The CEO of Burger King's and Popeyes' parent company went on Clubhouse in a move to democratize the earnings call

  • Leaders from Restaurant Brands International hosted an hour-long Clubhouse chat on Friday.
  • They answered questions about how to remain relevant and Clubhouse as a marketing platform.
  • Duncan Fulton, who led the discussion, sees the audio app “as a place to have authentic conversations with real people.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

On Friday afternoon, executives from Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Horton’s, hosted an “Open Kitchen” chat on Clubhouse. It was billed as a consumer-friendly alternative to the analyst-focused quarterly earnings call, giving RBI customers the same access and ability to ask questions of the companies’ leadership. 

This was the latest marketing move for RBI, a company that’s known for stunts like giving away free PlayStations, begging Michelin inspectors for the chance to compete for a coveted star, or giving out 15-cent “sandwich insurance” on a new Popeyes fish sandwich on launch day. Over the summer, Burger King used a donation feature on popular gaming site Twitch to promote its value meals, a move that angered some gamers.

In its fourth quarter and full year 2020 earnings call the day before, the company announced its global digital sales reached $6 billion last year, more than doubling in some markets. That’s a strong signal that plenty of its customers are very online.

The Clubhouse event, which lasted just over an hour, featured CEO Jose Cil, who spoke at length about his path to becoming the company’s chief executive. Fernando Machado, the company’s global chief marketing officer, also gave an update about the company’s commitment to sustainable ingredients, and Ellie Doty, Burger King’s chief marketer, talked about the brand’s new loyalty program currently being tested in a handful of large markets. It took a casual tone with no prepared remarks or script. Cil was riding in an Uber to the airport for a portion of the Q&A. 

On the audio chat app, users can join “rooms” to listen to people speak from a digital “stage,” and moderators can invite audience members to speak. In the span of one week in late January, two million people used Clubhouse, according to the company. It’s become a destination for celebrities, tech moguls, and ordinary people alike, giving rare access to otherwise unreachable names, and its invite-only format has added to the air of exclusivity. 

To create an account, users must be at least 18 years old and use their real name and identity — RBI, Burger King, or Popeye’s, for example, couldn’t create an account under their company name. But executives and employees alike are welcome to host frequent conversations. 

The intimate format lends itself to casual chats and focus groups, but Clubhouse can be used just as easily to address a huge group of listeners — a recent surprise appearance by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was so popular, it seemingly caused the app to crash. 

While RBI has framed the session as a way to reach more customers and guests than a typical earnings call, Clubhouse is exclusive, too, as it’s inaccessible to those who don’t get an invite, have an Android phone, or are hearing impaired. Its success has spawned copycats; Twitter introduced Spaces in December, and Facebook is rumored to be working on a competing product. 

At its peak, about 130 people listened in on RBI’s conversation, with the audience consisting of a mix of restaurant operators, brand marketers, RBI employees, members of the press, public relations professionals, and at least one analyst. 

RBI’s chief corporate officer, Duncan Fulton, led Friday’s discussion. “I’m loving the authenticity of this,” he said, referring to the chat. “I’m already thinking that I want to bring Jose back in the next week or two and just do Q&A for an hour. I think it’s a really authentic platform to be able to talk about your brand.”  

It took a moment for the execs to figure out how to allow listeners onstage to ask questions. They eventually managed to take five questions ranging from how to market a restaurant brand to how to remain relevant in multiple countries amid changing pandemic conditions, and even one question about Clubhouse’s potential as a marketing platform. “I think it would be a super cool thing to explore about how a brand shows up on Clubhouse,” said Burger King’s Doty. “I don’t know the answer, but that’s something that will be really interesting to find out.” 

“At this point, we don’t we don’t see the platform as a sales channel at all,” Fulton told Insider. “There’s other digital platforms where we’re investing to drive sales. We so far see Clubhouse as a place to have authentic conversations with real people.”

The company is planning to continue its Clubhouse chats every two weeks with a rotating cast of speakers. The next is planned for Friday, February 26. The topic isn’t set yet, but Fulton said they have plenty of ideas. 

“We’ve often been asked, ‘What’s the magic behind the chicken sandwich at Popeyes?’ and we have the chef that spent two years identifying the four simple ingredients that make that sandwich amazing,” he said. “There’s also like a dozen other interesting topics, whether it’s taking artificial ingredients out of our food, or whether it’s the new visual identity that Burger King is rolling out, or just what makes Tim Horton’s a cult-classic in Canada.”

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