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Quinn Bryner: Crafting a Chocolatetown message

Quinn Bryner wanted to be the next Katie Couric.

While she didn’t end up in front of a TV camera, the 36-year-old Elizabethtown native has found a sweeter role behind the scenes, crafting messages she hopes will become tomorrow’s headlines.

For the last two years, Bryner has been director of public relations, integration and strategy for Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co. She heads up the team responsible for rolling out big news about Hersheypark and the company’s other attractions.

Hershey Entertainment’s most recent splash was its announcement of a $150 million expansion at Hersheypark, the largest capital investment and expansion in the park’s history.

Dubbed Chocolatetown, the new area covering 23 acres at the entrance of the park is slated to open in 2020.

Bryner’s job has included leading the media relations effort for Chocolatetown, which is playing out in a series of announcements through 2018 and 2019.

More about Quinn Bryner

Company: Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co.

Title: Director of public relations, integrations and strategy

Age: 36

Family: Bryner lives in Linglestown with her husband, Kevin, and their two children: Owen, 5, and Fiona, 2.

College: Ursinus College, Montgomery County

Career: Bryner has been in public relations industry for 15 years. She spent three years as a communications coordinator at Gannett Fleming Inc. before joining Tierney, a Philadelphia-based advertising and public relations firm, in 2007.

After nearly a decade at Tierney, Bryner was hired by Hershey Entertainment & Resorts in March 2017.

“Our challenge was: How do we build momentum and buzz over 18 months?” Bryner said. “We had never tried to talk about something like this as earlier as we did.”

In October, the company gave its overarching plan for the expansion project.

In January, the company started site work on the project and unveiled some of the details, like new restaurants and shops.

More details are expected to trickle out in announcements over the course of this year.

The Business Journal sat down with Bryner to talk about crafting the media strategy for Chocolatetown and what’s it like being a PR professional of millennial-age for a household brand like Hershey.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

CPBJ: When did the company decide on a strategy for rolling out the Chocolatetown expansion and why the staggered schedule?  

Bryner:  A lot of people say on social media that they expect when they walk into Hersheypark to be inundated with chocolate, like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. So we really want to deliver on that aspect of being chocolate-infused, how fun that is and tying back to Milton Hershey’s legacy.

The planning for the rollout probably started in earnest in the spring of last year. We wanted to make sure people didn’t just focus on one element and miss the larger story behind the project. Putting Milton Hershey in the center of everything was very important. In our teaser campaign, we pulled in historic footage of the park, his legacy and what he wanted.

We wanted to leverage the fact that we have been around for 112 years, but this is the most transformative project in our history. We decided to be bold and put out there that this would be our biggest announcement ever, which is not something we say lightly.

A $150 million investment is transformative for us and that’s what we kept talking about. We wanted that to be the headline. If you’re visualizing that as your headline, you don’t want someone to be so focused on a new front gate or a coaster or new restaurant. We wanted all of those marquee elements to back up to the larger message.

That level of detail was probably our hardest strategic decision a few months ago. And then we had a lot of contingency plans if the name got out or if someone uncovered something.

CPBJ: Was this a dream job for you? And has being a mom of two young children changed your perspective or approach to this job?

Bryner: I grew up in Elizabethtown, so I had season passes as a kid. My parents like to joke that they were grooming me for this role years and years ago.

It sounds super cheesy to say, but even walking into the building most days it does feel like an honor. I still feel like that little girl who was so excited to run into the park. Now I get to help create memories for other families. And then with my own kids, as a mom, you have a different perspective on where you want to spend your money and your time. I try to bring that perspective as a guest into everything that we do.

CPBJ: Was it hard to keep Chocolatetown secrets from your kids or family?

Bryner: My kids are a little too young to ask but they knew I was working on something big for Hersheypark, so they were excited.

Harder to keep the details from my husband, but he knew this was a once-in-a-career announcement and helped support me during the long hours of planning.

Friends and neighbors were more likely to ask in hopes of getting me to spill so I had to work very hard not to mention the word “Chocolatetown” outside of our building for months.

Confidentiality in PR is an absolute so all worth it when we successfully kept the story and scale a secret until October’s announcement.

CPBJ: Do you think we will see more non-amusement additions to amusement parks, like Hersheypark, to boost their year-round appeal?

Bryner: Certainly the rides are what get people excited and that is always a draw, but there is an equal focus on entertainment and food offerings and being more year-round as much as we can be with Pennsylvania weather.

Our seasonal events continue to grow, such as Christmas Candylane and Hersheypark In The Dark. We continue to look for ways to develop those and give people more of an experience.

We still find people who don’t realize we’re open outside of summer.

CPBJ: How has PR changed since you started 15 years ago?

Bryner: The public relations profession for a long time didn’t always think like marketers, so how do we reach an audience and encourage them to do something or taken an action? It’s great we get a hit somewhere and then we see an uptick in visitors from that in a certain city. It helps you quantify your efforts a little bit more.

Our profession, in terms of communications and messaging and social, is doing a much better job of analyzing and reporting what we do and how it can help the business. I have a chance to now sit at the table where business decisions are made. It’s a unique opportunity that I don’t take for granted.

CPBJ: What advice would you have for other young professionals who are getting into PR and aspire to work for big companies like Hershey Entertainment?

I think that the internships I did in college really helped to position me. I grew up thinking I wanted to be the next Katie Couric. I thought I wanted to go into broadcasting. I interned at a newspaper and then I interned at WGAL for a summer. And then I interned at a public relations office. I figured out that the writing and the storytelling was what I loved to do.

The more students can immerse themselves in learning from the people they want to pitch, I think that is important. Also, write as much as possible in as many different formats as possible.

In my career now, I have to write anything from 100 characters on Twitter to a 15-minute speech that our CEO gave at the Chocolatetown announcement. The more you can write concisely and clearly and persuasively, the better. And stay up on social trends, too. I view social media as an additional communications tool.

A good tip for PR people would be to look at business metrics as part of what they do. It wasn’t always something I focused on early in my career.

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