Restaurant PR 101
Everything you need to know about PR from the pros at RVD Communications
From crafting the menu to the interior to the experience itself, there’s a lot that goes into creating a successful restaurant concept. Operators are constantly challenged to come up with smart and creative ways to tell their story, and that narrative extends beyond the restaurant’s four walls.
When it comes to marketing and public relations, thinking outside the box is essential to setting your restaurant apart from the competition. But PR efforts can slip through the cracks in between other daily operations, which is where a hiring an external PR agency can come in. We spoke to Rachel Van Dolsen, principal and founder of RVD Communications, which works with restaurant clients like Left Bank, &pizza, Little Tong, OKA and Bar Moga, to learn more about the process.
Rachel Van Dolsen, principal and founder of RVD Communications. (Photo by Lauren Kallen)
Craft Your Story
The first and most important step for successful PR (for any brand, really) is to know what you’re all about. “Figure out who you are or what you want people to think you are. Know what makes you special so that you can define it and own it,” says Van Dolsen.“PR tends to works best when you have some sort of story to tell,” she explains, and that's true whether whether you’re opening a new restaurant, rebranding your current operation, or opening up another location. She recommends working with a PR firm to help come up with creative ways to do just that: “PR is a collaboration. If you don’t know what you’re trying to sell, part of our job is to tell you. But if you have no idea, it makes our job is a little harder.”
Know Your Audience
Van Dolsen’s next tip is to figure out what the people that you want to reach are reading. This is something a publicist can help with, as staying up with newspapers, magazines, blogs and even social media influencers is part of their role. “We have a tailored approach for each client, so we go after specific journalists and influencers who we think the product will resonate with,” Van Dolsen explains. You can’t be everything to everyone, but working with a PR professional can help define your audience and the best way to reach them.
A lot of PR is shaping the message and narrative. So it’s not just getting the press, but it’s getting the press that says what you want it to say.
Metrics for Success
It’s important to know how you define PR success. “A lot of PR is shaping the message and narrative. So it’s not just getting the press, but it’s getting the press that says what you want it to say,” says Van Dolsen. On top of that, it’s important to track ROI. “We have very detailed reporting,” says Van Dolsen. ”When we secure a [press] placement for a client, we let them know how many people it reaches.” Van Dolsen’s team works with their clients on tracking consumer behavior because that’s what indicates if PR efforts are working. “It’s hard to know exactly, but typically our clients see a boost in sales, or that their follower numbers are increasing and that people are engaging more,” she says.
There are pros and cons to investing an in agency versus an in-house PR team. “A lot media will approach us saying they’re looking for something and ask us what we have, which doesn’t necessarily happen with an in-house person because an agency has a wide array of clients,” says Van Dolsen, who tailors her monthly pricing depending on the account. “An agency generally has a little more to offer so those relationships can be deeper.” And often, it is all about relationships. “If you want a big feature in The New York Times, you’re not going to write to the editor and have it go out tomorrow. It’s going to take some time and effort to build those relationships,” says Van Dolsen. “It’s what we for for a living—we know the media. We know how they like to be approached, how they like to be spoken to, and the content that resonates with them,” Van Dolsen says. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”