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How to plan a grand opening

There’s not a lot of media efficiency in advertising, says Marilyn Davenport, director of marketing for the Louisville, Colorado-based Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery. So when she mobilizes her team to open a new location, public relations is a huge part of the marketing plan. But by splitting responsibilities between her in-house team and hired guns, she keeps costs to a minimum, while maximizing what PR specialists can offer.

“Publicizing an opening is not only important to building local traffic, it demonstrates the growth of your company and reinforces your image,” Davenport explains. “It’s crucial to execute at a standard of excellence by planning in advance, communicating a consistent brand message and being extremely organized.”

That’s where Rock Bottom’s checklist comes in, a 14-page tome listing every detail that must be attended to. One of the first items on the agenda is deciding whether to enlist outside help. When Rock Bottom is opening several restaurants consecutively or entering a new market, it usually opts to partner with a local PR firm to give the chain more leverage and networking abilities.

“In the hiring process, we make sure the agency understands our key messages and how we want to build our brand in that particular market,” Davenport explains. “Then we start working with them intensively 60 days out, speaking weekly, then daily.”

But the majority of the time, Davenport and her team handle the publicity themselves. “The benefit of internal PR is that we know our systems better than anyone else. Plus, there’s a cost benefit—we budget about $8,000 to $10,000 for the publicity portion of a launch, compared to about $30,000 an agency might charge.”

Either way, one of Rock Bottom’s first pieces of business is choosing a local charity partner in the launch market. This partnership not only generates press, it permits Rock Bottom to tap into a potential customer base through the charity staff and its supporters.

Sixty days before opening, press kits are created and circulated. Thirty days out, the Rock Bottom team plans a separate targeted event for each day of opening week. There’s Friends and Family Night, a charity fundraiser, one or two press dinners and a VIP day. Once the guest lists are compiled, invitations are sent out and RSVPs collected, often up to the last minute. Staff training also must be integrated into the plan. “We stage several practice meals during a ‘soft opening’ so everyone’s up to speed for the real thing.”

Follow-up is key to keeping the momentum going. Getting exposure on cooking shows and in newspaper food pages is a priority. The PR team also continues to pitch business editors and regional magazines with stories and liaises with its local charity.

Then it’s on to the next opening, dog-eared checklist in hand.

Checklist Highlights

  • Contact chamber of commerce and convention and visitor’s bureau; request membership packets
  • Interview and select benefit partner/charity
  • Generate ideas for grand opening events
  • Develop detailed plan of action for grand opening activities with timelines and budget
  • Develop media and VIP lists for grand opening tasting and benefit dinner
  • Develop “friends and family” invite list; include purveyors, neighboring tenants, local concierge, construction team that built the restaurant, local police and fire departments
  • Distribute invitations and coordinate RSVPs
  • Coordinate ribbon cutting/beer tapping ceremony with chamber of commerce
  • Write and assemble press kits, complete with company fact sheet; bios from GM, chef/brewmaster and corporate officers; recipes for signature dishes; charity partner profile; to-go menus; photos
  • Pitch grand opening stories and photo ops to local media
  • Work with area Concierge Guild to compile contact person for each hotel property; create concierge kits with discount info, menus and fact sheet
  • Compile information about scheduled interviews, photo shoots, tastings, etc., and communicate to GM, chef and other key staffers
  • Finalize guest lists and counts

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