Want to fill an editor's garbage can?
Send him a press release about something old, nothing new, an announcement of the same old claims of your company's greatness or a promise to serve the best pizza in town.
But if you want to catch his attention, make him take notice and assign a reporter to visit your shop, Linda Funk said to make sure you can answer this question: "Why should readers or viewers or listeners care about this?"
Funk, vice president of Food Insight, a food industry PR agency in Urbandale, Iowa, said editors, reporters and assignment editors at media outlets are snowed under daily with media requests -- the bulk of which are press releases that say a lot about nothing.
But despite the potential for a good news release becoming lost in the morass of the mundane, she said those with a strong, interesting message will get attention.
"Just sending something to a food editor saying, 'Write about my pizzeria,' is not going to work," said Funk. "The key is making sure that they know what your point of difference is. A press release creates excitement. It makes the editor think, 'We've got to cover this.' "
And yet, a great release doesn't guarantee the reporters will come calling today, tomorrow or ever, especially if, say, an assignment editor doesn't know the business or its owner. Here, Funk said, owners and managers (or a public relations person, if an operation uses an agency like hers) should know how to establish relationships with the media.
"Get to know them well any way you can," said Funk. "Invite them to your place for something to eat. Be a resource they can call on, even when a story might not be about your business. You might even be surprised to find (the media) being a resource for you."
Make it easy on the editor
When in doubt, said Jamie Estes, vice president of public relations for the Louisville, Ky.-based FSA Group, don't wait for media to find you, move to make your business known.
Doing that, Estes said, begins with an organized effort to generate attention.
She recommends operators first identify every media outlet in town whose audiences include their potential customers. After that, find the name of the key contact at each outlet. (See sidebar at left, "Organize a Media List.") In a newspaper or TV studio (and in those rare cases where radio stations have their own news bureaus), that would be the assignment editor. At a TV station or weekly paper this may be one person, but at a large daily newspaper, each section has its own editorial gatekeeper controlling the flow.
Organize a Media List
* By having a lengthy and updated list of media outlets and key personnel, generating press attention is made simpler.
1. A basic list should contain the names, addresses, e-mail address, telephone and fax numbers of all local media sources, but a more useful list will also contain the key contact persons at those outlets. Local libraries tend to have this information, as do media outlet Web sites.
2. Double-check and update your media list often. Food/restaurant beat reporters, editors and on-air personalities change jobs frequently, so do your best to keep abreast of those changes. When you learn of a position change, it might be wise to invite the newcomer to your place for a get-to-know-you meeting. Giving inducements such free food never hurts, but make it clear you don't expect any favors in return. Tell them you simply want to meet them, and what better way to do that than over a bite to eat?
3. Learn and record the deadlines of local media sources. Radio and TV have immediate deadlines, whereas newspapers may work a few weeks out and magazines three months to a year out.
4. Send news releases to everyone applicable. This means to the assignment editor at newspapers and TV stations, to columnists at newspapers, to restaurant/food beat reporters/columnists at newspapers. If your release has a business angle, include business editors at newspapers. And don't forget to keep newspaper calendar editors informed. Calendars are handy tools for readers.
Estes said to get those persons' telephone and fax numbers, e-mail and mailing addresses. Local libraries are good sources for this data, as is the Internet. Estes warned, however, that building this list isn't a one-time effort.
"Just like in the foodservice industry, reporters and editors change jobs and move around," said Estes, whose company handles PR for independent and chain restaurant companies and foodservice associations. "For contacts you do not deal with on a frequent basis, call to verify contact information and addresses annually."
While these "first tier" contacts are important, both Estes and Funk advise operators make a strong effort to build relationships with reporters, the actual people on the street. If they're reporters covering a particular beat such as food, restaurants or business, you'll likely speak with them more often than an assignment editor.
Still, don't forget the fact that the assignment editors typically are the reporters' bosses, and working from the top down, Funk said, is smart.
"These people don't always get out of their offices, so go and actually have a desk-side meeting with them, any press people, really," she said. "But don't come at them from the perspective of wanting just to talk about your business. Let them know you want to learn what they need."
Those operators bearing food, she added, typically get the warmest receptions.
"These are terribly busy people, so drop by -- with permission -- with a pizza or a salad, whatever you might be promoting," she said. "If they're too busy during business hours, invite them to dinner with a guest or their family."
Funk and Estes both warn that offering free meals is tricky if done with the wrong motives, i.e. expecting press or TV coverage in trade for freebies.
"Tell them up front that you understand they're not expected to do anything for that," Funk said. "I know it's tempting, but it's unethical for them."
If the food and surroundings are good, Funk said, the media attention will follow. And when it does, she added, be prepared. "Make sure there's a spokesperson who the media talks to. You really want to be buttoned up about what you want to say. Have some key messages outlined and prepared so you're ready to answer questions."
Seizing the moment
Few media moments are as powerful as live exposure on radio and TV. Delivering a pizza to a deejay booth at evening drive time generates name recognition and a live product endorsement -- but only if welcomed. A little secret, PR experts say, is that these events rarely, if ever, are as spontaneous as they sound on air. Otherwise every restaurant operator in town would be banging down the doors to drop off free food.
Understandably, such staged performances typically are available to advertisers only, but even then questions of fair treatment to all advertisers arise, and that can put an on-air personality in hot water.
Press Release Basics
1. Be brief. A press release should be a one-page document that tells the who, what, where, when and why of your announcement (of an event or new product).
2. At the top of the release, list the core of the announcement (such as "Angelo's Intros New Meat Lover's Pizzas"), followed by that day's date, a phone number and contact person, and the company's name and address.
3. Lead sentence: This sentence should be clever but brief, and ultimately draw the editor into the body of the release. For example, "Where's the beef? On Angelo's New Meat Lover's Pizzas!"
4. Body copy: Give the editor only the facts that say, "My product/event/announcement is different and worthy of your attention because this is different." Descriptive words -- especially about food -- are highly attractive and interesting. For example, "Angelo's Meat Lover's pizzas are topped only with 100 percent choice meats made from locally raised beef cattle," or "our brand-new pepperoni is a one-of-a-kind, house-made product that's cured by our own chef."
The release also must state clearly the date and time of an event, or, if the product is a limited-time offer, such as during the summer only, state clearly from when to when.
Also, where necessary, state the special product's price.
5. Closing sentence: This should be an invitation to all editors to call a dedicated spokesperson for more information about this product/promotion/event. Convince them -- with sincerity -- that you're eager to share some new information, not just get some free exposure.
For example: "We're so convinced our new Meat Lover's pizzas are so unique, we'll bake one up and deliver it to your desk. Simply call us to schedule an interview (either over the phone or in person) with Chef Richard, and you can order one from the pizzaiolo himself. Call us now at ... ."
Some of Estes' clients are top local chefs whom she works onto early morning TV news shows, when stations aren't scrambling to cover deadline-oriented news.
The exposure to the business is valuable, she said, but even more importantly, exposure to a restaurant's key personality -- often the chef -- is the point of such events. As Funk added, it gives potential customers a look at who's behind the scenes and "puts a face to the business."
Understandably, this type of exposure is hard to come by, even in small media markets, Funk said.
"You'll have better success if the product you have is targeted toward that program's audience," Funk said. "Just know it's not easy to get an on-air spot like that. It's got be handled well and planned well in advance."
Sometimes, however, the best plan is no plan at all, according to Kamron Karington, a marketing expert in Las Vegas, a former owner of two pizzerias.
"Our radar was always sweeping for something going on; we wanted to be there and get attention for our pizza," said Karington. "You find those by keeping your eyes and ears open."
Karington's publicity picks ranged from good-hearted gestures to a gutsy grab for attention after the Utah Jazz NBA basketball team won its first league championship.
His first pizzeria, Wasatch Pizza, was located in Salt Lake City, home to the Jazz. When the team arrived at the airport at nearly 2 a.m., hundreds of fans were there to greet them -- and Wasatch staffers were there handing out free pizza.
"We were closed, but we knew that every other pizza operator would be home asleep," said Karington, who also is the author of a pizza marketing strategy guide titled "The Black Book." "On TV it looked like the Jazz called us in, but we just jumped on the right moment."
On another occasion, Wasatch brought food to doctors and nurses amid a marathon surgery to separate conjoined twins.
"The media walks in and there's the staff munching on our pizza," Karington said. "The timing couldn't have been better."
Jack Hardy, a public relations representative with Ant Hill Marketing, said donating food and being present at charitable events also generates media attention. But perhaps just as importantly, it builds goodwill.
"Becoming a community partner is what that's about, and there's no doubt philanthropic activities generate business," said Hardy, whose Portland, Ore.-based firm heads up PR for the 100-store Figaro's Pizza chain. "It gives the media something other than your business or food to associate you with."
Funk believes independent operators benefit most from community involvement for several reasons. She said it demonstrates small restaurateurs aren't leaving it up to large chains to lend a helping hand, and since independents are typically hometown folks, the chance for customer recognition increases.
"Don't just jump into any event, find out what is important to the community and ask how you can get involved in that," said Funk. "Yes, they're a lot of work, but it positions you in the community as somebody who cares. That goes a long way."