Free Restaurant Advertising, or the Art of Public Relations

Restaurant Public Relations, or PR, is all about public image – the restaurant’s and your own personal image, and is most often concentrated in your relationship with the various media. It is basically free restaurant advertising, and even better, you can consider good press as a referral, that is seen by many potential customers. Exponential word of mouth. PR is an invaluable way to get awareness for your restaurant. It is a powerful tool because it is seen as a neutral judge of your restaurant. The general public trusts the media or public figures to filter through the market and give honest feedback. If someone has heard about your restaurant through the media, and in a positive light, then half of the battle for customers is won.

Just as you target ideal customers, you’ll target journalists and other members of the media. As with staff, customers and anyone else within the business’s circle of contacts, you need to think WIN WIN. Think about what would help the journalist in HER job; a tip on a good story or a story that is already laid out with photos and quotes where she only has to quickly wordsmith it. Put yourself in her shoes and then put your effort in building WIN WIN relationships with journalists. If you make life easier for the journalist, she is sure to repay your restaurant at sometime. It won’t always be about an immediate story, but make them call YOU, and your restaurant, whenever they need a story or opinion.

To do this, start small and work on building a relationship; send them information that would be useful as well as business press releases. Remember, 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. Be consistent and regular in contacting them. Don’t send one communication 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.

Journalists are always looking for stories, but the fact that Aunt Ida thinks your minestrone is better than in Italy isn’t really going to pique their interest. So there needs to be an ‘angle’ if you want to get picked up by the media. Some ideas for stories are:

  • 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.
  • Have real news – a new business, an important new employee, whatever it is, journalists like real news. Make sure to send out a press release every time something (really) new is happening with the business.
  • Be first or be unique – a new meal or service. Anything that is likely to change the terrain is good fodder for news.
  • Local angles – news that has a link to the local situation will help you get valuable local exposure. Maybe your restaurant is supplying the town hall with their catering for an important event, or has helped the neighborhood Boy Scout troop start a new fund raising campaign. If it’s local news then talk about it to local and regional media.
  • Tie to a trend – a new food product is the latest craze, or is being talked about extensively on Facebook. If it is linked to something that is already in the news and getting exposure then ride on the wave of that news.
  • Overcoming adversity and human interest stories – everybody loves inspirational stories. If you have helped someone overcome their problems, are delivering food to an elderly housebound person, have an all woman team, or are helping solve a community problem, then communicate about this.
  • Solve a common problem or be controversial – helping solve a community problem, such as hunger and homelessness, or being controversial, as in advocating a new or different solution to a common problem, will bring you to the forefront of news.

When contacting the media you will want to send them what is known as a press kit. It contains a letter explaining why you are approaching the journalist, a press release, and a publicity kit made up of relevant parts of your restaurant marketing kit. The publicity kit will typically include the following:

  • background sheet with historical information on the restaurant and founder
  • a fact sheet listing specific features, information, and details
  •  marketing messages such as the restaurant’s values
  • descriptions of your food and ambiance
  • testimonials
  • biographies and photos of the management team and key people in the restaurant, including quotes
  • good quality, high resolution, photos that can be printed
  • past press coverage
  • restaurant marketing collateral such as brochures and postcards

Send this to the journalist in question. In order to find journalists, search for media guides and PR planners online, as well as in publications themselves for direct contact details. Approach all types of media journalists, aiming to be present in as many types of media as possible: magazines, newspapers, blogs, tv, radio, internet broadcasts, online journals, articles, books, etc.

Just as with prospects, determine a ‘hit list’ of targeted journalists and communicate with them regularly. Review their publications 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 and inexpensive media coverage.

Keep a database of critics and journalists much as your customer database. Keep a column noting when they have been contacted and when they have spoken or written about the restaurant.  The active ones often will become your ‘go to’ people contacting them specifically with exclusives or important information. If your restaurant does not have a PR agency or freelancer, then organizing and coordinating the contact with journalists becomes an owner’s function and is of the upmost importance to be certain of projecting a professional image. Check out the Win Win Restaurant Marketing System for ‘Done for You’ Restaurant Press Releases which will save you time and money.

As with customers, partners and staff, a WIN WIN relationship with the media will be repaid tenfold.