Word spreads quickly through the chef community when a new ingredient or technique is discovered. What’s foaming in Spain one day is sure to cross the Atlantic a few weeks later and end up on tables in North America. But there is one technique that still seems elusive to many chefs: the art of dealing with the media.
As most restaurateurs have discovered by now, the power of the press can turn an ordinary bistro into the hottest dining destination. Also, one or two TV appearances or features in a newspaper, magazine or website cost a lot less than advertising. But how do you accomplish that exposure and at what cost? With a little research, and an hour or so invested each week, the cost isn’t as much as one might think.
Consider the Media Landscape
There are more media outlets than just the primary TV stations in a given city. Within a local market, each station has several programs that they need to fill with original, local segments. Chefs can consider morning and midday shows first, so be sure to watch, tape, or view segments online ahead of time, to become familiar with the anchors and regular features on a given station. Larger cities have regional cable news channels; chances are these premium TV viewers are prime targets for new restaurant information.
Community/Regional Newspapers and Magazines
Even though a restaurant might get a big hit from a feature in a major daily publication, many times smaller publications will welcome different story angles the bigger papers wouldn’t touch. Subscribe to magazines and try to spend an hour per week online. Scanning the kinds of stories major food magazines cover will create a better sense of what and whom to pitch when there is a good story to tell. This also helps chefs spot trends in the industry more quickly. Also, look around at the farmer’s market and on your colleagues’ menus. Have you noticed how two of your friends at other restaurants have also added black garlic, epazote, winter citrus or chevre noir from Quebéc on their menus like you have? There’s a trend story you can deliver on a silver platter to just about any food writer. Also, remember there is a difference between consumer magazines like Saveur, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and Cooking Light – not to mention Travel & Leisure or Condé Nast Traveler and Departures – but there’s also plenty of industry publications looking for stories about techniques, ingredients and new tools.
Sound Can Make an Audible Impact
Even though you can’t show off a beautiful dish with just a microphone in front of you, radio and podcasts can be a wonderful way to tell a story and lure in listeners with the “sounds” of the kitchen. Sound reports also have the luxury of allowing greater time allotments – instead of just two minutes on TV or a short article, one can often get up to 10 minutes of radio time. Though this usually depends on the show’s format and how much food is brought for on air sampling. Don’t be afraid to bring in a portable burner or a mini drink cart to make your point and create some sound.
PR and Media Training
After assessing media targets think about public relations help. If a chef is doing everything themselves, with barely enough time to pay vendors and leaf through new cookbooks, it might be good idea to meet someone who can help prioritize targets and strategy. If you’re running a larger operation, make sure the Public
Relations Specialist understands your unique story and can craft the right message to the press on your behalf.
Media “training” is becoming a hot topic in the industry, as more and more chefs seek help dealing with the press. While it’s not for everyone, some chefs or restaurateurs may be candidates for such training if their accomplishments warrant mass attention, their goals are aligned with the rigors that accompany multiple media appearances and most importantly, they have the right personality (outgoing). Chefs should think about what they want to accomplish, and where they’d like to see the restaurant positioned in the next two to three years. Once determined, it’s time to start planning a strategy for pitching your story to the press.
Steve Dolinsky has won 13 James Beard Awards for his TV and radio work.
Currently, he is the Food Reporter for ABC 7 – Chicago. His “Hungry Hound” reports air on the ABC 7 News at 11 a.m. on Fridays and 10 p.m. on Saturdays, covering a range of food and drink-related topics. He is the Co-Creator/Host of The Feed Podcast with Chef Rick Bayless (which garnered a Beard award in 2015 for best podcast) and also writes occasionally about food in the travel sections of the Chicago Tribune and Canada’s Globe and Mail. Steve is also a frequent contributor to Public Radio International’s “The World.”
In 2004, Steve started Culinary Communications, a food industry-focused media training company that works with chefs and other food and beverage professionals outside of Chicago, teaching them how to prepare for and handle all kinds of media exposure. More info at http://www.stevedolinsky.com