BK’s biggest Public Relations hurdle?

burger-king-prA recent headline in BusinessWeek could end up being a PR coup for Burger King, though it was clearly meant to be insulting. The concept of the article is that the relatively youthful age of Burger King’s current leadership means that the company is being “run by children.”

While on the surface this accusation has some merit, Ronn Torossian believes the allegation could eventually work in BK’s favor, if they embrace the image and begin to operate on principles that make the leadership’s age an asset rather than a reason for concern.

After all, age is not the prime indicator of maturity. Plenty of companies are run by older men who operate, essentially, like children. While other young CEO’s successfully challenge the status quo on a regular basis.

When new Burger King CEO, Daniel Schwartz, was seen flipping Whoppers and scrubbing bathrooms at a Miami Burger King, customers and even employees could be forgiven for assuming he was just another college kid working his way through school or, perhaps, a manager trainee learning the ropes. Of course, the 32-year-old was in management training of sorts, except that his “management” gig was the Top Spot, not the evening shift.

A CEO of an American icon in his early thirties? Yep. And, you can bet Schwartz’s age has been fodder for countless business articles and skeptical pundits. But, should his youth really be the story here? Burger King doesn’t think so, and their PR approach is stacked against that narrative. Ask BK and they will tell you about a company in crisis, six owners, and umpteen CEOs since it was founded in 1954, countless market approaches and business philosophies tried and failed over the last half century. The company has been bleeding market share to chief rivals McDonald’s and Wendy’s, and is also losing ground to upstarts like Chipotle and Panera. Even in years when BK’s sales were flat (like in 2013), that stacks up as a net loss for the company. Third place is not a good spot to be in when your chief rivals are not losing ground and industry newcomers are seeing double-digit gains.

That being said, when your board hires outside the norm, they are telegraphing a swing for the fences, and to his credit, Schwartz is obliging. BK is now running leaner and faster, more like a startup than a company more than half a century old. New ideas are welcome, rather than trying to beat competitors at a game they have already won.

And, new ideas may be exactly what Burger King needs to refresh both the public image and their market standing. Leadership believes you don’t need “experience” or “age” to be good. But, in the end, that perspective, as well as its antithesis, are just opinions. Public perception will decide who’s right… and who’s unemployed – this is a time where a strong Food Public Relations strategy is paramount.

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