mobile, TV and radio.
We know the brand well because we've been working with them for so long, and we know the markets extremely well. This is very much a relationship-based skill.
QSRWeb: Have you seen a migration of marketing budgets in recent years with digital's growth?
Bill Paulos: There is no question that there has been a migration of dollars from traditional to new media. The competitive aspects change constantly, and Subway is one of the few brands that have grown in the QSR segment since the economy's been tough. I think that's because it has an absorption of market share and more dollars to spend, almost closing out the competition.
QSRWeb: As the sandwich category experiences a resurgence and more brands are growing, how will Subway continue to absorb that market share through its media efforts?
Bill Paulos: A brand like Subway, with 37,000 locations, is going to be different than a Jimmy John's. A Jimmy John's or other newer brand can have an effect on a neighborhood or specific location, but we're operating on a marketwide basis. We're competing more with the McDonald's and other top brands in the QSR segment.
QSRWeb: How, then, does Subway differentiate from McDonald's and other top brands?
Bill Paulos: In my opinion, the differentiator for our brand is that emphasis on local market marketing by having so many local agencies like ours (Summit Group) in the system. There are more than 20 total agencies in the Subway brand and that provides us with a better ability to assist our local market owners with brand localization. I think you can take this giant brand – Subway – and it still doesn't have that big-league feel as McDonald's. That's because we have this connection to our communities.
QSRWeb: What are some examples of "making that community connection" that have worked for your agency?
Bill Paulos: We have the ability to connect because of Subway's health and fitness angle. We are able to work that into childhood obesity issues and fitness issues. We've used Jared Fogle (longtime Subway spokesperson) and have brought him into local communities as a culmination of a school fitness program. And we've done things independent of Jared, like tying our brand into local athletes or getting news broadcasters on board for weight loss challenges. Those are feel good things and it all generates media coverage and allows us to use our product to do some good.
And another thing, we joke that every town in America has a high school and a Subway. So we try to have a high school connection in many of our markets and we're developing some digital opportunities there; for example, high school sports scores, community events, all of that being available on a Subway-sponsored site.
QSRWeb: Aside from a heavy focus on local marketing, are there any unique campaigns that have stood out?
Bill Paulos: We won another award this past year in Seattle, which has a new light rail train. We painted the side of the train so that the entire train looks like a Subway sandwich.
We also won another award for sponsoring the Commonwealth Games of Virginia. There were over 700 restaurants participating with in-store promotional materials, and the brand had exposure through billboards, direct mail, social media, email, online and radio. (Editor's note: There were also Subway Commonwealth Games of Virginia Commemorative Cups, T-shirts, coupons, a 'Get Healthy Virginia' contest and an appearance from Fogle).
QSRWeb: Will Subway continue to embrace the 'healthy' positioning, even as more brands catch on?
Bill Paulos: From our standpoint, there are three pillars for Subway: health; indulgence, which is more taste-oriented such as LTOs on pastrami or barbecue pork; and value.
The $5 footlong is as revolutionary as Jared Fogle. I think lightning struck twice with the brand. Fogle was important to the brand and then all of a sudden you get a footlong for $5 and it sets a new industry standard. Everyone is chasing that.
QSRWeb: Any hints as to what is next from a marketing standpoint?
Bill Paulos: I think something can be done as a next step in each of those pillars – a way to take healthy and put a different spin on it, for example. Because of the growth of the brand, we've migrated toward national dollars pretty consistently and the Famous Fan is a cool thing for the brand as an example of that. There will also be a bigger investment in digital opportunities. There are all kinds of opportunities with mobile.
Something cool we're doing now, too, that I think we'll keep doing is driving traffic with other big brands out there. For example, in Michigan, we do promotions with the Detroit Tigers and we have ticket offers tied to those who visit and purchase something at Subway. These bundle opportunities with high profile brands build higher checks for us and give us a higher profile as well.
You have to give lots of credit to Tony Pace (Subway's chief marketing officer) and Subway's national marketing group. They've really kept things fresh and have made this a buzzworthy brand. Subway is an extraordinary brand and they're not going to rest on laurels.
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