Friday, October 14, 2011

With apologies to good publicists

Recent times have certainly scrambled the conventions that restaurants once knew as standard operating procedures. Most were adjustments to the grueling economic conditions. But if you have an explanation for the self-serving practices some public relations agencies have adopted to rep restaurant clients, please pass it along.

Consider this announcement from today: “Phoenix Marketing Associates restaurant client Tryst Café named one of Phoenix’s Best New Restaurant by Phoenix Magazine.” That was the headline of the press release, and in case you missed it, it was repeated in the first paragraph, or what we in communications know as the all-important lede.

I’ve always been the target of public relations, not the practitioner. But someone who’d just been thawed from a 50-year-long cryogenic nap would know the client’s achievement should get higher play than its affiliation with the agency hawking the news.

I shouldn’t pick on that one agency, because it’s hardly alone. It stuns me to see announcements on the news wires about a PR outfit picking up the 1-2-3 Café or the XYZ Burgers chain as a client. If that’s the best news hook an agency can find about a new customer, then the business might want to rethink its choice. The objective there is to draw journalists’ attention to the operation, and I for one am not going to pick up the phone for a story or online posting because someone new will be taking my call. Give me some substance.

It’s no better to use an attributed quote from an outside PR rep, no matter how prominent he or she might think they are, in press materials about a restaurant or chain. I’m not going to give your firm free publicity by using a quote like that. My readers are interested in the operation and its executives, not the information gatekeepers.

The fellow traveler of that puzzling phenomenon: Listing a PR or communications outfit as the agency of record for a chain. (Note that I didn’t say the advertising agency of record, which is a whole different matter.)

That’s growing more common as brands contract outside parties to handle their social media efforts. But unless the client is selling records as part of its business, I don’t care who its agency of record might be. I want substance, not whom I might refer to a restaurant acquaintance looking for media help.

A final word of advice to restaurateurs looking to get the best representation from their PR agency: If “exciting” is the most frequently used word in a hired PR gun’s press releases, buy him or her a Thesaurus. That sort of hyperbole went out with Ramblers.

The same holds true for “delicious,” if you’re talking about food, or “world famous” and “stunning,” regardless of what’s being hyped. Show, don’t tell. Those words translate for any journalist into “I don’t have a clue as to how to make my client’s products or services sound enticing enough for coverage, so I’m lapsing back to the safe and vapid.”

To the many, many friends who admirably handle public relations for restaurants, my apologies for raising a criticism about your profession. Your efforts in helping me get accurate information on a timely basis is appreciated. I could do without the attempts at spin-doctoring, but hey, I know who’s cutting the paycheck.

But your profession needs to keep its head in these tough times. Confusing your business interests with those of your clients is not going to help your cause in the long run.

No comments: