Are you and your operation part of the conversation? If not, you may need a public relations presence. Media specialists can help you set an overall publicity strategy—which when executed will differentiate your operation—create the desired brand image, increase awareness, drive traffic to your establishment and ultimately in all likelihood lead to press coverage and increased sales.
Costs, minimum time commitment and results achieved can vary. It is quite a hard to quantify process and profession. However here are some basic guidelines and insights to finding and have a successful relationship with the right publicist for your restaurant or bar. Public relations agencies charge for their time and bill back expenses to the operations with which they work. Agencies can charge hourly, or charge a monthly retainer based on the scope of work approved. Some publicists will take on new projects (i.e., launching a new menu), but generally building a long-term successful relationship takes steady, long-term work. Minimums of six months to a year are standard and many agencies won’t take on new clients without at least that length of commitment.
Solo public relations practitioners—who generally work from home—have fees that can start roughly from $1,500 a month. Independent public relations firms usually charge from $2,500 to $10,000 a month for single-location operations, depending on location, size and expertise. As a multi-unit you should budget approximately from $7,500 to $15,000 a month and if you are a national chain, expect to pay approximately $10,000 to $20,000 a month.
Regarding expenses, public relations firms bill back for phone calls, faxes, taxis, entertaining at the restaurant, publications, media monitoring, travel and printing, among other charges. Ask potential firms for sample out-of-pocket bills and receipts. Expenses are generally 30 percent of the monthly fee. So, if you invest $1,500 in monthly fee, expect an additional $450 a month in expenses. Major events and web programming, should also be budgeted separately.
Finding the Right Match
Use recommendations from peers and media friends in order to find the right public relations firm. If you covet a peers’ social or traditional media presence, hunt down the name of their public relations company. Similarly, if you see a competitor with great promotions or events, find out who is helping them.
National public relations firms are most appropriate for chains, or individual operations in major metros. New York City is of special interest, as 80 percent of the national media are located there; however, firms with national reach are also commonly found in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Truly all agencies have the potential for national reach, though those in closest proximity to the media have the closest relationships.
Your public relations team doesn’t need to be based in the same city that you are. It is not a question of how often you see your public relations team eye-to-eye, but how often your team sees keys journalists and decision makers on your behalf. Local firms can be a good choice if you have one location and aim to draw a mainly local crowd. This firm will best understand the tone of your market and consumer as well as being generally lower priced.
Once you get to $7,500 a month in fee and have experience managing an agency, you may want to consider an in-house public relations person. They may not have as much perspective as an agency, but at least they work for you full time.
A solid hire will have at least three years’ experience, preferably at an agency, so they are well rounded. Expect to pay a salary of $40,000 a year. With benefits, taxes and overhead $4,333 a month is equivalent to the agency “fee” you are paying. In-house out-of-pocket costs (i.e., copies) will be lower, however specialized out-of-pocket needs (i.e., a media database), will be higher, as you will bear the full cost. So, still estimating 30 percent for out-of-pocket; in the example above, this is an additional $1,300 a month.
Overall, if you are new to public relations, it is often best to start with an agency so you can learn the process and have the most minds working on your behalf. Over the years, if you choose to go in-house, you will know what to look for and what to expect before increasing your overhead costs.
Finding the Right Agency
Narrow your search to two or three choices, requesting a proposal from each. Include your objectives (i.e., obtain 80 percent occupancy each night; become more attractive to investors), and include your concerns, competitors, budget and existing materials. Ask for the strategies and tactics that an agency would provide to support these objectives, understanding that public relations not magic: the customer experience must match the message. Also ask to see some recent agency successes and client and media references. These steps are relevant for in-house hires, too.
Operators need to focus on strategy first, as this in turn drives messaging, media relations and social media seeding. Press kits—ranging from printed to digital, audio, and video—and adequate image libraries must also be created; this work can be recycled into web copy, Facebook fodder, item for corporate or employee newsletters. Asking your public relations executives to critique and proof-read menus is also valuable.
Wider services can include creating special events, launches and tastings as well as corporate partnerships, sales or corporate communications materials, internal or investor relations, trade show support, celebrity services and direct-to-consumer communications. Allow your chosen agency to guide you through this process.
Management and Measurement
Keep reporting as efficient as possible to allow your firm or in-house professional maximum time to promote your operation. Bi-weekly status calls work well, allowing success to be quickly reported and amplified (for example, great media placements can be Tweeted, or emailed to investors), while problems can be nipped in the bud early on.
Media coverage is quantifiable by impressions, circulation, key message inclusion, use of images and also empirically: did you see an uptick in business or chatter after a certain Facebook post?
Give any public relations agency at least six months to prove itself. Month one is to learn, month two to write and month three onward for contacting the desired audiences. On-line results can appear as early as four weeks, while print results will not appear until month four in short-lead publications such as lifestyle TV shows, radio shows, newspapers and weekly magazines. Results in glossy magazines take may take six to 18 months to appear, so try to exercise a little patience as you move forward in the process. Building a Facebook page can be achieved during the “writing” month, but you must allow time for the fan base to build. The longer you stay with one public relations’ strategy and firm, the stronger the return will be.
If you feel your operation is not part of the conversation, hire a public relations professional—whether in-house or agency-to garner more press coverage and increase revenue. There is no short-term magic, but setting clear objectives, strategies, tactics, deliverables, a timeline and metrics will deliver measureable success.