DIY PR: Attracting Media Coverage for Your Restaurant

As a PR practitioner who specializes in restaurant and hospitality clients, I’m often asked to give restaurant operators advice on how they can promote their businesses without hiring a PR firm. Naturally I’d try to convince them to hire a publicist like myself to handle it, but I appreciate and understand that most small businesses do not have the resources to allocate to PR. Luckily, there are a few things that you can do on your own to drum up some media coverage. Here are my five best tips for doing some D.I.Y. PR to promote your restaurant or budding food empire.

Do Your Homework

The key to any successful media outreach campaign is to know your target. Who are you trying to reach and how will you be able to reach them? Here are a few steps for getting there.

Step #1: Identify Your Target Audience

Define your target audience. Who is your message intended for? Do you want to reach moms, families, after-work crowds or ladies who lunch? The answer depends on the message you’re sending and the action you want people to take. For example, do you want to attract a big happy hour crowd to bolster business on weekdays before your dinner rush? If so, perhaps your target audience is business professionals between the ages of 23-34 who work at nearby offices complexes.

Step #2: Narrow in on Target Media Outlets

Once you have identified your target audience, find the media outlets that these target groups regularly consume and make a list of them. For example, if your target audience is local moms, think about how local moms consume media. Are they watching their local morning news show while getting their kids off to school? What about the business professionals I mentioned in Step 1? Are they likely to be listening to the radio on their commutes to work? If so, which local radio stations are popular in your city or town? If you want to reach college students, then a placement in the campus newspaper may be the best place to announce a promotion you have planned.

Step #3: Identify Writers or Producers

Now that you know your target audience and what type of media they consume, the next step is to familiarize yourself with these media outlets. If you’re looking to capture the attention of local moms and know that they’re watching local TV news, then you need to start watching that news channel to understand where a segment about your restaurant would squarely fit it. As you’re watching these shows, take notes on regular segments that they do. If the Saturday-morning show always has a cooking segment, then that is a perfect place for your restaurant to be featured in.

If you’re looking to pitch a local newspaper, start reading the paper every day and identifying the writers whose names you see connected to articles about food and restaurants in your town. Those writers are going to be the best people to reach out to with news about your restaurant. Once you start recognizing the names and beats of certain journalists, start creating a list of these writers.

Step #4: Create a Database

In an excel document, start recording the names of each reporter, columnist or writer you come across in your research, noting their respective news outlet and a summary of the story or segment you read or watched, which will help jog your memory about the topics each outlet covers. Also, and most importantly, jot down a means of contacting them—like an email address, phone number or Twitter handle. This way the tools are at your fingertips when you are ready to reach out.

Having trouble tracking down contact info? Google it. Google the writer’s name and you’ll probably find their Twitter handle, personal website or their LinkedIn profile where his or her email address is listed. If all you find is a Twitter handle, shoot the writer a quick tweet. Tell him or her that you’re a restaurant owner and have a great story idea that you want to pitch. Ask him or her to share their email address via direct message with you. You’ll be surprised by how many writers respond.

Make Friends

Publicists are good at what they do because we have contacts in the industry. We have a track record of presenting smart, engaging ideas to the press and developed strong relationships built on trust as a result. Building a “rolodex” takes time so I’ve given you a few ideas on how to start.

Attend Industry Events and Network

The best way to meet media is to go where they go. They are usually covering events (e.g. local tastings, fairs and other community happenings) so try and run into them at these venues and introduce yourself. Don’t forget business cards.

Invite media to dine at your restaurant

The best way to get considered for media coverage is to impress the person who is writing or producing the story. There’s no better way than to show off your restaurant by inviting them to experience it firsthand. Gently extend an invitation to a media person or blogger to stop in and try something that you recently launched at your restaurant. For example, it can be the chef’s new seasonal dishes or a recently launched small plates menu at the bar. Perhaps you’ve set up a wine tasting series and you’d like to invite a newspaper reporter to check it out. These are tangible reasons to invite a media person in to get an “exclusive experience” at your restaurant. Please keep in mind that inviting media to enjoy a complimentary meal is not always transactional. In other words, you should not request or require that they write about you in exchange for your kind hospitality. In most cases, they’ll reciprocate with a write-up or review but it’s not guaranteed.

Send care-packages

If you sell a food product, or regularly make treats at your restaurant (like housemade granola), then package it up and send it via mail to a reporter or producer that you think would like it (remember to know your target first! – see step #1). Enclose a hand-written note and information about your restaurant or product in the package. Don’t forget to include your contact information or business card.

Develop a Good Story

The press needs a reason to write about you and your business, and adding a few new seasonal dishes or cocktails is probably not enough to get their attention. You need to present something to the world that is new and furthers a storyline, i.e. the larger picture. Get creative. Here are a few good content ideas to get you started:

Announce Big News

If you hired a new chef and he’s overhauling the menu, then that’s worth an announcement. Did you add an outdoor patio and garden menu? That’s also a worthwhile piece of news.

Launch Something New

Attract an after-dinner bar crowd by starting a late-night “Tappy” Hour that offers an affordable selection of craft beer on tap and inventive midnight snacks.

Buck a Trend

Break away from the pack and do something different. For example, if your competitors are all doing weekend DJs and dance parties in the evenings, then try doing an artist showcase, open mic night or comedy show to attract the people who prefer a different form of entertainment.

Write a Great Pitch

Now that you have a list of media contacts and a good story idea, it’s now time to send a compelling pitch, a short (300-400 word) letter/email to a journalist. The main objective of a pitch is to pique his or her interest– enough that the writer will want to feature you in an article or segment. The pitch contains all the most important elements but not all the details. It’s supposed to be concise and clearly state the reason why you’re writing.  Don’t get too cute in your pitch; keep it factual and straightforward. For example, if you’re writing to a newspaper reporter to tell them about a new small plate brunch that you’re launching that features a Bloody Mary bar, then you may want to start the pitch my saying, “I’m the owner XYZ Restaurant, and I’m writing to you today to tell you about our exciting new small-plates brunch program that allows guests to mix-and-match from a variety of sweet and savory dishes. We’re also unveiling a Bloody Mary Bar where customers can customize their own brunch cocktails…..” 

Here are the basic elements you need for a good pitch:

    • Write a clear, strong email subject line. Keep it short.

(XYZ Restaurant Unveils Small Plates Brunch & Bloody Mary Bar)

    • Personalize it with a name and short intro about why you’re reaching out.
  • Keep it short: 2 paragraphs at the most.
  • Don’t forget the obvious: date, time, location, the hours when the special is available, phone number or other instructions on how people can make reservations)
  • Include your contact info – email and phone number in case they want to follow up
  • Attach photos, menus, and other items that help tell your story.

Once you’ve drafted the pitch, it’s now time to send it to each person in your media database. Personalize each email with the recipient’s first name and send away.

Be Responsive

At this point all your pitches have gone out, so now it’s just a waiting game. Some press will get back to you and some won’t. When you do get a response from the media, be sure to respond in a timely manner. Most of these reporters are under tight deadlines and need information for a quick turnaround. If you wait too long to respond to a question from the media, you may lose the opportunity. Also, be prepared to provide additional information to a reporter in a moments notice, like photos.  They may ask for a photo of that inventive Blood Mary Bar, so be prepared to get one and send it within 24 hours.

Share It

If you are successful at scoring a media placement, then promote it. Share it with your Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Post it on your personal social media accounts and link to it to your website. Reporters like to see their work being promoted, so it’s yet another tactic at winning their flavor and honing the relationship.