Will Bortz recently spent a few days in town for the 30th reunion of San Marino High School’s graduating class of 1988. He was nice enough to stick around a little longer and speak to the town’s Rotary Club, of which his father—also named Will Bortz—has been a loyal and longtime member.
Of particular interests to club members is Bortz the junior’s distinguished career at Taco Bell.
No, aside from a couple weeks a year he doesn’t take your order, fill your Coke cup or bag your burrito (more on that later). But in 2005, Bortz began working for the familiar chain of restaurants as its Director of Brand Partnerships, specializing in sports marketing.
“This is my 13th year at Taco Bell and let me tell you, whatever you are going to do in life, you gotta like it,” Bortz said. “A lot.”
Explaining his task, Bortz told a large audience at San Marino Community Church that he “designs award-winning programs to get our products across to consumers.”
In that role, Bortz has worked extensively with NCAA college football, the NBA Finals and Major League Baseball.
First, Bortz gave the crowd a quick primer on one of the most popular brands in the fast food market.
“Taco Bell was started in 1962 by a guy named Glen Bell, here in Southern California,” Bortz said, explaining that “the fast food industry was born in this area.”
“It’s all about the interstate highway,” he explained.
Since then, Taco Bell has expanded to 7,000 stores, according to Bortz, and an astounding
45 million people visit one of its restaurants every single say.
“Glen knew that tacos had not been brought into the U.S. in a big way,” Bortz said in a brilliant moment of understatement.
Though the traditional goal of any business is maximum market penetration, Bortz explained that younger consumers have different standards.
“Now, we have to stay relevant and small and not be seen as a ‘big brand,’” he said. “This new generation thinks differently. If you are seen as a big brand, you will get lost in the shuffle.”
With the logo and slogan suspended on a vide screens on either side of the stage, Bortz explained Taco Bell’s “Live Mas” moniker.
“It’s actually a mashup of two languages,” he said. “It means that life is a little more fun if you live a little. If you never do, you never know.”
Bortz also mentioned that Taco Bell feels a little humor goes a long way in marketing terms. “We are at our best when everybody is talking tacos,” he said. “Our goal is to own the social experience of food to fuel the cult of the brand.”
Bortz explained the popular “steal a base, steal a taco” promotion that has been featured in the World Series. Bortz even showed a trailer for the program and a clip of former President Barack Obama parroting the tag line.
“That really cracked the culture code,” Bortz said. “When the leader of the free world is saying your name, you are doing something right.”
Bortz also said that an ongoing partnership with college football is a win-win.
“We are affiliated with college students because they don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “At Taco Bell you can get a great meal and a lot of food for $5.”
The “Live Mas Student Section,” trumpeted on ESPN’s popular College GameDay television show, is a way to “give the biggest games back to the biggest fans.”
“When you go to the bigger games, the seats are spread all over the stadium,” Bortz said. “If I am the social experience of food, we have to get people together. Can we make student sections at the biggest games? Good idea. So we are doing this at the Rose Bowl. The Orange Bowl. We are sending 1,000 kids to both games.”
Taco Bell has also launched a scholarship program for students.
“We just raised $5 million last week,” he said.
Company policy states that all employees work a week each year in a Taco Bel restaurant.
“We have to,” he said. “We get to see what is working and what is not working. Our consumers are our Number 1 priority and working in the restaurant gives us a perspective on what we are doing well and what we need to do better.”
Bortz was introduced at the meeting by Rotarian Barbara Bice, who was the first woman to be inducted into the San Marino club after a Supreme Court decision forbade Rotaries from excluding females (the last three presidents of the Rotary Club of San Marino have been women). Bice also gave Bortz his first job, working with the 1994 World Cup of soccer, which was in part hosted at the Rose Bowl.
He also thanked former San Marino High School speech teacher King Stuart, who taught Bortz to be “precise.”
“He used to tell us to ‘boil it all down to 15 minutes,’” Bortz said of the legendary educator. “And, boy, do I have to do that!”