Public relations, or PR, is all about your restaurant’s image. When it works, it is basically free advertising, and can provide exponential word-of-mouth impact. Its ultimate goal, media exposure, is especially powerful because it is seen as unbiased. The general public trusts the media or public figures to filter through restaurants and give honest feedback. If someone has heard about your restaurant through the media, and in a positive light, then you have won half of the battle for customers.
But how exactly do you get press coverage for your restaurant when you haven’t really got a lot to talk about? Sure, when you are opening your doors it’s relatively easy to get press, but for existing restaurants sometimes it’s hard to have the valuable ongoing press coverage, especially just when you need it—when times are slow.
Just as you should target ideal customers to be most effective, so you should target restaurant journalists and other members of the media. As with staff, customers and anyone else within the restaurant’s circle of contacts, you need to think “win-win.”
To do this, start small and work on building a relationship. Keep in mind that journalists are always on the lookout for new information and stories. Make it your job to keep them abreast of what is happening in the industry or community. Be consistent and regular in contacting them. Don’t send one communication about your restaurant and be done. And don’t just send press releases. Become a source for them, freely giving information, even when there isn’t a story in it for your restaurant. Your goodwill will be returned.
Restaurant journalists may be always looking for stories, but the fact that Aunt Ida thinks your seafood chowder is wonderful isn’t really going to pique their interest. You need an angle if you want to get media attention. What can you do?
• Become an expert. Once established as an expert, the media will come to you regularly for input on various topics. One of the best ways to acquire “expert” status is to write a cookbook, or a book about your experiences. This can also count for your staff, so if your chef is really outstanding or uses special techniques then leverage this in an article.
• Share real news. Whether it’s an expansion, an important new employee, or a new/special menu, journalists like real news. Make sure to send out a press release every time something truly new is happening with the restaurant.
• Be first or be unique. A new menu or dish, using a local supplier or a new cooking technique... anything that is likely to change the terrain is good fodder for news.
• Look for local angles. News that has a community hook will help you get valuable local exposure. Maybe your restaurant is catering an important event, or has helped the neighborhood Boy Scout troop start a new fundraising campaign. If it’s local news then talk about it to local and regional media.
• Show you are up on the latest trends. A new menu that taps into the hottest food craze could create interest. If it’s linked to something already in the news and getting exposure then ride on the wave of that news.
• Share human interest stories. Everybody loves inspirational stories. If you have helped someone overcome their problems, have a program for hard-to-employ staffers, meals, have an all-woman team or woman chef, or are helping tackle a community problem, talk about it.
It's a good idea to prepare an electronic media kit for your restaurant. It contains a letter explaining why you are approaching the journalist, a press release about the restaurant and the following:
• Backgrounder with historical information on the restaurant and owner or chef;
• A fact sheet listing specific features, information, and details;
• Restaurant marketing messages such as the restaurant’s values;
• Service descriptions;
• Case studies and testimonials;
• Biographies and photos of the management team and key people in the organization, including quotes;
• Good-quality, high-resolution photos of the restaurant, food, drinks and more;
• Links to past press coverage;
• Sample menus; and
• Marketing collateral such as brochures and postcards about your restaurant.
Just as with you would with your customer base, target a “hit list” of journalists and communicate with them regularly. Review their coverage and audience and create a story that would interest their readers. Prepare a turnkey story, even producing photos, videos and quotes. Anything that will make their life easier will get you invaluable media coverage.
Keep a database of restaurant critics and journalists similar to your customer database. Note when they have been contacted and when they have spoken or written about your restaurant. The active ones often will become your “go to” people, journalists you should contact with exclusives or important information.
PR is an essential part of marketing. If you don’t have a restaurant PR agency or freelancer helping you, then someone in-house should be responsible for coordinating media contacts. If you can’t afford outside help, consider using press release templates and pre-prepared stories such as you will find in my Win Win Restaurant Marketing Kit.