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PR Winner of the Month: Taco Bell?!
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Most of the time, fast food joints are known for being busier at 2 a.m. than they are at lunch. (For those with question marks overhead, ask a friend who likes "brownies.") One of the most popular among the twilight hour is Taco Bell. This is a locale that has been under fire for the past couple of years for its, eh, meat. In fact, two years ago, Taco Bell was sued for only having "35 percent real meat" in its product. The rest was considered more of the equine nature. And then there was all that pink slime ballyhoo. Suffice it to say, no one was taking a run for the border in the spirit of nutrition or community service. 

That is, until now? 

Get this article from The Motley Fool. Typically, their linguaphiles are hunting after stock reports and who's trading with whom, but here is an article about Taco Bell, PR and #winning. Naturally, that grabbed my attention. Here's why: 

In an unexpected turn of events, Yum! Brands' (NYSE: YUM) Taco Bell chain has accomplished an extremely impressive image rehabilitation. Though far from its more refined competitor Chipotle Mexican Grill, Taco Bell has spruced up its menu substantially, conducted a massive PR effort involving a popular chef, and just now has pulled kids' meal items from the menu — the first of its kind to take such a drastic move in the name of controlling childhood obesity. The move will have a meaningless impact on sales, but more importantly, it publicly addresses the obesity crisis in the U.S. and takes tangible maneuvers in decreasing its contribution to said crisis. A costless endeavor, abolishing the kids' meal will create tremendous goodwill among a new population of health conscious Americans.

Personally, I'm slightly perturbed about the kids' meal issue, but hey, if you want to veil that under "childhood obesity" concerns, here's to ya'. However, the writer is correct about everything else — the chef is the great Lorena Garcia, the menu is getting better-ish, and no more concerns about slime or equine. So, how's they do it? By listening...that's how...what any good PR client would do. They understand the marketplace starts and stops with the consumer. Keep them happy and they will reciprocate. Piss them off and they will split for something eh, more "bueno." Take this story from MSN Money and Taco Bell's CEO Greg Creed:

The company announced Wednesday that it plans to have 20 percent of its combo meals, which combine a main dish, a side dish and a beverage, meet one-third of the federal government's recommended daily nutritional guidelines by 2020, USA Today reported. Taco Bell chose one-third since the guidelines are based on a diet of three meals a day.

"Our customer tastes and needs are evolving," Greg Creed, CEO at Taco Bell, tells USA Today. "They want more balanced options."

The company's new nutritional strategy will influence how it develops new products. In the past, Taco Bell focused on keeping costs down. Now, Creed says, they'll also have to factor in meeting nutritional goals.

The chain will begin testing healthier products this year, and may launch some nationally in 2014, Creed says.

Nevermind the fact that most of his customers are burners that look like extras from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"; I can appreciate the focus. Everyone is going healthy, and who would have gambled on Yum Brands doing the same? What's next? The Colonel sheds 15 pounds on his Kentucky Fried plantation? Of course, it seems the meat issue will never go away. Now they are calling their meat "Power Protein," but hey, at least the kids' meal are a start. Mazel. Mazel. Good times.

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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