Sometimes, I view my email inbox as the place where restaurant owners’ money goes to die. Not because of anything I’ve written about their restaurants, but because the majority of my emails are from PR companies. And almost every single one goes directly into my trash folder. As I hit that tiny trash bin with my mouse, over and over again, I understand the very real dollar value attached to each and every one. As I listen to another voicemail from a perky-sounding PR rep, I understand I’m throwing away actual money when I hit delete. I don’t enjoy that fact. It’s just that the vast majority of marketing thrown my way is useless to me.
I’m not saying all Public Relations firms are useless; there are some who help their clients immensely. But, sadly, that’s the minority. So, I wanted to tell you what works and what doesn’t from the point of view of a food writer.
Let’s start with what to look for when hiring a PR agent. These people are sales professionals, and the thing they are selling is themselves. They all talk a good game. But what you need is not talk, you need results.
Find out who their restaurant clients are and what press coverage they’ve received. How did that press come about—was it because the PR firm has great media contacts and knows how to tell an engaging story?
Ask to see press releases they’ve sent. Is what you see how you’d like to be represented? Is the content interesting? If you were a writer, would you think: Hey, this could be a story?
Press releases go to professional writers and if the wording is awkward, or ridiculously flowery, it will not be taken seriously. Does it hype the fact that a chef has changed his menu (boring); or does it tell an exciting story about a restaurant? Do you care about the restaurant after reading the release? If not, it’s a bad sign.
As a journalist, here’s what I want from public relations: Access. I can’t tell you how many times a PR group bombards me with press releases, but when I need specific facts, they are impossible to reach. (I use PR folks for fact checking more than anything else.)
Also: breaking news. If a restaurant is opening or closing or changing chefs, I want to know—and I want to know before anyone else. If the press release has gone out, it’s too late. Ask about relationships the PR agent has with food writers, and how they interact.
Ask about social media. Can they set up and run a Twitter feed and Facebook page for you, or at the very least give you smart advice about how to run your own? Your Facebook page and Twitter feed—and yes, you need both—should be engaging, fun, and have personality beyond just promoting yourself. Promote, yes, but interact with customers, give them a reason to feel as though you’re a friend as well as a business.
Many PR firms charge a huge amount to represent you—as much as a salary for a full-time employee. You deserve someone who understands what the media needs and what you need. Because I would love for all press releases to be worth reading, so I can stop deleting your hard-earned money.