While the future of many of Britain’s high street outlets looks dire, not every retailer is crumbling.

Greggs has been going against the grain, recording pretax profit of £40.6m in the six months to 29 June, almost doubling last year’s total of £25.7m.

The launch of the vegan sausage roll in January this year has certainly aided this rise in dough.

“A masterclass in PR”

News is often slow during the first weeks of the year, with most folk – including journalists – busy working off their Christmas belly or recovering from New Year revelry. 

Hitting the market at this time with a popular narrative that appeals to broadsheets, tabloids and bloggers is a  smart move. That’s exactly what the launch of the vegan sausage roll managed to do.

Releasing the product during ‘Veganuary’ – a millennial movement to ditch all meat and dairy products for January – was certainly a savvy move.

A multi-channel campaign ensured wide spread media pick-up. 

A viral video announced the release of the vegan sausage roll, whilst journalists received a ‘prototype’ of the baked good in mock iPhone packaging.

Industry bible PR Week called the campaign “a masterclass in PR”.

A slice of luck

The Greggs team had all the ingredients for a successful modern PR campaign: virality, intelligent marketing and a defined narrative. But the cherry on top of the cake was Piers Morgan.

“Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns”, Morgan tweeted, following the announcement.

Greggs replied, “Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you”, to the tune of 140,000 likes and almost 20,000 retweets.

This level of organic social media reach for a business is priceless.

You could say the vegan sausage roll PR campaign has been the best thing for Greggs since sliced bread, which, rather ironically, they abandoned in 2015 due to poor sales.

Marketing to millennials

The benefits of  well judged PR though go beyond just boosting sales and profits. When executed properly, consistent PR messaging can completely reposition and reinvigorate your brand.

A few years ago, Greggs was, for the most part, just a cheap bakery, selling loaves of bread and fresh baguettes. Since hiring Marks and Sparks veteran Roger Whiteside in 2013, Greggs has relentlessly pursued the aim of revamping itself as ‘food on the go’ rather than just a take home bakery.

Unable to compete with major supermarket chains, Greggs moved out of the bakery market and introduced a number of ‘on the go’ products that positioned the company closer to the likes of Pret and Starbucks.

But beyond just a change of produce, the marketing and messaging strategy has shifted considerably.

The vegan sausage roll is just the latest stunt of a wider narrative.

Last year, Greggs held candlelit Valentines Day dinners in stores across the country, serving customers with prosecco and a four course meal.

Meanwhile, they have proven their aptitude at understanding the millennial market, arranging a ‘rave’ for students in one of their Birmingham stores.

Greggs is now the UK’s most popular food outlet brand, according to YouGov, with 71% of millennials giving the bakers their seal of approval. Compare that to Nando’s, who have themselves enjoyed a viral meme-related boom in sales.

Everyone’s favourite cheeky chicken joint can only boast a 44% approval rating, although amongst millennials it is considerably higher at 63%.

The vegan sausage roll campaign demonstrates how effective strong PR can be in boosting sales, brand awareness and public engagement, proving that the company are anything but going stale.

Featured image credit: Mtaylor848