Spin cycle

Alessandra Pavoni (at back) with the staff at Ormeggio at its opening in 2009.

Alessandra Pavoni (at back) with the staff at Ormeggio at its opening in 2009.

When you’re opening the doors of a new business, smart PR strategies can make the difference between creating buzz and not rating a mention

There are many business clichés you’ll hear when embarking on a new venture, but there are some that are worth paying closer attention to. One piece of advice counsels that, “There’s no use creating the best service in the world if no-one knows about it”. Another claims, “It’s all in the timing”.

Such wise words became the mantra for Amber Forrest-Bisley, director of media consultancy Cardinal Spin, when she began working with chef Alessandro Pavoni in the months leading up to the opening of Ormeggio At The Spit on Sydney’s northern beaches in late 2009. “In fact, he approached me with the news before he even had bought the restaurant, so once the contracts were signed, we could literally press the button on all the pre-promotion,” Forrest-Bisley recalls.

“The main thing is doing all the hard yards well in advance. Before the kitchen was even in, we had newspaper readers’ dinners set-up, media releases written, interviews taking place and photography done.”

But chef Pavoni admits with so much advance promotion, it did add to some sleepless nights. “It was really down to the wire whether we were going to get it open in time!” he says. Ormeggio is a case study of an effective PR and marketing launch campaign. The opening of the eatery filled the food and social pages for weeks, with profile stories on the acclaimed chef and features about the design of the new premises rolled out later.

As a result, Ormeggio was booked out for months. “When Ormeggio opened its doors, people couldn’t get in there fast enough,” Forrest-Bisley says. “Column inches (in the media) is how you measure the success of a campaign, but the number of bums on seats is the true measure.”

Whether employing a major communications corporation or utilising do-it-yourself PR strategies found online to spread the word of a new enterprise, some basic rules must be followed.

Long before the first media release is written or the first food editor is contacted, the business must attend to issues of identity about how the restaurant will be positioned in the marketplace. Aside from having a clear outline of the services being offered and a mission statement containing details of its most valuable points of difference, a profile of who is the intended customer must also be created, as should company branding also be in place.

To start promotion without having the house in order is, Genevieve Taubman-Campbell of The Mint Partners consultancy says, like signing up for a marathon before learning how to walk.

“We are always looking for collaborations—events, lunches and more—that we can go to the media with, that has an angle and is relevant.” Genevieve Taubman-Campbell, The Mint Partners

“So often people have a great idea for wanting to launch their business, but they don’t know exactly who their customer is or who they are marketing to, or even what their offer to market place is,” Taubman-Campbell says.

The Mint Partners launched Ripples at Whale Beach on Sydney’s northern beaches 18 months ago, and also handles PR for all Ripples cafes and Aqua Dining. “The owner really needs to do some work before they do any talking. They need to know what their offer is and make sure that is getting out there to the target audience,” she continues.

“Work has to go into building the brand, and a lot of people have not thought about that properly. They need to be sure that the branding is talking to the style of the restaurant, then linking through to the website and then through to the communications going out to the media. You need to have all of that right before you open the doors.”

In the case of the launch of Ripples at Whale Beach, the location played a major role in the way The Mint Partners dealt with the launch. “We did the launch on a weekend when we knew the people who lived in the area but worked in the city would definitely be home, as well as those who have weekenders—it was engaging with the locals from early on,” Taubman-Campbell explains.

Despite the thinking of the bigger the launch party, the more ensuing noise the people attending will create, it is not necessarily the best return on the investment of time and money for all involved.

“A big party isn’t always a necessity, but a carefully targeted one can prove invaluable to a new business,” says Forrest-Bisley of Cardinal Spin.

“I am a big fan of intimate dinners,” Taubman-Campbell says. “A table of 12 media is a much more manageable way for the key people to experience dinner, rather than a noisy cocktail party. And from a PR point of view, you can talk to the media in a more personal way and sell in the key messages and get the stories set it.

“A one-on-one lunch might also be the way to go with top-tier media, as they feel they are getting the full experience and then the chef can later sit down with them.”

Investing time into creating a comprehensive media list of key contacts can also pay off dividends fort gaining attention. Of the Ripples at Whales Beach launch, Taubman-Campbell says, “We took local media very seriously and made sure we got them involved in what we were doing. And when we did go to them, we made sure it was with something new and something they could report on.”

Karen Morris of consultancy Inscriptions Media, which has downtown Sydney café Vivo as a client, adds, “If it is a local business, then make friends with all the local editors in the area. They are always keen to involve local businesses, as long as you have a good, relevant angle to give them, and as long as you have someone available to talk.

“If you want coverage in the media, there is no point in sending a lot of stuff out there and then having no-one available to talk to the media or a team who don’t want to be involved. Angela Vithoulkas at Vivo is always fine to talk to the media and knows how to get the most out of it,” says Morris.

Maintaining contact with key media partners and giving them reason to continue giving attention to the business is an essential for maintaining a strong profile.

“We have to keep evolving, creating new reasons for people to come back, or to try us for the first time,” Alessandro Pavoni adds. “Using social media like Twitter—@ormeggiothespit has over 200 followers—keeps our followers constantly updated, and is a great way to connect directly with our customer base.” Keeping the communication channels open, Taubman-Campbell says, is the key. “You have to constantly look for new ideas,” she says. “At Ripples, we do lots of events, charity lunches, wine dinners and book launches. We are always looking for collaborations that we can go to the media with, that has an angle and is relevant. That is still the biggest error I still see. People go to the media with ideas that don’t fit, or have no relevance. You need to stop and think—have I really had a good look at this newspaper, magazine or blog? Where would my story fit here? Once you have done that, then proceed appropriately.”

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