Is It Better to Hire an In-House Publicist of Outsource?
You’re soon to open the restaurant of your dreams. It seats 60 in a space that was once home to a rock ‘n’ roll legend. You’re planning to play up that theme by featuring original recipes by your Southern grandmother, only they’ve been modernized. You feel that you’ve got a hit on your hands, but how do you get the word out?
Hiring a publicist is an obvious choice, but for how long? And if you’ve got a surefire hit on your hands, and there are plans for some major expansion, then what? The dilemma is whether you should hire a full-time, in-house publicist or outsource a public relations firm.
“It’s great to have someone who is here and at the restaurant each and every day and is readily available and very focused on what’s going on (with our projects),” says John Ross, a principal at B. Hospitality Co., which owns Chicago-based restaurants Balena, The Bristol, Formento’s, Swift & Sons and others. “That person is part of the in-house team. They know the restaurant’s products inside and out. There’s probably a little more flexibility with having a publicist in-house as well. There are a lot of times PR is a 9-to-5 scenario, and our person is available all the time.”
Carissa O’Conner, however, sees an advantage for those who prefer to outsource public relations to an experienced firm.
“When you outsource, you get a team of people with a wide range of experience as opposed to one person who’s really taking on everything from A to Z,” says O’Conner, who serves as West Coast vice president for H2 Public Relations, which represents restaurants and cocktail lounges primarily on the West Coast and in Chicago. “We often become a resource to food writers and editors because they see us with a breadth of restaurants, and we can be an asset. We constantly have our eye on trends and overall media.”
But Liz Prinz, the communications director for B. Hospitality Co., loves the challenge of keeping all the group’s properties fresh. Being on the inside means that she maintains daily interactions with the company’s chefs, general managers, service managers and bartenders. She also does a lot more than pitching media outlets, and uses social media outlets to her advantage.
“The daily challenge I give myself is to keep our restaurants fresh in the minds of the consumers,” Prinz explains. “I think a lot of it has to do with getting in front of people. Our target audience is on social media, for example. Its frequency plays a large role, and marketing to our consumers.
“Part of my role as the communications director is to get out into the neighborhoods, get in front of these local businesses, make relationships and make sure that they are aware of who we are and where we are. I think that is really helpful in staying fresh because people are really just bombarded with information day in and day out.”
“A good PR firm should be able to take its time and flesh out unique angles to figure out exactly what makes your client different from the others.”
- Carissa O’Conner of H2 Public Relations
Prinz, in fact, has found that she’s gotten the best response from Instagram. That’s partly because she’s recently added video to her posts.
“The simple idea of even a little bit of motion is really what captures people’s eyes at the end of the day,” she says. “When we’re churning out some pasta — we make all our pastas fresh and in-house — I like to get a little video. There are a lot of everyday opportunities that as marketers we can capitalize on, especially in the kitchen. I think video has been that tool to get that extra attention.”
H2 Public Relations’ O’Conner believes that outside PR firms, when they’re doing their job at the highest level, are storytellers and not promoters for restaurants they’re representing. This, she adds, gains the media’s trust and respectability when publicists are creative in their pitching efforts.
“A good PR firm,” she says, “should be able to take its time and flesh out unique angles to figure out exactly what makes your client different from the others.”
In the end, it all boils down to your needs for the restaurant.