Reading Time: 5 Questions With Pizza Hut’s Head of Social Impact


Pizza Hut - The Literacy Project

Pizza Hut is going all-in on advancing childhood literacy. Now focusing most of its CSR resources on the cause, the Yum! Brands-owned pizza maker is refreshing its global commitment to promoting reading and education via Pizza Hut: The Literacy Project.

Evolving from its ongoing BOOK IT! program, Pizza Hut’s The Literacy Program encourages students in grades K-6 to read more by rewarding their efforts with free pizza in a program that runs from October through March. Its goal is to reach one million classrooms by 2020 by launching a digital version of the platform, and transforming the lives of 100 million people within a decade.

The BOOK IT! Program was created by a former Pizza Hut president who was looking for a way to motivate his son to read. Each time the boy met a reading goal, he received a trip to Pizza Hut with his dad. The motivation worked and the son began reading more and spent quality time with his father, to boot.

In 1984, Pizza Hut officially adopted literacy as its corporate cause and established the BOOK IT! National Reading Development Program under the guidance of an advisory council that included the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of School Boards of Education and the National Council of Teachers of English. In 1989, Pizza Hut and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress created National Young Readers Day to highlight the importance of reading.

Pizza Hut’s literacy commitment has three goals: to enable access to books and educational resources for kids, to empower teachers and to inspire a lifelong love of reading. The benefits to the communities it serves are invaluable, with research showing that kids who read well by the fourth grade are four times more likely to complete high school.

A new fundraising campaign (that kicks off today and runs through April 15) promotes First Book as its ongoing not-for-profit partner and encourages customers to donate to the organization.

Pizza Hut selected First Book in 2015 as its global partner to implement a multi-year fundraising effort focused on helping those who need it most reach their full potential. The Literacy Project launched a year later, on the 50th anniversary of UNESCO’s International Literacy Day in 2016.

“Literacy is a critical, foundational life skill that can have a profound impact on quality of life, yet it is an often overlooked social issue,” says Artie Starrs, president of Pizza Hut U.S. “The reality for many children growing up is that they do not have access to books in their home. Working alongside our 150,000 team members in the U.S.,we are committed to help millions of children start a new chapter by providing books and educational resources they need to reach their full potential.”

To encourage giving and create awareness, the world’s No. 2 pizza seller (after Domino’s) will spark a social media conversation seeking fans’ experiences reading their favorite childhood book. As part of a sweepstakes, Pizza Hut will select one contributor for a travel experience to bring that book “to life.”

The campaign includes a partnership with celebrity TV personality and recording artist Nick Lachey, who has three children and whose first job, as it turns out, was a pizza cook. (Pizza Hut’s family roots are in its DNA—it was founded by two brothers who borrowed $600 from their mom to start a pizzeria.)

Natasha Collins - Pizza Hut director of social impactWe spoke with Natasha Collins (right), Pizza Hut’s U.S. manager of social impact, about the evolution of its support of kids and reading.

What is Pizza Hut’s history with literacy, and why is it a rich one?

Actually it goes back to 1984 when Pizza Hut founded the BOOK IT! Program. We provide materials to 620,000 classrooms across the country. It provides teachers with resources to set reading goals for their students and reading-award certificates, and a free personal pan pizza. It acknowledges their achievement each month and celebrates it and when kids come into the restaurant they get a “job well done” and a high-five. It has been successful for many years.

How are you refreshing and extend that legacy?

When we founded The Literacy Project we built off that legacy. There’s 30-plus years here of [action] but we knew we needed to take that a step further. We really wanted to rally behind one cause as a whole, and that’s what we did in 2016 when we launched the Literacy Project. We wanted to expand beyond BOOK IT!, partnering with our customers to help raise money to provide access to books and educational resources focused against one cause in particular. This is our one primary cause that Pizza Hut is really focused on. It’s a rallying cry for all of our restaurants.

Why does illiteracy remain such a problem? Do you think that kids and smartphones and social media are factors?

It’s an often-overlooked social issue and if you solve issues around illiteracy that also leads to many other social issues around poverty, crime, hunger. We feel that literacy is really a foundational, critical life skill, and we are very much a community-based restaurant. If we can help in the communities we serve in a small way to impact literacy and providing that skill we can have an impact.

There are a couple of issues. There’s certainly the desire to read and having access to read. Our platform is really focused against three drivers: enabling access, empowering teachers, and inspiring readers. There are any number of ways that you can read. If someone is on their tablet or phone there are any number of things they can read. Ultimately, we want to turn the mindset of “have to read” into “want to read.” We don’t think we need to prescribe in whatever way that has to happen. Technology helps provide access in many different ways. It can be a double-edged sword.

How are you sparking a conversation around childhood books?

We wanted to talk about it in a positive way that taps into people’s nostalgia. A lot of people instantly can recall their favorite childhood book, and it brings this warm memory. The reality is that some people don’t have that, particularly the record number of kids who don’t have access (to books or reading materials) in their homes. You can help start a new chapter for those children so they can have that same memory.

We’re inviting consumers to help start that conversation about their favorite book and to engage them in how to provide more access to books for kids, and there will be one lucky winner. If their favorite is Where the Wild Things Are, we should pack up the family and send them to Redwood National Forest, for example. We are partnering with a number of influencers to help spark the conversation and inviting their followers to share ,and partnering with Nick Lachey. And we have a microsite.

What will this do for the Pizza Hut brand?

We want people to know that Pizza Hut stands for literacy and we have a giant goal of reaching 100 million people in just 10 years. Also at the community level, we have 6,100 restaurants across the U.S. Our team members are community members as well. We want to give them an opportunity to engage the families that they serve. BOOK IT! also remains very much a part of our literacy umbrella.

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