Diversifying Content: A Case Study on PBS Food's #SandwichMadness

Kelsey Savage, PBS Interactive
While the month of March has been synonymous with college basketball, PBS Food recently set out to establish another, equally competitive, tradition-- Sandwich Madness. Senior Editor Matt Schoch had seen some parody March Madness brackets and wanted to insert PBS Food into the mix to capitalize on people’s excitement for the games. Given the popularity and versatility of the sandwich, the Food Team thought they would make the perfect edible contestants. They drafted a long list of sandwiches, and began the “surprising arduous task” of narrowing the field down to sixteen sandwiches. On March 12th, the official start of the college bracket, PBS Food kicked off their contest with sandwiches that fell into four categories: classic, seafood, imported and meatless.

The Sandwich Madness contest and the PBS Food project overall, explains Web Producer Ashley Carufel, are an “ongoing experiment to interject PBS into subject matters where we would otherwise be irrelevant. The content verticals that PBS Interactive is working on are a great opportunity for to experiment with new ways to leverage our content as well as our identity,” she continues. PBS Food’s Super Bowl coverage is another instance of this kind of brand experimentation. While some Facebook fans commented that they looked to PBS to get away from the Super Bowl, Carufel jokes that “the traffic to the food-focused Super Bowl content proved that people were eating it up (pun intended).”

To promote their content for Sandwich Madness, the Food Team relied heavily on select social media sites. The sandwich matchups were announced on the PBS Facebook fan page and, like a lot of the food content, generated buzz. From there, the Food Team used the hashtag #sandwichmadness to engage fans. Carufel notes they “monitored Twitter vigorously during the tournament’s run to retweet and respond to as many people as possible” from their account, @PBSFood. The team drummed up online participation by encouraging fans to declare a favorite sandwich. Some stations, like MPT and WHYY, even jumped to the defense of local favorites, the crab cake and cheesestake respectively.

Additionally, the team reached out to some of the food bloggers that they have a rapport with and asked them to hype the sandwich campaign. Many of those bloggers linked to the bracket from their personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. In the spirit of cross-promotion, one of the Fresh Tastes bloggers wrote a piece about their favorite sandwich, driving traffic across PBS Food.

Corned beef lovers will be happy to learn that the Reuben sandwich was recently crowned champion in this heated showdown. Over 22,000 votes were cast and almost 400 comments were left on the PBS Facebook fan page. Those are definitely some numbers we can stomach!

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