January 5th, 2016
How To Help Your Food, Festival & Catering PR Sizzle
A Little Introduction
I’ve worked in the catering sector for many years now, having handled all catering PR when working in in-house PR for the South Western Electricity Board and British Gas South Western, and then being given the role of handling the national catering PR for British Gas in London. In those days, we sponsored everything from Chef of the Year, to the Caterbility Catering Student of the Year and School Cook of the Year. In between chasing Raymond Blanc up and down a few escalators and meeting Princess Diana, when she handed the prizes to the triumphant school cook, I’ve learned a few things along way. Here are my thoughts.
It seems to me that a lot of organisations could try a lot harder with their PR for the catering trade titles, but have got into the habit of paying for advertorial space, rather than looking at their product or service and having the belief in it to create stories around it. This can often be down to a lack of human resource, but when one story could get you into several publications, and position you as an industry expert in a way that advertising can’t, it makes me wonder why. PR can make your budget go a whole lot further, so give it a go. However, if you are using PR and all you are doing is paying a PR fee and then paying for advertorials on top, consider another option. There may be a time and place for the odd tactical buying of space, but if all your agency is doing is getting you advertorials, rather than editorials, you’re being slightly hoodwinked.
Contacts v Creativity
There’s a school of thought that says that journalist contacts are all a PR agent needs. I look at this in a different way. Journalists are frequently on the move and, nowadays, a lot of publications use freelance writers. No PR person can possibly know all freelancers, and their contacts may move on to work in a completely different type of media sector, so the contact book doesn’t always work. I would advise you to look at it more holistically, along the lines of CONTACTS + KNOWLEDGE + CREATIVITY. What really counts is if a PR consultant knows your sector and how the titles within it operate, what those publications look for in a story, what type of space they have to devote to different types of story and so on. However, an agency also needs to be sparky and create the type of story that journalists will want to publish, or explore. Dull PR leads to dull or non-existent results. If you can breathe fire into your PR with a string of great ideas, photo angles, persuasive industry comment and unusual media materials, you are likely to have a PR campaign that will fly, be memorable and become highly useable and useful for your media targets. Here at Catapult, we are known for thinking differently. That’s why we’ve 23 awards in the trophy cabinet.
If you can find a PR consultancy that really knows your niche inside out, you should be on to a winner, as long as they don’t then apply the dull-dull-dull formula to your PR, because they’ve been doing it for five or ten years and are jaded. Here at Catapult, we are very focused on supporting Italian brands (either based in the UK or Italy) and have been through UKTI training to help us with this. We also have a distinct advantage in the cookery school field, as we have actually worked from a Cumbrian cookery school for two days a week in the past and now represent an Italian cookery school (and the Boho Chef). We have also supported many membership-based organisations and handled the PR for the farm tourism campaign that is seen as the blueprint of ‘how to do’ farm tourism (including PR for lots of lovely farm shops and tea rooms). Tapping into a resource like this, which is also backed by extreme creativity, can be pure gold when it comes to your PR exposure and rate of return on investment in PR.
Food Sector Sponsorship/Chefs Sponsorship
There’s a rule with regard to sponsorship that goes along the lines of you needing to spend at least as much on promoting the sponsorship as you do on the sponsorship itself. Having the name on the ‘whites’, or advertising banners simply isn’t enough. I was lucky enough to handle not just catering PR whilst at British Gas HQ, but PR maximisation for its entire sponsorship portfolio. Since then, I’ve worked on major football sponsorships and community engagement programmes, motoring sponsorships and a whole lot more besides. The key thing, if you are a sponsor, is to assess how you can reap every ounce of value out of your money and use the sponsorship as a vehicle that will raise consumer or trade awareness of what you do. If your name is unfamiliar to people, all you will get is a logo on a page that means nothing to anyone. Think around your sponsorship deal or package and assess how you can integrate your business in to whatever it is that you are sponsoring. Creativity and even whacky thinking goes a long way here.
Food Festivals and Food Exhibitions
I personally believe that social media has been a bad thing for many food festivals. We’ve arrived at a situation where food festivals seem to think they can start tweeting about something a couple of days before and thousands of people will turn up. Catapult PR has four gold PR awards for festivals for very good reason – we’ve worked the media for many months ahead of the festival or exhibition taking place, as well as giving social media all the ammunition it needs. Not everyone will be taking notice of what you say on social media, but will be reading newspapers and magazines, listening to radio programmes and watching TV. Abandon PR at your peril, if you are a food festival or exhibition. It may well come back to bite you.
So Much More Than Just A PR Agency
If I had £1000 for every time someone had said these words to me, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog! Catapult is known for living and breathing its clients’ brands and that’s exactly what you should be looking for in a PR agency. You need to find someone who gets you, your product and your sector and is passionate about promoting you. Too often, agencies send in a PR pitch team, who you may quite like, but then they disappear into the ether and you’re left with the office junior, who is still learning the ropes and probably doesn’t have the same commitment that a PR agency owner who is very hands-on has. Think hard about what you are buying when you invest in PR.
We fully understand why many establishments don’t wish to over-promote their chef, as the industry is incestuous and you may well lose them in the future. However, without a great chef in your eatery, what else do you have? My advice is to take the gamble, exact as much value from your chef as you can and make sure your PR utilises him or her, but also has a very big sprinkling of positioning within it and lots of other key messages attached to it. That way, your chef is a resource that you are using, rather than just a kingpin that will leave a big void in your PR when they leave.
If, on the other hand, you are that chef wanting to build your profile, having branched out alone or decided to write a cookery book, we have a Chefs’ Catapult service for you. Visit the drop-down menu on the Catapult PR website below ‘Boho Chef’, to view more information. Having worked with chefs since the 1980s, we can certainly assess how we could help you, particularly if you are a northern-based chef who can’t keep going to expensive meetings in London.
If planning your own PR for the year, or for your project, do what you would do in the kitchen. Sit down, sort out all your ingredients, add some sizzle and spice with some fabulous ideas and work out your methodology and how long you’ve got to bring each pot to the boil. Research media deadlines and work back from there for your ‘cooking times’. Following this formula, and including what’s ‘in season’ in terms of trends, dates in the calendar and events, should take you a reasonable way. If that sounds far too much trouble, buy in an ‘agency chef’ like Catapult PR!