The issue of how much fast food workers are paid has risen quickly in recent months toward the top of the mainstream news agenda. Today, well-orchestrated and promoted protests, filled with emotion and visuals, at fast food restaurants in Detroit and other markets are receiving news coverage and reinvigorating a public debate that seems to pop up every few months (and not by accident).
This is a well-organized and well-funded membership drive by the Service Employees International Union, fueled by an exceptionally effective and strategic PR campaign. Regardless of whether or not this adds fast food workers, en masse, as dues-paying members of the SEIU, this campaign should be considered successful for two reasons:
1) It put an issue “on the map.” While the minimum wage has been an off-and-on debate politically and otherwise in recent years, this campaign put the focus squarely on fast food work hourly wages. The union capitalized on the fact that virtually all Americans, at one time or another, have eaten at a fast food chain and had direct contact with employees. They fronted their campaign with a relatable piece of the issue.
2) They put people out in front. They didn’t lead with their recruitment effort, as they have with health care workers for whom the public messages have been about work rules and other aspects of traditional union recruitment. In this case, they have strategically targeted restaurants and highlighted stories of their employees for whom the public would be most likely to feel sympathy upon learning of the stories via traditional, mainstream media. They clearly understand and have acted upon a PR truism – the best stories and the most effective stories are always those about people.
No matter where you stand on this issue, it should be easy to admit that the fact that it is even an issue in the first place and one that keeps on attracting visibility is due to a PR campaign that is accomplishing its goals.