How to P.R. Your Restaurant

As a colleague once told me, “Publicity plants the seed, promotion fertilizes the seed, advertising ripens the crops and personal selling harvests the crop.”

Like most restaurant owners, you likely have developed a marketing plan involving promotion, advertising, and selling. Yet you shouldn’t leave out planting the all-important seed of publicity.

Publicity, or the act of capturing the interest of the public through media channels, can keep Your operation on the minds of customers and industry leaders. It can create a new brand, build on past branding efforts, or boost sales. If your goal is to develop a restaurant chain or to sell your small chain to a large corporation, publicity can help you gain the attention of potential franchisees or buyers.

If you are too busy to undertake an extensive media relations program, the answer might be to hire a public relations firm that specializes in publicity. But hiring a PR agency can be uncharted territory for many executives and entrepreneurs. How do you find the right firm? As many of your colleagues probably can tell you, working with a publicist or public relations firm can be a dream come true or a nightmare.

FoodBrats.com only publishes Cookbooks. We help you look good. We will take your words and ideals and create a cookbook you will be proud to say you wrote.

The success of your media relations program hinges on finding an agency you trust, feel comfortable working with, and will get you results. Here how to get the best PR experience.

Be clear about how publicity works and how it differs from other marketing strategies. The messages you communicate through advertising and promotions tend to be direct and simple, in order to reach consumers quickly and effectively.

Publicity, on the other hand, is a more subtle approach. You want to gain the attention of the media, so you have to tailor your messages to their needs. The reward is that a mention in the press legitimizes your business far more than advertising. After all, in the eyes of the consumer, anyone can buy ad space, but not every business is so successful that it is newsworthy.

Stories about your restaurant or franchise operation will center on angles that make you different from your competitors, not your basic marketing messages. If you expect articles to simply praise your business or tout the ingredients in your food, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Nothing turns off reporters and editors more than a hard sell. A publicist should be able to help you identify story angles that will hook the media.

With publicity, you’re building public awareness and credibility, and that takes time. You might want that Wall Street Journal feature story right now, but it can be years in the making. Just because your operation is doing well doesn’t mean you’ll be splashed on the cover of Business Week; many entrepreneurs are doing well and have interesting stories to tell. To gain credibility nationally, you first have to build a foundation of stories locally, regionally, and in the trades.

For instance, one client of ours, a large regional pizza restaurant franchise, wanted a higher profile on a national level. We landed a Wall Street Journal feature after two years of hard work. That sounds like a long time, but in the interim, we placed powerful stories in major newspapers and in the trades, which helped the client gain experience in media relations and get comfortable with interviews. When the WSJ reporter called, the client was ready.

Realistically, you can expect local coverage within six weeks, in the trades within four to six months, and in national publications in about 16 to 32 months. Remember, PR is an investment, not a guarantee.

Interview the candidates. You have to know what you want the firm to accomplish -—and telling them that you want them “to get us some ink” isn’t enough. You have to know who you want to reach, which means you must know your audience. If its industry leaders, then ask the firm how it stories in trade publications or about its track record with national business magazines. If it’s local publicity you’re after, talk with the firm about its relationships with either the city’s restaurant reporters or business editors. Tell them which regional publications your customers read, and gauge their reaction to see if they’re comfortable working with those publications.

As a restaurateur, you may be interested in promoting either yourself or one of your chefs as a television personality. But on-air cooking is not necessarily a natural talent; it’s more like singing, dancing, and selling, all at the same time while paying attention camera placement.

If you have such aspirations, ask firm if they have experience in spokesperson training. You may even want see a tape of performances they have coached. Like other kinds of publicity, becoming a celebrity chef takes time. Before you start swapping jokes and trading recipes with Katie Couric and Al Roker, you’ll have to develop a reel of performances on local television programs. Find out if the agency can help you.

Let’s see some proof. You’ll want to see the firm’s successes for past and current clients in the way of newspapers clips and printed feature articles from trade publications. Also, don’t hesitate to ask to review samples of press releases, fact sheets, and other written materials. Remember to check for clear writing and creative approaches that were used to generate press coverage.

And here’s a secret to be sure the firm really has those wonderful relationships with the media that it brags about. Request a list of reporters and producers the firm works with on a regular basis. Call them and ask what they think about the firm.

“Who will be working on my account?” Many larger agencies will bring in senior staff—the “big guns” — with years of impressive experience to close the business, and then turn your work over to a struggling junior associate.

An inexperienced account executive might be a real go-getter and a quick study, and you could be launching an impressive career. On the other hand, some neophytes are intimidated by making cold calls to producers, editors, and reporters. The campaign could be compromised, and you may find yourself doing your own media relations work.

Look for an agency that promises senior-level involvement at the beginning and throughout the life of your working relationship. At the very least, make sure the junior associates have a safety net, and that the firm’s principals are always there to guide them if difficulties and problems arise.

Find out how many accounts your account executive is responsible for and how long he or she has been with the firm. From the response, you often can gauge how important your business will be to the agency.

Be sure the chemistry is good between you and your contact. If you’re going to be irritating each other, it will be a painful experience for both. Depending upon the intensity of the publicity campaign, you may have frequent contact with the account executive, and you’ll talk to him or her at least once a week.

And after you hire the firm, keep in mind the following.

FoodBrats.com only publishes Cookbooks. We help you look good. We will take your words and ideals and create a cookbook you will be proud to say you wrote.

It’s a partnership. Working with a PR firm or publicist is not like working with other consulting firms or consultants, because you’re a participant in the activities, not just an observer. You will need to be available to provide interviews to reporters that your publicist has arranged, as well as be accessible to your publicist when the media is on deadline.

It will be your responsibility to keep the process from coming to a screeching halt by giving approval press materials in a timely manner, and well within the firm’s deadline for getting them distributed. Take a more active interest in the media and news organizations, and think about what will spur their interest and what’s important to them. You will be able to give ideas to the PR firm, who will turn them into publicity.

How do you know they’re doing a good job? The simplest way is to count the clips. Are you getting more news stories and TV appearances than you were getting before you hired the agency? Are you getting more hits on your Web site than before campaign? Are reporters and producers calling? If so, the firm is doing its job.

At this stage, you may be looking for return on your investment, but putting a dollar amount on it will be difficult. To gauge how publicity has affected your business, you can compare sales from last year, but you can judge success only if you have changed nothing else during that time. In other words, promotions, advertising, menu changes, and the like all have an effect on sales. If you’ve kept everything else consistent, you’ll be able to track the efficacy of your publicity campaign.

How to pump up your PR

There was a time when a good reputation and word of mouth alone were sufficient to create and maintain a successful restaurant. But those days are long gone. More than ever, positive public awareness is vital to a restaurant’s success. The best way to achieve that awareness is through a public relations campaign.

Effective restaurant public relations efforts that generate favorable exposure through newspapers, magazines, TV stations, radio stations and the Internet promise a wider reach than word of mouth alone. And the public often puts more stock in articles about your restaurant than in advertisements. A carefully crafted restaurant public relations campaign will raise both media and consumer awareness of your business. Simply put, working with the media can help start and sustain a buzz about your restaurant.

So what exactly is restaurant public relations, and why is it the best route for to create positive awareness? People often confuse PR with advertising, but two are dramatically different. Simply put, advertising involves ads while involves news. Both are designed elevate interest in a product or service. Both use the same media: print, radio, television, billboards and the Internet. You may have heard the saying, “Advertising you pay for, but public relations you pray for.” Though the adage is old, the sentiment is especially true today.

FoodBrats.com only publishes Cookbooks. We help you look good. We will take your words and ideals and create a cookbook you will be proud to say you wrote.

PR Builds Credibility

Public relations helps form a favorable public opinion through the implied endorsement of unbiased industry authorities (namely print and broadcast media outlets). Which holds more weight: an advertisement about a new restaurant opening or a positive article about the hottest new eatery in town?

The late entertainer Will Rogers once said, “All I know is just what I read in the papers.” PR generates news coverage, and news coverage builds credibility. People believe what they read in newspapers and magazines, what they hear on the radio and what they see on television. But people often are skeptical of what they see in an advertisement, because everyone knows it’s easy to toot your own horn.

Because they are so costly, advertisements also do not give you ample room to personalize the story of your restaurant. A public relations campaign does. By generating multiple story angles designed to reach different media outlets—such as business journals, foodservice and hospitality trade publications, daily and weekly newspapers, city and regional magazines, regional dining and entertainment publications and major national magazines—you increase the chances of having stories about your restaurant published and aired. Each of these stories tells the public what your restaurant is all about.

Take, for example, a high-end Middle Eastern restaurant, Leila, that was opening in West Palm Beach, FL. To encourage a broad base of media coverage, Leila’s public relations firm wrote and distributed a series of press releases focusing on such story angles as the integral role the restaurant is playing in the revitalization of the surrounding historic district, the health benefits of Mediterranean cuisine and a profile of Leila’s owner.

The PR firm also created story angles detailing the cultural elements of the restaurant, including the true and often-misunderstood art of belly dancing, the Arabic tradition of smoking the arguileh (water pipe) and the Middle Eastern custom of mezze (which involves sharing generous portions of appetizers among family and friends).

The press releases helped generate stories in local and regional newspapers and magazines, creating a buzz leading up to the grand opening and beyond. In fact, a month before the restaurant even opened, it was booked solid with private parties because meeting planners had read about it.

Cost-Effective Marketing

While advertising is an important part of any marketing program, a strategic PR plan has the potential to make a subtle yet profound impact. A positive mention in a prominent publication, for example, builds credibility, positions the company as an industry leader and generates awareness. Furthermore, a well-placed story can reap benefits for an extended period using a fundamental PR strategy: placing a story in one publication and moving it up the ladder to another magazine or newspaper, or transferring it to another medium such as radio or television.

Consumers often clip articles they read about a restaurant they would like to try or a destination they would like to visit. Also, a copy of the publication containing your article can be distributed to customers and other contacts. This is another way to “touch” customers and prospects and keep them informed about special accomplishments and up-to-date on both you and your company.

If a newspaper or magazine in your area is noteworthy, you can cite “as seen in” on all printed advertising, e-mail signatures and point-of-purchase marketing when an article mentions your restaurant. “As seen in the Boston Globe” can give you tremendous credibility and set you apart from your competition in a significant way.

Of course, one PR opportunity often leads to another. For example, assignment editors and reporters at TV and radio stations read the local and regional newspapers and magazines and sometimes get story ideas from published articles they read. Similarly, editors and reporters at newspapers and magazines sometimes get ideas from stories they hear on the radio or see on TV. The ultimate goal of a restaurant public relations campaign is to get you noticed and to attract guests into your location. A flattering article in the local newspaper or regional magazine creates a celebrity status for the person or place profiled. This truely seperates you from your competition.

FoodBrats.com only publishes Cookbooks. We help you look good. We will take your words and ideals and create a cookbook you will be proud to say you wrote.

Why Hire an Expert?

Some people think they can write a press release, send it to the media and watch the publicity from published and broadcast stories pour in. If that were true, then public relations firms wouldn’t exist. Effective PR is an art that involves writing well-crafted press releases with story angles that interest the media, not self-serving marketing verbiage. There is nothing more irritating to reporters than receiving poorly written press releases with no newsworthy angles.

A restaurant public relations firm, you by creating targeted publicity materials and allowing you to focus on your core business.

When choosing a public relations firm, you should seek an agency that understands your business well and is connected with the media that are important to you. To find such a firm, you can conduct an Internet search, ask for referrals and loof for companies that are generating favorable press for their clients. Chances are great that the restaurant companies that you read about in trade publications are represented by an effective restaurant public relations firm.

It’s also extremely important to make sure any firm has a genuine interest in your background and future potential. they can’t get excited about you do, it will be harder for them to get the media excited enough to write about you.

Remember, the goal of a restaurant public relations campaign is to create and maintain a buzz about your restaurant, build your credibility, position you in the marketplace and stretch your marketing dollars. Lots of media outlets are within your reach if you have a well-crafted plan and the right restaurant public relations partner to execute it.

Are your web pages designed to look good on a smart phone or tablet?

New visitors land on your home page in a variety of ways, such as a Google search, or through your Yelp profile. Perhaps a friend mentioned your restaurant on Facebook or your Groupon promotion included a link to your website. No matter where they come from, the bottom line is this: Visitors who land at your website are qualified prospects, ready to decide whether they will try your restaurant.

FoodBrats.com only publishes Cookbooks. We help you look good. We will take your words and ideals and create a cookbook you will be proud to say you wrote.

Is your restaurant website ready to convert visitors to customers? The following are four ways to improve your chances.

1. Optimize your website for mobile users.

We’ve officially entered the era of smart phones and tablets. These mobile devices are being used for browsing the web more than ever before.

Restaurant owners should pay particularly close attention to their mobile website because it’s more likely than ever that potential guests are out and about and checking their smart phones for places to eat. Your restaurant website needs to be ready to catch them.

Start by ensuring your website doesn’t depend on Flash, since it isn’t supported on the most popular devices like iPhones and iPads. HTML is the standard for web design and it’s accessible on all mobile devices.

Ideally, your website design will scale and adapt to fit any mobile device. All of the information should be easily accessible in the smaller touch-screen format. The goal is to ensure that all of your pages, online menus and even photos can be easily viewed on a smart phone or tablet. Web designers use techniques like “Responsive Web Design” to achieve this.

2. Provide online food menus, not PDFs.

A lot of restaurant websites provide menus that are only available as a PDF download. This is a mistake for several reasons.

First, your menu should be the core element of your restaurant website. Asking visitors to download a file to their computers only serves as a roadblock, not an easy pathway to what they want (a quick glance at your menu).

PDF files can be bulky and slow to download. This can be especially problematic for any mobile users who are on slow connections.

Showcase your online menu as part of your restaurant website itself. Visitors should be able to click and instantly browse your menu just as they would any other page on your website.

Like your print menus, your online menus should include short descriptions and pricing. But you can take your online menus to the next level by adding photos and social sharing buttons, which would allow visitors to share links to their favorite items on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

3. Don’t forget to include contact info.

This sounds pretty basic, but you’d be surprised how many restaurant websites fail to do this. Display your contact information prominently on your restaurant website.

No matter which page your visitor is reading, your contact info should be waiting for them when they’re ready to make that call to book a reservation. So make sure your contact info is visible near the top of all pages on your website.

It’s also a good idea to include your operating hours and an embedded Google map of your location. Both make it that much easier for new visitors to find you.

Bonus tip: Be sure to include your phone number and street address in plain text—in other words, not as part of an image. Most mobile devices will automatically convert your phone number to a link, allowing visitors on smart phones to instantly call you. They’ll do the same for maps, linking them to the maps app on the mobile device. Pretty cool, huh?

4. Curate your best reviews.

Reviews from Yelp, Citysearch, Zagat and Urbanspoon can make or break a restaurant. Luckily, you have a tool to help you capitalize on good reviews: your website!

Clip the best quotes from the positive comments you receive on those sites and showcase them. Remember, visitors to your website are qualified prospects to become customers. A little positive social proof could provide the push they need to get them into your restaurant.

You can devote a special section of your website to your reviews. This might include quotes from positive writeups in newspapers and magazines as well.

Another idea is to include a blog on your website. This is your “voice” as the restaurant owner, where you can express your own opinions (be nice!), stories, inspiration and more. Your blog serves as another place new visitors can get to know you and establish a connection on a personal level, which adds even more incentive for them to become your customers.

The web is yours to win. Your next customers are already online and searching for new places to eat out. By optimizing your website design to attract customers, your restaurant can thrive both online and off.

FoodBrats.com only publishes Cookbooks. We help you look good. We will take your words and ideals and create a cookbook you will be proud to say you wrote.

How to Get Great PR

Garnering great press for your business is a powerful marketing strategy and as such, journalists should be on your radar as a target market. Now, instead of abusing them with buy (press releases) messages, how about starting by building some know, like and trust before you ever ask for the order – that’s just good marketing.

The absolute best way to do this is to become a resource to a select group of journalists that report on your industry or businesses in your community. As a resource your primary job is to help them do their job better by sending along industry information, adding to stories they write and commenting on potential resources and angles they might consider – nothing to do with selling your business or story.

If you do this I can almost guarantee you will start getting calls to provide quotes in stories as a reliable source.

Here’s how to make the job of journalist relationship building easier.

Use Google Alerts and Google Reader to track every story, blog post and mention your target list of journalists create and scan them in five minutes from one location (or, even have them sent to your email inbox as they happen in real time.)

Then you can visit your Reader page, see if anything from one of your journalists pops up and go make a relevant comment on their blog, drop an industry study in mail or suggest a follow-up angle to their story through a hand-written note. This entire process should take just minutes a day and can even be delegated once it’s up and running.

Some tech notes:

* Google AlertsUse quotes around full names to get best results – “bill smith”
* Check the RSS version to have it sent to Google Reader

* Google ReaderCreate a folder in Google Reader just for your PR efforts so that you can store the results of your RSS alerts in one handy place
* Get in the habit of checking and responding at least several times a week.

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