Brand Optics: How Mainland Repositioned Famous Dave’s as a Leader in Its Category

When the legacy BBQ franchise was struggling with its image, Mainland secured more than $7 million worth of PR to tell a positive new story for the brand.

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    In the quarter-century since Famous Dave’s was founded, the franchise has established more than 120 locations throughout North America and become one of the most popular barbecue chains in the world. But in 2017, the brand went through a major shake-up, hiring new leadership and redoubling its efforts towards innovation and growth.

    Jeffrey Crivello was named Famous Dave’s CEO in November 2017. Soon after, Geovannie Concepcion joined the brand as COO. Both Crivello and Concepcion were adamant about perfecting the franchise’s systemwide operations and building local and national buzz around the changes they were making.


    When Crivello was hired as Famous Dave’s CEO, he was the fifth executive in the past decade to hold that title, and the franchise’s previous administration had closed nearly 50 underperforming locations.

    The optics weren’t great. It was easy to look at Famous Dave’s struggling financial reports and rapid turnover and conclude that the once-dominant brand was falling apart. Crivello and Concepcion needed to reinvigorate growth at Famous Dave’s, but they had the added challenge of turning around a growing negative perception about the brand.

    In 2018 Famous Dave’s retained Mainland to build and execute a comprehensive PR strategy that would demonstrate the progress the brand was making and assure prospective franchisees that Famous Dave’s was a franchise on the rise.


    Mainland worked closely with Crivello, Concepcion and the rest of the brand’s leadership team to learn about every single change the brand was making internally to spur growth. Together, Mainland and Famous Dave’s defined a new brand story for Famous Dave’s, then set to work identifying target audiences and packaging stories to appeal directly to those audiences.

    Mainland crafted stories about the changes Famous Dave’s had made to its menu and store-level operations and successfully pitched them to trade magazines, positioning the brand as a forward-thinking innovator in its segment. To position local owners as thriving pillars of their communities, Mainland packaged franchisee success stories and grand-opening events for local media. To highlight the positive changes in the brand’s leadership team, Mainland pitched stories to national outlets about how the brand’s corporate team was charting a new path forward.


    Since the start of the partnership in 2018, Mainland has earned a combined PR value of $7,367,853 for Famous Dave’s. Between 2018 and 2019, the brand saw a 79% increase in secured PR placements, followed by an additional 5% increase the next year.

    In 2020 Mainland’s PR efforts for Famous Dave’s were largely focused on the brand’s successful pivots to stay open and profitable at the store- and system-level throughout the coronavirus crisis.


    Mainland told a new story for Famous Dave’s, reestablishing the brand’s Why You, Why Now? and successfully repositioning the brand in the eyes of the restaurant industry, consumers, franchise professionals and prospective franchisees.

    To ensure that the brand’s new story was told effectively and to the right audiences, Mainland leveraged its full content marketing model, starting with Strategy, where Mainland strategized a new approach to PR for Famous Dave’s; then Owned, where Mainland’s content team interviewed Famous Dave’s team members and carefully crafted stories that align with the new strategy; then Earned, where Mainland’s media-relations team took those stories and pitched them to local and national media outlets whose audiences aligned with our target personas; then Paid, where Mainland elevated the reach of Famous Dave’s stories through paid ad placements; and finally Data, where Mainland collected and studied the results of each individual effort to inform the next round of content.

    That model ensures that Mainland is telling the stories that resonate most effectively with Famous Dave’s target audiences. Or, as Nick Powills, Mainland’s CEO puts it, “It’s about the message the audience wants to read, not the message the writer wants to deliver. We have nailed key personas, and when we’re creating stories, we can story-tell the way a specific audience wants to learn about the brand. Mainland also creates content that flows and takes candidates on a validation and research journey of the brand.”

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