Quick. Nimble. Agile.
It is often the way to define a restaurant’s productive back and front of house, but the words are also perfect descriptors of a successful restaurant public relations program. With the industry still recovering, survivors and thrivers are leaning in with thought-provoking, pop culture-led communications at such speed that even a Dominos delivery driver would applaud. To move people to purchase, PR professionals must encourage and provide culture-tapping and newsjacking moments to offer unique opportunities that are low on lift, but heavy on traction.
If I had a dollar for every time, I heard the phrase, “operationally speaking, we can’t do it,” I would be living on a private island in the Caribbean or own a Little Caesars franchise. I have heard it so much over my career that I created a solution to avoid the phrase: develop thumb-stopping campaigns that leave consumers hungry for more.
Whether a brand has 500 restaurants, or just five, menu changes don’t happen overnight – we get it. But unique, quirky menu offerings can make news, so … why not consider the “test market” approach? Restaurants like KFC have created the recipe for success. Brands can still reap the benefits of an outrageous, media-worthy menu item by making the offering available for a “limited time in select markets” rather than rolling it out nationwide. Supply chain will thank you for it and your client will thank you for the awareness-driving tactic.
An offer you can’t refuse
When it comes to making an offer to gain PR cred, time is seldom on your side. Remember, quick, nimble, agile. You need to be quick to ensure your brand is part of the story and not a forgotten moment or an afterthought. Take for example, when a Super Bowl-bound quarterback mentioned his love of a brand, Coyne PR jumped into action with an offer to America – if he won the championship then fans would benefit by receiving a free meal in his honor. We scored big points with the client for this nimble, low-lift idea.
On the flip side, you can also plan well in advance to limit potential pushback. While public relations is an awareness-driving tactic, when it comes to restaurant communications it is also a discipline that can boost sales and encourage foot traffic. Take for example a challenge we had during the Lenten season to help one of our clients promote a new fish sandwich. Unlike other global restaurant giants, the brand did not have tens of millions of dollars to spend on advertising. With PR as the sole traffic driver for this new offering, how do you make a fish sandwich stand out in a sea of sameness? You make an offer to the Pope. Since Pope Francis had plans to be in the United States while the sandwich was featured on the menu, the offer was simple: if Pope Francis came into the restaurant, then all of America would get the limited-time offering for free every Friday during Lent. The brand tweeted the offer to the Pope as well as hand-delivered the invitation to the Vatican. Despite his Holiness never dining with the brand, the program was a whopping success. The awareness was great, but the swell of foot traffic that the national restaurant brand experienced during that time was even better. Many restaurants ran out of the LTO menu item before the promotion ended!
Can’t pass this up
I wasn’t always convinced that restaurant “passes” were a good public relations tactic, but I stand corrected. I am not denying that Olive Garden’s “Never Ending Pasta Pass” was brilliant at the time, but so many copycats hopped on the bandwagon that I believed the idea had lost its luster or so, I thought … A few years ago, a client was looking for a sales boost and was set on doing their version of the pasta pass. I shrugged my shoulders and rolled up my sleeves to drum up media to help create awareness for the promotion. To my surprise, not only did the pass make headlines, but it also injected a healthy dose of cash into the restaurant’s pockets. Consumers love saving money and there’s no denying that a good deal is a good deal. The turnaround from concept to launch was weeks, not months, and the results were just what the client ordered.
Today is the day
There is a day for just about everything. National Bagel Day! Grilled Cheese Day! National Burrito Day! And don’t forget about the week-long celebrations, including National Pizza Week and National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week. Some are even worthy of months – who doesn’t love celebrating burgers throughout the month of May?! A food holiday is an easy way for restaurant brands to secure some gimme placements in the day’s media roundups. While roundups are fine to get the word out, more and more brands are turning to public relations to help break through the clutter on days that are most meaningful to their menu. Everyone wants to take a bite out of Burger Month because just about EVERY restaurant in the country offers a burger. With an onslaught of competition in the media universe, restauranteurs need to go beyond the industry’s favorite promotion – the trusty BOGO. Whether it’s a hotline to talk burgers or travel packages to taste burgers from around the world; big, clever ideas are what is needed to win the day (pun intended).
Believe it or not, there might not be a holiday for everything yet, so why not create one? That is exactly what McDonald’s did to launch its new breakfast platform with National Breakfast Day – not to be confused with Better Breakfast Day or National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. Still, looking for other solutions? A non-food holiday may be just the right angle. During National Nurses Week, this hard-working profession had an opportunity to try out a new caffeine-infused bagel to keep them going. The thoughtful promotion (and a great bagel) proved to be a winner, driving nurses and other patrons to its restaurants that week and beyond.
Celebrities eat. And they love to dine out just like the rest of us. Some may even have worked at the restaurant you represent. A celebrity eating at your restaurant can gain valuable street cred with your target audience, but if you don’t know and don’t have a process in place, it’s like a tree falling in the woods when no one is around or better yet, a fork falling in an empty restaurant – did it make a sound? This is the reason why Coyne always encourages restaurant clients to implement a “celebrity spotting” protocol at each of its locations. If you have a system in place to report star sightings to the communications department, you won’t miss out on a potential pop culture media moment. The “seen and heard” columns love to know which famous folk are frequenting your restaurant and it’s a surefire way to get your brand on the “it” list.
The biggest piece of advice with any PR-worthy opportunity is to keep it simple. My team once faced the question from a CMO asking “why” a promotion did not work and the answer was crystal clear. There were too many s stipulations and barriers attached to the offer, including a precise day and time that consumers could benefit. A simple, smart PR offer got weighed down by logistics and operations – diluting its power to the point that NO one cared. The CMO laughed and said “fair.” From that day forward, we gained her trust and no longer were we bogged down by unnecessary rules and regulations that would ordinarily deflate an offer.
From being nimble to keeping it simple and timely, these are just a few pointers to make the media crave your brand. With that, I leave you with one last nugget to chew on … restaurant PR should be fun! Restaurants are sacred places – where people go to not only nourish their bellies but feed their souls, strengthen their relationships and ease their minds. Their goal? Leave them smiling and wanting to come back for more. And as a PR professional you can help them do just that – think of all the good in the world that a happy person could do!
For more insight into this topic, please check out our recent podcast with PRWeek featuring Jennifer Kamienski, Executive Vice President and Denny Marie Post, Co-President of Nextbite, Lead Director at Vital Farms and Bluestone Lane, Board Member of Travel + Leisure, Libbey Glass and P.F. Chang’s.