Creating a Classic: Learning from PepsiCo at ICON 2022

Imagine this: you walk into an event, and immediately set your sights on the snack table. You see that big, blue box of assorted chip bags, and as you’re walking over, you already start trying to decide if you’re more in the mood for Doritos or Lay’s. Once you get to the box, you’re able to dig past the bags of chips you don’t enjoy as much to find one that you do. 

It may sound like a silly question, but how do you know what types of chips will be in the box and what each of them taste like? The answer is that you’ve probably had these various brands of chips more times than you can count, and that’s because PepsiCo is what we call a classic brand. 

Even beyond creating delicious food products, PepsiCo’s thoughtful public relations strategies help consumers love the company. Ashley Capps, director of external communications at PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North America, and Garrett Shipman, senior manager of digital communications at PepsiCo Foods North America, shared with PRSSA ICON 2022 participants some useful PR strategies that students can take away from PepsiCo. 

Walk the talk.

Something that Capps and Shipman repeated was that we shouldn’t just “talk the talk” or “walk the walk,” but we should “walk the talk.” By this, Capps and Shipman meant that organizations shouldn’t just say they hold certain values, but they must prove it by taking action. This builds authenticity, trust, and respect between an organization and its public. While it’s important to not simply do things merely so that an organization looks good in the public eye — for an audience can tell when an organization is unauthentic — it is helpful to document the organization living out their statements. For example, instead of simply stating that they support food security, PepsiCo took action and reported that in 2021, they delivered “nearly 24 million meals to over 3 million people.” Reports such as these — and the photos shared throughout PepsiCo’s digital media — help people feel good about supporting PepsiCo. 

Tell stories.

One of the most powerful communication tactics is story-telling. According to Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick, people are 12.6 times more likely to remember a story than an individual statistic. PepsiCo leverages this fact well, as they really emphasize creating a brand image through the art of storytelling. With one glance at PepsiCo’s YouTube channel, consumers can immediately tell that PepsiCo is people-oriented. PepsiCo uses a mixture of real stories and fiction to emphasize their mission to “create more smiles.” While at ICON, Capps and Shipman showed us a video from PepsiCo that highlighted real employees’ stories to show their external audience why PepsiCo was a good place to work and show their internal audience how much PepsiCo cares for employees. Once someone realizes the power of a story, the impact they create will become much larger. 

Know your audiences.
It seems that in PR, people are constantly telling you to “know your audience.” But what exactly can you do with that knowledge? PepsiCo took their knowledge of their audience to the next level. Capps and Shipman shared the importance of “making your fans VIPs.” By this, they talked about how PepsiCo and Frito-Lay have opportunities for their biggest fans to feel like they’re a special part of the PepsiCo community. One example is how Pepsi Nation allows members to earn rewards and get special access to events or products. Creative thinking based on your audience’s desires will increase brand loyalty. 

Don’t shy away from change. 

PepsiCo is a great representation of what it means to lead change. In addition to having a PepsiCo Foundation dedicated to supporting various communities, PepsiCo has launched several other impactful campaigns. At ICON, Capps and Shipman shared about the Cracker Jill campaign, which is designed to “[show] girls and women that they’re represented” and “to celebrate women who have, and continue to, break down barriers in sport.” Cracker Jill was an award-winning campaign that places a diverse selection of female illustrations on the packaging of the iconic baseball snack. Taking strides like this to propel change in society often gains respect from the public, and is a great use of an organization’s platform to bring forth positive effects in society. 

If you’re looking to create a classic brand that goes beyond offering products and services by establishing strong relationships with the community around them, PepsiCo is a great organization to learn from. In addition to having great chip options, PepsiCo has won the support of many around the globe.

Nicole Steele, PRSSA 2022-2023 National Vice President of Brand Engagement, is a junior at Biola University majoring in public relations with a double minor in communication studies and biblical & theological studies. She found her passion for public relations by volunteering in a branch of the Boy Scouts of America known as Venturing, where she currently serves as the founder and editor in chief of their national publication. She has also practiced PR in a variety of other positions, including as the communications intern at Benchmark and the account executive at her school’s Nationally Affiliated Student-run Firm. If you’re interested in writing a future Progressions article or simply want to connect with Nicole, feel free to reach out via email or LinkedIn

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