Hold the press

newsEditorial exposure can be a key element in a restaurant’s push to build its profile, but it’s the way you go about getting it that can make the difference, writes Miles Clarke.

For every Gordon Ramsay using and abusing his staff in the name of publicity, there are thousands of restaurateurs who would kill to get just a smidgen of the profile the London chef has achieved.

Publicity in the form of unpaid editorial is a double-edged sword and restaurant owners who seek it out have to be prepared for unpredictable consequences. A clear message is that ‘less is more’ and the restaurant, which can ‘walk the talk’ has a far better future than one that relies on the fickle press.

Neil Slater, owner of Scratchleys on the Wharf at Newcastle has been in business for 16 years, the past six of which have been at the current site—a former ferry terminal overlooking the harbour. It’s a magnificent location for his popular 200-seat seafood restaurant.

In 16 years there have been just two published articles on Scratchleys, a situation Neil Slater is in no hurry to change. “We never seek editorial and rely on word of mouth and our advertising in the Yellow Pages. From time to time we’ll advertise on regional television, which is much more affordable than the major cities.”

One of Slater’s other tactics is to give a few meal vouchers to the general managers of two Newcastle hotels several times a year, with the discretion to do whatever they wish with them.

“Usually they are given to staff as a reward for their effort. Many people in hospitality do not earn big wages, so the vouchers give them a chance to experience what we offer. If that should result in their recommending us to a guest, so much the better, but it’s not something we rely on or expect.”

Scratchleys gains about 90 per cent of its business from the local community, but Slater is forever keen to spread the word within the tourist market to Newcastle. “Tourism adds about 10 per cent to our operation. They tend to come on weekdays, which is good for business and also tend to spend more than the locals, probably because they’re relaxed and on holiday,” says Slater.

The queues outside the Wagamama restaurants at lunchtime are testament to the fact that they’re obviously doing something right. There are currently 11 Wagamamas around Australia, with outlets in Sydney, the NSW Central Coast, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Editorial exposure is a key element in the company’s push to build its profile, as marketing manager Emma Siebold explains.

“Publicity is extremely important, particularly when we open a restaurant in a new region or launch a new menu. Editorial is generally seen as having more credibility in the eyes of consumers and in that sense it is more valuable, but you have less control over the message and communication style.”

She does minimal above the line advertising, rather focusing on events, sampling, promotions, and the ‘Frequent Noodler’ loyalty program. “This definitely works better for us than traditional advertising as Wagamama is a cheeky and edgy brand and not really suited to print advertising. With regard to editorial, we find that the most successful media is metro papers, particularly on the weekend as our target customer tends to read the weekend papers.

“In the 3 ½ years since we have opened we have had loads and loads of press, so it is difficult to say which has been the most successful, but we have had a couple of very complimentary pieces in the Daily Telegraph in Sydney. We always invite media around for complimentary meals and when we are pitching a story.”

Sydney journalist and long-time restaurant reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald, David Dale, says restaurateurs who employ public relations companies to acquire profile through editorial are doing themselves no favours and are wasting resources.

“It might be a bit tough, but I will not review a restaurant after an approach by public relations people or the owners themselves with offers of meals or some such inducement. Often these approaches include a gift of some sort and as soon as that happens I start to view it as a bribe of some sort.”

Dale says the exception is when he receives information from a restaurateur who simply advises him what he’s offering and suggests he might like to review the establishment at some stage.

“In that case, I see it simply as information that might be useful to the readers and may well visit anonymously and do a review.”

He also says that he’s very careful when reviewing restaurants and is mindful that people’s livelihoods are at stake.

“I think it is very unlikely that a bad review can put a restaurant under. There are many factors involved. Our duty is to our readers and not the restaurant, but that said, it does happen that I have a bad meal and just won’t write about it at all. Restaurateurs can be quite paranoid at times and read far more into the review than is actually written.”

Season on Hastings Street in Noosa is one of the few in that hugely competitive ‘eat street’ overlooking the beach. One of the owners, Debbie Goodger, says editorial is seen as less biased than paid advertising and she often finds customers will mention that they have seen a review or an editorial in a publication.

“Our restaurant is one of Noosa’s most renowned and particularly during the peak seasons such as Christmas we find that interstate diners book in advance to ensure they get in on the nights they want to. This obviously is a result of editorial exposure, as we do not advertise much out of the Noosa region.

Goodger says her most successful editorial coverage was a close tie between the Noosa Magazine and the Melbourne Age.

She believes there’s good value to be had from inviting the media to dine.

“Obviously there are no guarantees with editorial, however, our cuisine and service is of a consistently high standard and we generally find our reviewers will provide a positive write-up.”

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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