Punxsutawney, Pa., population 10,500, is home to a world-famous groundhog, three major pizza franchises and at least nine independent pizzerias. There are at least four times as many pizzerias per capita in Punxsutawney as there are nationwide.
Despite the odds stacked against an individual operator in Punxsutawney, Fox's Pizza Den owner Scott Anthony has managed to build his business into one of that city's top pizzerias.
Anthony practices the art of publicity, and works with local media to get his pizzeria in the news. Seeing his shop's name in print or hearing it on the radio isn't just an ego trip, he said.
"The purpose of publicity is to increase your image and what people think of you and your community," Anthony said. "It's a business-building tool."
People are much more likely to buy from you if they know you and they feel good about you and what you stand for, Anthony said. By creating a positive image in your community, you create top-of-mind awareness so when people go out to get a pizza they are going to turn to you.
Creating a spotlight in the local media can save an operator thousands in advertising dollars, he said. It also can make competitors jealous.
"When your competition is jealous of you, they do irrational things and end up putting themselves out of business," Anthony said.
No end to potential stories
A prime example of Anthony's publicity efforts happened when, in 2001, Fox's parent company turned 30. To celebrate the event, Anthony rolled the pizzeria's prices back to 1971 levels.
"I pitched it to the local paper and they did a story on it and put it on the front page," Anthony said. "The event ended up getting some national recognition and created more publicity for me and my town. You can't buy that kind of advertising."
Along with the hometown paper, media outlets that can be avenues for publicity include the pennysaver-style papers frequently available near the grocery checkout, church bulletins and chamber of commerce newsletters.
"After Groundhog Day, I crunch the numbers comparing how we did with last year and I send a press release to the local chamber," Anthony said. "When these guys give stories out they have my information there, so I'm the one who gets put in the newsletter or in the paper. It makes it look like my place is the place to go."
Local radio also is a prime outlet for pizzeria news, as are industry trade publications like Pizza Marketplace.
Topics for stories featuring a pizzeria are virtually limitless. However, it does take a bit of creative thinking on the part of the operator.
"The worst thing an operator can do is to call up an editor and say, â€˜Hi, we're a local pizza place, can you write a story about us?'," said DeAnne Merey, president and founder of New York-based DeAnne Merey Public Relations. "Do a little bit of work for them."
Story topics can be as simple as the installation of a new hi-tech oven or offering a heart-shaped pizza on Valentines Day. If your business has a fundraising program going on or is offering a special for Lent, let the local media know about it, she said.
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Staging wine tastings or having local artists display their wares in the restaurant also can serve as the basis for a story in the local paper, said Alicia Hassinger, account executive with Denver-based CSG PR.
"If all else fails, create your own newsletter," Anthony said. "Get the word out one way or another. You would be very surprised at whose hands these things fall into and the snowball effect they can have."
And having members of the local media sample your food is always an attention-getter, Merey said.
"If there is a local radio show, you can send a message with a pizza over to the station," she said. "You don't want to be overly generous, but a pizza or two with a humorous message attached will capture their attention and leave them hungry for a story related to your business."
Big budgets not required
Although public relations professionals are available to assist pizzeria owners drum up media attention, using a PR person isn't always necessary, Hassinger said.
"It really depends on your budget," she said. "It's nice to have a professional working for you, but if you have the time and energy you can do a lot of these things yourself."
Even if a pizzeria owner may not have the budget to do a lot of advertising, they can still make friends with media people, Anthony said. Be kind and courteous to their sales people even if you're not buying an ad.
Forming alliances with other businesses or organizations often can be a good way to get help when it comes to creating media exposure.
"I provide pizzas for the Make-a-Wish Foundation," Anthony said. "They do all the ads, they have the radio station come out and do a live remote and they get me on the front page of the paper."