updated 1/21/2005 12:16:06 PM ET 2005-01-21T17:16:06

When Burger King decided to try a new promotion to cash in on the reality TV craze, the No. 2 fast-food chain turned to the master of the pitch — Donald Trump.

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Burger King put a twist on product placement into Thursday’s premiere of the third season of Trump’s NBC hit “The Apprentice.” The Miami-based company had a resurgence in sales last year and hopes some of Trump’s pop culture cachet will keep that going.

“It seemed like a perfect fit for us. ... Donald Trump is a bottom-line guy,” said Russ Klein, Burger King Corp.’s chief marketing officer.

The two teams in the latest incarnation of the cutthroat reality TV show each had to help design a new Burger King product along with the chain’s head chef, Calvin Harris. They then had to sell it while running two busy stores in midtown Manhattan during lunchtime. The team with the most sales won.

The winning team, Networth, hawked a Western Angus steak burger, loaded with onion rings, cheese, barbecue sauce, lettuce and tomatoes (For those counting calories, that’s about 700). That burger was being debuted in 7,800 restaurants nationwide Friday.

“It will feel like a product has come from the boardroom into the restaurant in 24 hours,” Klein said, even though the episode was taped months ago.

Burger King is planning to run a 30-second commercial featuring Trump on NBC until the end of January, Klein said. The burger should be in stores until Feb. 4. The company refused to discuss financial terms of the promotion deal.

The buzz comes as the chain seems to be recovering from past trouble.

“I think it’s a very smart marketing move,” said Jerry McVety, president of McVety & Associates, a Farmington Hills, Mich.-based restaurant consultancy. “It’s a short, quick, targeted campaign ... It’s driven more by the association with The Apprentice and Trump than it is with this particular burger.”

Privately held Burger King doesn’t release exact sales figures. But measuring sales at stores open at least a year is considered a good gauge of performance, and the company said those sales have risen for 11 straight months through December. So-called same-store sales rose 13.6 percent last month at U.S. restaurants.

But same-store sales slid for nearly two years before reversing in February 2004. The company’s U.S. sales dropped 5 percent to $7.9 billion in 2003, according to research firm Technomic Inc.

Klein said the company hopes to latch on to hot television shows and movies to drive up sales. Burger King will have a tie-in with the “Star Wars” prequel “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” set to hit theaters May 19, Klein said.

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