A publicist’s guide to rep’ing a chef.
Ever since the rise of the celebrity chef, there has been an essential need for a public relations professional to manage the press, keep expectations at bay and in general, develop and maintain an image. It seems like there has been an increased appetite (pun intended) for chefs-as-personalities, whether it be in a restaurant, on a star-studded food show or published in a book or magazine. A good publicist has become as necessary to a chef as a set of sharp kitchen knives.
I’ve had the privilege of working with Chef Colin Smith and his team at Roundabout Catering & Party Rentals and Roundabout Grill for nearly two years. I have worked with other chefs before, but realized that the opportunities were endless with this family-owned business. Fast-paced. Ever-evolving. Sometimes downright nuts. That’s the life of Colin and MaryBeth (and team), in this venture – one that has survived the recession and has become “an empire,” as some describe, in the northern Nevada area.
I do think there are some crucial ingredients needed to make a successful public relations plan – a PR plan so successful that the client has attributed much of their growth opportunities to it. I wanted to share my perspective on the important and fortunate role a publicist (like me!) gets to play in this exciting story.
Here are what I believe are the key factors and responsibilities that make for a solid and genuine partnership between a star-worthy chef client and publicist.
Confidant, advisor, trusted ally
It goes without saying that a valuable publicist is all of these things. The role reminds me of Shauna Roberts (played by the fabulous Debi Mazar), Vincent Chase’s publicist on the show Entourage – a brutally honest, tell-it-like it is PR guru in Hollywood, coaching her client to the height of his acting career. The ability to be forthright, consultative and quick on your feet are several traits that you need to have to stay on top of an ever-evolving, fast-moving business that continues to grow. (And, I’m truly grateful that I work with a chef who is rarely, if ever, difficult).
According to a New York Times article, “Chef publicists, who used to mainly send out news releases and pitch articles to reporters, today are much more involved with their clients’ careers. They coach chefs on how to comport themselves in interviews, send them to high-profile charity and industry events, help them with book ideas, search out corporate endorsements, help train restaurant staffs and even act as in-house critics.”
It’s hard to quantify this one – but it is important to note that there must be a great deal of trust and confidence in one another (and with everyone else in the organization for that matter), in order for the partnership to thrive and get better each and every day.
A love of food (and wine)
I think this comes with the territory. Some may snicker at the notion that a good publicist is always out eating and sipping wine, but I do believe it is a critical element of the role. Being naturally curious about food techniques, ingredients and culinary trends provide the insight as to how to communicate a brand and a chef’s approach to his or her cuisine. After all, it is about storytelling and relaying a persona – and it would be difficult if there was a disconnect here with the very person facilitating and translating these characteristics to the world.
Lots of outreach, lots to manage
When we first started the partnership, it became clear that the local community influencers and media needed to spend some time with the owners of Roundabout, Colin and MaryBeth. A good first foray to creating better relationships in the community was to host a media night. Key people could get to know the chef, talk to him and understand his philosophy on food. It also reinforced how accessible he is as a culinary expert.
It didn’t take long for the media to realize that Colin was perfect for cooking demonstrations and his expertise on healthier food choices due to his background with Caveman and Gym Rat foods, a meal program he had launched a few years ago; which has allowed me to pitch unique angles and provided him with different opportunities for coverage.
Another strategy we took was to continue to plan outreach opportunities throughout the year. We aim to participate in a special event or a nonprofit event about six times a year (depending on our resources and calendar) – the team also loves partaking in these events, as it fuels their creativity too.
I have found that vetting possible media forums and opportunities adds another layer to the job. It is an investment of time. There are a lot of platforms to manage and respond to, including review sites. Every publicist must follow conversations on social media, seeing what people are saying, and in most cases, engaging in these conversations. All of those are good in that it helps the client communicate with more people. But it is a constant, and in that it means there are many more arenas that you have to monitor, manage and be involved in virtually around the clock.
So many outlets, so little time
The depth and breadth of media choices out there are incredibly omnipresent, and so different from when culinary outlets were relegated to the pages of Bon Appetit. To keep up with the way people consume media, it is imperative that a good PR person be on top of them, including the brand’s own social media, e-newsletter and blog; and presenting the chef and staff members with new opportunities, giving them the chance to contribute to the large array of outlets – all of which a chef cannot navigate alone. Lucky for me, Chef Colin is a natural in interviews on camera and off, a willing participant and always approachable. Not to mention that Roundabout has a plethora of experts to pull from in addition to Colin. We have, as a team, encouraged that involvement and participation from the other chefs, catering staff members, beverage managers and more; and have taken the time to provide the necessary prep and coaching involved in making them shine in front of the media.
Reach for the stars
As part of the overarching PR strategy, we have proactively looked for new ways to be a part of the national stage to achieve chef-dom greatness. In December 2016, Colin taped an episode of Beat Bobby Flay, an experience we’ll always remember. The show premiered in April 2017 on the Food Network. Although Colin did not beat Bobby this time, suffice it to say, we are not finished and there are more exciting things coming for the team in 2017!
I sometimes refer to myself as the #pamperedpublicist. It is very true because I am exposed to Chef Colin’s amazing cuisine. But also true, is the notion that if you want to rep a chef, you must be the ultimate business “consigliere,” understand your client’s brand and remember that there are no limits as to what you can achieve together.
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