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Restaurant PR: Do I Really Need a Publicist?

By Miriam Silverberg

Are you hesitating about hiring a publicist or, if you have one, do you stop before writing that final zero on the monthly check, and think, "I can do that myself." Suuure, you can!

But just to be certain, take this little test. Imagine you have a three-year-old and the best preschool in the city just turned down your little genius. Do you think you could sit across from the school's director and listen dispassionately and objectively as she tells you exactly why she wouldn't take the kid if he came attached to a million-dollar bequest! Not so sure anymore, are you?

That's exactly what a publicist has to do sometimes and worse. That's what I've done when a journalist or a television producer chews me out for even thinking they might be interested in my client. And then I have to listen while they ask why I'm even representing this client and do I really think I can do anything for them? Well, yes, actually I do.

And after you've been chewed out, you can't say what you'd like to, that the producer is such an idiot he wouldn't recognize a story if Bush's daughter eloped with the handyman! No, you have to sit there and laugh or if on the phone, count to ten and think of another idea to pitch.

You see, you must be thick skinned and not take it personally when you're rejected. And a publicist is rejected more often than Cinderella was rejected by her stepmother.

Publicizing yourself is like the lawyer representing himself and having a fool for a client or the doctor operating on a family member. It can't be done, or at least it shouldn't be done.

When you represent yourself, you can't possibly be objective. You are so emotionally involved that you can't think clearly and you're bound to say the wrong thing and make the wrong person angry. And anyone who can ever help you in any way at any time is definitely the wrong person. You see, just because the reporter says no now doesn't mean he will say no four months from now. It's entirely possible that a few months from now he will call you...but not if you bawled him out when he said no.

A publicist, if he or she is good, knows when to back off and return to fight another day. When I'm turned down, of course it hurts. Especially if I think my client is so terrific that I can't understand why everyone else doesn't agree with me.

Actually, there's a lot to be said for a publicist retaining the mentality of a hired gun. That way you're more objective, thinking clearly and better able to help your client. When a producer says no, I can take it because he's not turning me down, he's turning down my client.

There's something else to consider. Many people in the media prefer not to work with anyone who does not have a publicist for the reasons I've just mentioned. It's easier for them. Publicists are more professional, know what journalists want and a good publicist is like a supermarket--one-stop shopping. Everything the journalist needs is right there. Dealing directly with a restaurateur means running up against hurt feelings, unreasonable expectations ("you mean my restaurant won't be on the cover and get four inside pages?") and not getting requested information timely.

A very dear friend who is in a position to throw a lot of business to my restaurant clients tells me she will only work with a restaurant that has a publicist. Why? Because it's just easier.

Another point to consider is, are you sure you want to go into the publicity business? When you represent yourself, in effect that's what you're doing. And believe me, the publicity business is not easy and it can't be done in your spare time. If, having read this, you still think you can do it yourself, try it. It's very possible that, now knowing the pitfalls, you will be successful. I've had clients who were terrific at publicizing themselves.


Miriam Silverberg is founder and president of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a publicity firm in New York City with extensive experience working with restaurants. She can be contacted by e-mail at silverbergm@mindspring.com

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