As the dining landscape continues to evolve with the pandemic, telling the unique story of your restaurant is more important than ever. Public relations principles can help keep your guests informed, use the right tone, reach new markets, and get creative with new revenue streams. We spoke with three hospitality PR experts for their best advice for navigating the current landscape and keeping your business top of mind for guests.
Public Relations Encompasses More Than You Think
All of our experts agreed that public relations means much more than the term expresses. “When people think about PR, they think about media relations, because it’s the most visible. But that is just one of the many things that we do,” says Becky Tanenbaum Lacey, founder of Mise En Place Public Relations in Charleston, South Carolina.
“We’re more than just a PR agency,” says Sue S. Chan, founder of New York City-based food culture agency Care of Chan. “We help people build communities around their brands and answer questions like how do we cut through the noise? How do we have longevity in a fickle, fast-paced environment? ? How do they continue to engage in a meaningful way with our current and new customers? How do we have more intention with our company mission? What value are we trying to bring to the world? What we do is amplify, refine and progress our collaborator’s vision and voice.”
If you want to add a PR agency to your promotion strategy, Lauren Young, founder of Parallel PR, stresses the value of choosing the right publicist for your business. “I think it's important to understand that what you're paying for when you hire a publicist is the person and their ability to connect to you, to understand who you are, and to make that come to life through their capabilities, relationships, writing skills, and ideas.”
Everything Has Changed, and So Should Your PR Strategy
If it were any other year, it may have made sense for your PR strategy to follow the typical calendar of events, like promoting your private dining room for graduation parties or selling tickets to a Father’s Day brunch. But it’s 2020, and your PR approach should evolve along with the shifting dining landscape. Sue S. Chan’s clients have seen success with virtual events using streaming platforms like Instagram Live and Facebook.
Lacey recommends shifting the focus and following the narrative about what’s happening internally at your restaurant. “The stories that should be told now are about how people are surviving, being affected by the [American] government’s Paycheck Protection Program, closing, opening, or doing takeout.” Young agrees: “Pull back the curtain and paint the picture to show people what it looks like on the ground. Show us who are the team members that are holding it down and keeping your operation going.”
Social Distancing Calls for More Social Media
With situations changing so rapidly, using social media as your medium to communicate with the public is recommended strongly by all of our experts. Lacey says, “Social media is more important now than ever, because you can't wait six months for an editorial calendar to come around to tell your stories. Information has to get out there right now.”
Young adds, “If public relations literally means relations with the public, then not leveraging social media to communicate to guests what you're doing, in real time, is a huge [free] missed opportunity. Restaurants must find a way to maximize this platform, it's a non-negotiable."
In an image-obsessed world, Young stresses that the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” doesn’t apply here. “Diners do judge a restaurant by its Instagram cover, so make sure your feed reflects you putting your best visual foot forward.”
You can find tips on how to best use Instagram for your restaurant here.
Evaluate Whether Now is the Best Time to Invest in PR
With revenues down from COVID-19-related closures, spending money on PR may only be a good idea for certain businesses. Chan advises against new single unit restaurants hiring a PR firm as it could potentially be a misuse of dollars spent depending on your restaurant’s priorities and what you're trying to accomplish.
Lacey discourages throwing your last dollars at an agency. “The restaurant industry runs on such tight margins, and PR traditionally is the first thing to get cut. If your budget is tight and it comes down to laying off one of your bartenders or paying for PR, you obviously want to avoid layoffs. That’s not to say there isn’t value in PR professionals right now — I think there is of course — but just don’t be too quick to rush into it.”
But if you have the funds, a successful PR campaign should generate additional revenue and pay for itself. Lacey cites that her agency helps with not just media relations, but also providing marketing ideas to bring in more earnings. On the other end of the spectrum, Chan recommends enlisting the help of an agency when you start to feel inundated by how to handle an onslaught of requests for interviews, events, travel opportunities, and branded content deals. “As you get bigger and have more restaurants, it can be really overwhelming to sort through all of the opportunities, choose the right projects, fight for what you deserve and to execute on everything you’ve promised ,” says Chan. “An agency can guide and advise you on how best to handle everything so that you can focus on what you do best, being creative, cooking and running your restaurant.”
If a PR Firm Isn't an Option Right Now, These Expert PR Strategies Can Make a Big Difference
Bringing in a PR agency won’t be right for every restaurant, but engaging in these recommended practices from our experts can have many of the same benefits.
Becky Tanenbaum Lacey: “Look within your own organization. Food and beverage professionals are really talented and really creative people. You might have a line cook who takes amazing photos that you can use for your social or you might have a bartender who has some really great marketing ideas.”
Lauren Young: “Think about what you would search for, and then see what results come up and figure out a way to get yourself on those lists. Maybe you have to reach out to the writer that wrote that list and say, ‘Hey, the next time you update this list, we'd love to be included.’ Don’t be intimidated by the whole world of PR. Just boil it down to ‘Where are people finding me and how can I make that experience better for them?’”
Sue S. Chan: “Stay engaged. Even if you can’t reopen at this time, spend some time checking in on your regular customers and reaching out to others from within the industry. It’s a small lift that makes a big difference and will keep you top of mind. Times like these make for a great collaborative environment, after all, rising tides lift all boats.”
Sue Chan is the founder of brand marketing agency Care of Chan in New York City. Becky Tanenbaum Lacey is the founder of Mise en Place Public Relations in Charleston, South Carolina. Lauren Young is the founder of Parallel PR in New York City.