The Wendy’s High School Heisman brings together two iconic brands through one phenomenal cause. For 25 years, the program recognized top student athletes across the country for their performance in the classroom, in competition, and in the community. National winners received $10,000 as a college scholarship and were given the opportunity to attend the Heisman Trophy presentation each December. From 1994 – 2019, Wendy’s has recognized over 600,000 student athletes and awarded nearly $2M to support education.
Rattleback has been Wendy’s lead agency on the Wendy’s High School Program since 2011. Over that time, we’ve helped it:
Declining Interest and Applications
When we first connected with Wendy’s in 2011, the communications team responsible for running the program told us they felt the Wendy’s High School Heisman brand was feeling out-of-touch with today’s High School students. Applications had been declining, and they were concerned that the program was losing organizational support.
Working Online and Offline
We recognized that a number of things needed to happen and it would take a few years to get the program back where Wendy’s wanted it to be.
Director of Communications
Reinvigorating the Branding
Over the first few years we prioritized reinvigorating the brand itself. We redesigned the website to spring new energy and life into the program’s story. Each year, we shined a spotlight on the students by commissioning commercial photographers to shoot high quality photography of each of the 10 finalists in their homes, in their schools, in their communities, and in their sports. We used the photography to feature finalists more prominently online and to design SI-inspired posters featuring each athlete “on the cover” to feature at the event. We interviewed the parents and families of finalists so we could better tell their stories. And, we redesigned event programs and communications to raise the exclusive feel of becoming a finalist and winning the award.
DRIVING Traffic AND Applications
Simultaneously, we took a narrow focus on how to improve the performance of the program’s web property. Our goal was to not only improve the visual look of the program, but also to boost the site’s traffic and conversion rate (measured as a click to start an application) over time. We focused on making it easy to start an application (on a desktop or mobile device) and easy to share information about the program with a student or friend (via email or social media). With improved conversion rates, we optimized our media budget around email marketing and SEM. Over time, we learned that while an improved website experience could deliver a greater percentage of started applications, getting students to physically complete an application was another challenge altogether. Each year, we partnered with the Wendy’s team to find ways to simplify and shorten the application process. Eventually, we led a due diligence process to select a new application management system so we could improve the user experience and make the transition from the program website to the application itself more seamless.
Raising Awareness Inside Wendy’s
By 2016, visibility and understanding of the program inside Wendy’s had risen substantially. To capitalize on this energy, the communications team partnered with us to develop a local marketing playbook that would enable Wendy’s franchisees to market the program within their local communities. The playbook included a collection of local marketing tools (online ads, communications materials, direct mail and email templates, etc.) as well as access into a national database of high schools that franchisees could use to market the program in their local markets. We centralized all these assets through a custom, password-protected web portal.
Growing Interest and Application Starts
Over our 7+ year relationship working on the Wendy’s High School Heisman program, we helped Wendy’s: