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What’s eating your publicist?

You are, evidently. We went to some public relations pros and asked them what's the deal between them and their restaurant clients. They told us that restaurateurs have a hard time following through on things they're supposed to be doing to get the PR ball rolling, that budgets are usually too small to be really effective, and that more than a few owners and chefs just plain ignore their advice when they give it. Here are 6 ways you may be driving your PR pro crazy.

  1. The Oprah syndrome. New restaurants open every day and you won’t usually get media coverage unless you have a newsy angle or “hook.” “Unrealistic expectations is my top complaint,” says Tom Walton of Fortune Public Relations in Berkeley, California. “Questions like ‘When are you going to get me on Oprah’ or ‘Why hasn’t the Wall Street Journal profiled me,’ are asked all the time.” Adds Paula Biehler, a publicist in Austin, Texas, “A chain restaurant that wants to get into Saveur magazine...it’s just not going to happen.”
  2. No follow through. It’s amazing how many restaurant clients don’t return phone calls or e-mails, don’t realize the need to act quickly and don’t send over recipes when requested, says Margo Fogelman of Marlo Marketing/Communications in Boston. Journalists work on tight deadlines and a late response (even 24 hours) can mean a missed opportunity. “It’s almost an ongoing joke—chefs are just not great at putting recipes on paper,” says Roxanne Rubell of On the Rox Media in Los Angeles. Jeffrey Yarbrough of Big Ink PR in Dallas agrees. “Clients write recipes with bulk measurements or metrics,” he says. “This often happens when we are at the edge of a journalist’s deadline and we have to rush to convert the recipe or track down the client.”
  3. Failure to communicate. It’s infuriating when a restaurant plans a promotion or a chef stages an event and nobody tells the publicist, laments Wendy Gordon of Flash Communications in Washington, D.C. “How can we get coverage if we find out after the fact?” she says. The importance of keeping your publicist in the loop is key, agrees Chris Lyons of Lyons PR in Boston. “Don’t complain that you’re not getting enough publicity if you don’t provide timely information,” she says.
  4. Lack of trust. It’s not uncommon for chefs or restaurateurs to hire a publicist and then ignore their counsel or rewrite their press releases, says Michael Duffield, an agency owner in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “If you know better, don’t waste your time or mine,” he says.
  5. Tiny budget. Prior to a restaurant opening, money is allotted for plenty of expenses. Publicity is often last on the list—or not there at all. “When a chef-owner calls us in for a meeting and tasting and we ask for a 12-month marketing budget, he or she often looks at us like we have three heads,” says Karen Schloss of Diaz-Schloss Communications in Montclair, New Jersey. “Our response is always the same: ‘Restaurants are businesses first and foremost, and like any business with a brand, you need a marketing budget.’”
  6. Slow payers. Few would say it on the record, claims one publicist, but many clients are slow to pay. Others say bounced checks or repeated requests for payment are not unusual. “I have to do my work in a timely manner to insure that I make deadlines, and I don’t appreciate asking over and over again that my invoice be paid,” says Walton. Adds Lyons: “Why should services rendered in February not be paid until June?”

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