The quick service brand Chipotle shows relatively “stable” media rating metrics over the long-term, but the variance around its coverage is all-over-the-map.  The popular brand is off a considerable -10 points or nearly -14 percent at 70, just south of its trailing 12-month average.  The decline is not due to anything Chipotle DID, it’s what it DIDN’T do.  The earned media challenge facing most brands, not just quick service brands, is feeding and leveraging newly won event coverage.

It’s like climbing the face of giant rock wall. Taking a major step up the face needs to be followed by a solid and stable anchor, something that enables you to continue your ascent and leverage that hardwon foothold. When it comes to the media, a brand can’t really rest as editors and their audiences are finicky and quickly move onto the next news du jour.  Brands need to plan their next media outreach as a continuous series of moves (although not necessarily connected)  through the media landscape.

Take Chipotle’s April/May/June media cycle as an example.

The big story for Chipotle was the company’s May announcement to move away from using any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its menu.  Apparently this is not an easy thing to do in the quick service food business as GMOs drive down costs and help increase production, two important strategies to a profitable quick service operation.

The bold move by Chipotle accomplished a number of media objectives.

First, it leveraged a fast-moving, trending media topic – GMOs.  The media rating for GMOs are running just above Chipotle’s brand rating, and that’s an important criteria when selecting weaving a topic or trend into your media strategy.

During the May media cycle, the  genetically modified food topic was off -2 points or -3 percent at 76, essentially coming in at the topic’s trailing 12-month rating average.  GMOs are a strong media topic within the Science Sector, currently ranked 4th out of 90 topic science trends (no change over the prior month; up +1 position over the prior year).  And while GMOs are highly political, when it comes to Chipotle’s brand image, staying on the right side of natural and fresh is a good thing.  As highly debated as GMOs have become, it was a pretty solid bet with marginal downside.

Now the point of this post is not about GMOs or Chipotle’s new campaign, it’s about media leverage and sustained momentum – it’s about looking at the numbers and how the media operates.

Chipotle has many media spikes, most push the brand into a 75 to 80 meida position.  The post-announcement lows are averaging 66 points with the resulting average brand rating position coming in around 72 points (over a trailing 12-month period).

While its difficult to keep the attention of editors, bloggers and journalists month-after-month, the media numbers for Chipotle suggest that the void has been unusually long.  Big events followed by equally long media lulls.   The brand loses its media sector gains and then has to rebuild versus build-upon its prior media gains.  Tightening the variance bands around its media rating moving average should be the immediate metric objective for a brand in Chipotle’s position.

Now a corollary strategy for competing brands is quite simple.  Monitor your competitors gains, identify the trend or topic driving their media spikes, and hijack the resulting spotlight.  By the time you’ve aligned the media resources to capitalize on the topic (i.e. GMOs), they’ve forgotten (or in this case not been reminded of) Chipotle’s original foray into the issue.

I so want to have a burrito right now.