With a dismal failure rate of more than 75 percent among restaurants, you must be sure you do everything you possibly can do to promote your restaurant through free publicity. Here are 16 tips that will boost your publicity efforts and help you finally get noticed--even if you don't have a big advertising budget.
1. Call the advertising department of every newspaper and magazine you want to get into and ask for a copy of their editorial calendar. It’s a free listing of all the special topics and special sections coming up during the calendar year. It will tip you off to sections where your story idea would be a good fit, so you can query the editor weeks and even months ahead.
2. Call the food editor or columnist from your local newspaper and invite her to lunch or coffee—or to your restaurant. Offer yourself as a resource. Ask “how can I help you?” Feed her tips and story ideas. Become such a valuable source that she keeps coming back to you for more information and eventually writes about you.
3. Produce your own television show on your cable TV company's community access channel. The station will rent you the camera equipment for about $20. You can produce either one show or an entire series of programs, from how to cook with fresh garden produce to a show on how to buy fine wines. Air time is free. Call your cable company for details.
4. Build a network of other restaurant and food industry professionals—even if they are your competitors. Agree informally that you will refer reporters to each other whenever the media calls. Often, reporters want more than one source for a story. It’s a chance for all of you to get additional publicity.
5. Whenever someone asks you to write for their electronic newsletter or online magazine, visit their web site first and see if they have a resource section where you would be a good fit. Ask to be listed for free, in exchange for providing an article.
6. If you publish an interesting print newsletter with information about new trends in your industry, helpful tips for your employees or interesting stories about things that happen in your restaurant, send complimentary issues to local and national food columnists, food reporters, restaurant industry trade publications and other publications whose audiences you want to get in front of. You’ll be amazed at how many reporters start calling you for interviews.
7. Don’t forget newspaper and magazine columnists. They’re always hungry for fresh ideas. Keep in touch with them and feed them ideas regularly. Tell them about trends you are seeing in your industry.
8. Call local radio talk show hosts and invite them to call on you when other guests cancel. They will be thankful you offered. Write articles for industry newsletters. My favorite resource is the Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters, which lists more than 18,000 newsletters by topic and includes detailed information on the type of audience and subjects covered. Most larger libraries have this resource directory.
9. Contact your trade association and ask them to refer reporters to you. Many reporters who don’t know where to find sources start by calling trade associations.
10. Always refer to yourself as an “expert” in your marketing materials, at your web site, in your email signature file, and in your media kit. The media always seek out experts and interview them.
11. If you receive a favorable restaurant review, reprint it on placemats, or frame it and post it in your restaurant wall. Quote from it in your paid ads. Post it at your website.
12. If you have found innovative ways to attract and retain employees, let the media know. The labor shortage in the restaurant industry is a hot topic.
13. Suggest profile stories of employees who have interesting hobbies or participate in outstanding community service projects. The reporter will ask them where they work—and that’s more publicity for you.
14. If your restaurant is a tourist attraction, pitch a story idea to in-flight magazines.
15. If you attend trade shows for the restaurant industry, hook up with reporters who are covering the show and pitch story ideas about trends in your industry, or an idea about your restaurant.