MRM In Conversation: Storytelling as Restaurant Marketing Vision

MRM In Conversation delves into challenges restaurateurs face by offering problem-solving case studies. In this edition, we talk with PR pro Karen Schloss Diaz about the importance of storytelling in restaurant promotion. 
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Karen Schloss Diaz
Schloss Diaz and her husband/partner, Frank, launched diaz • schloss communications in 1994. The Montclair, New Jersey-based boutique public relations, marketing, social media and consulting firm focuses exclusively on the hospitality industry and is well-known for launching restaurants and food products in New Jersey, New York and internationally. The agency has also represented hotels, food businesses, chefs, culinary schools, a stemware line, the Montclair Food + Wine Festival and wine world personalities.
She has been restaurant amd food trends columnist for The Montclair Times/North Jersey Media Group  for 12 years. Additionally, she served on the Board of the NY Women’s Culinary Alliance, mentors up-and-coming food world professionals and has moderated food + beverage panels, judged food competitions and given presentations for diverse organizations. 
MRM: Restaurateurs sometimes don’t understand the subtle differences between marketing, advertising and PR and how they need to have a cohesive holistic mindset. PR allows a restaurant to tell and frame its story, which is what truly connects with guests in the longterm, not an ad with a coupon.  What do restauranteurs need to understand about the differences and synergies of pr/marketing/advertising?
KSD: Let me start with some backstory. Frank and I launched our PR, marketing and social media firm 20+ years ago and within five years, were representing The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World, two of the three highest grossing restaurants in the world (at the time).
From the very start, we were surprised by how naïve chef/owners were about marketing … and remarkably, things are not so different today.
We still sit down with a potential new client and ask at the end of the meeting, what’s your marketing budget for the year – including SEO, SEM, PR, advertising, social sites, professional photography, website management. The all-too frequent reply: we don’t have one.
Our answer: would Nike, HBO, Starbucks or any other successful brand introduce a new product into a crowded marketplace without a marketing plan or budget? 
Too many chef/owners still think on some level, if I open the doors, they will come. They don’t see that these days, their competition is not just another restaurant—it’s a food truck; a meal-to-go from Whole Foods, Wegman’s or Shop Rite; a home meal kit fromHelloFresh or Sun Basket; or pizza, sushi or Chinese … courtesy of UberEATS.
Small, owner-operated restaurants are our sweet spot, but in 20-plus years of working with them, we’ve seen that too few understand or value what a  synergistic marketing plan can do. 
As long as they continue to see smart, strategic marketing as an expense rather than an investment in their brand and their community … they will continue to spend too little and not value it. That’s a huge mistake.
Who’s doing it right? We have a client, Samba Montclair; a homestyle BYO Brazilian restaurant with maybe 35 seats. Owner/executive chef Ilson Goncalves has been with us for six-plus years. We charge him a low monthly rate and have not raised it once in all this time because we would rather keep a kind, creative, loyal client for many years than take more money up front and lose them after 12 months.
Ilson is always innovating, always looking to businesses that are bigger and more successful, taking a page from their book. For example, Ilson looks to McDonald’s for inspiration and ideas about branding products like to-go bags. 
Ilson Goncalves
Over the years, we’ve scheduled TV shoots at the restaurant, gotten Samba reviewed by the state’s most relevant print and digital publications, had him on The Today Show making cocktails. This year, we were instrumental in getting his first cookbook published. We even wrote letters of recommendation that helped get him accepted into culinary school. 
Ilson – an immigrant who arrived in this country with $100 in his pocket – has vision and dedication, and we’ve loved pretty much every minute of this collaboration. He’s a client who gets it
MRM: How important is storytelling in restaurant promotion?
KSD: Storytelling is crucial, especially when looking to infuse a (somewhat) tired brand with new vitality. The launch of a new resto brings its own story – where did the chef work before? Do the owners have f & b experience? What are they doing that’s compelling, valuable, different from the competition? Do they have a liquor license?
When a client hires us, we get to know them pretty intimately. We’re in touch pretty much daily via email. That helps us look at them as a unique entity and frame their story in a way we know will be compelling for writers, editors, bloggers, producers.
Amanti Vino has been a Montclair client for eight years. We’ve told multiple stories over the years on Sharon Sevrens + Amanti’s behalf:
  • Launch of Vinoteca (outdoor Wine + Beer Bar on Church Street)
  • 10th anniversary celebration: dsc was involved from strategy to post-event publicity with the conceptualization  creation of a private label wine via an NJ-wide art contest for people of all ages (to design the label) … culminating in an art show @ the museum and a launch of the new product line
  • Promoting of Rufus (Sharon’s beloved Black Lab, who died two years ago) as store mascot for Take Your Dog to Work Day, which we developed into an annual happening
  • New store launch (Morristown) – opening late spring 2018
Our first New Jersey restaurant client, Restaurant Serenade in Chatham, has been client for 19 years on and off. They keep bringing us back onboard to tell fresh, compelling stories about what makes Serenade remarkable. 
The story we most recently told (for the last two years) working with owner/operators Chef James Laird and Nancy Sheridan Laird.
  •  Year-long 20th anniversary celebration. We were involved  with strategy from the start, from the creation and implementation of a special anniversary “logo” to go on all letterhead and press releases … to an orchestrated series of press dinners encouraging media to “check out” the lively, more casual Serenade. Results included an appearance on The Today Show.
  • Fabulous interior design refresh initiated by their desire to make the resto less “formal” with the expansion of a sexy bar/lounge/dining space. We write press announcements, provided photography and targeted media tastings there
  • The story of a great husband  and wife partnership James and Nancy Laird of Serenade are another client who just get it.

Like Sharon and Ilson, they have the vision to see it through.