Carefully judged PR for restaurant's low key homeless event
Monday, October 24th, 2016
on behalf of Maison Bleue
How chic new venue walked the fine line between satisfying the media appetite while remaining low key and discreet
A GROUP of homeless people made headlines for all the right reasons – after becoming the first to be treated to a fine dining meal at an upmarket new restaurant.
Maison Bleue at Home opened in Edinburgh to a fanfare of praise with a promise to feed members of the homeless community once a week, while also contributing its profits to charity.
However, when the first sitting for homeless guests took place, it was vital the landmark event was served up appropriately – both to satisfy the appetite of an expectant media, while also respecting the privacy and dignity of the diners involved.
That is where the talents of Holyrood PR were required, with our team ensuring the perfect mix of media ingredients, showing the same deft touch and panache as the chefs who masterminded the menu for the day.
Like all such endeavours, the secret to success lay in the preparation. In media terms that meant serving up a veritable banquet of photos and positive headlines, without spoiling the appetite of diners by turning the event into a media scrum.
So, with a dash of creativity, a sprinkle of careful forward-planning and a healthy helping of good, old-fashioned people skills we cooked up the perfect media event: discreet and low key, yet still managing to deliver a feast of positive media coverage in more than 50 titles.
We’ve worked with the Maison Bleue team numerous times in the past decade, building up a healthy stock of trust and respect. That’s why they knew we were the right public relations agency to handle this delicate task. Here’s how the culinary balancing act was achieved:
1 – Mise en Place
As the world’s greatest chefs know, this French expression translates roughly as “everything in place” and refers to the meticulous preparation that is required for success in the kitchen. The same degree of preparation was required for successful PR in this case.
We already knew the media had a healthy appetite for the story, which had been extensively previewed in the weeks before, with newspapers, broadcasters and blogs all fascinated by the concept of a chic new restaurant having weekly sittings for homeless people.
However, we also knew that when it came to the inaugural sitting for the homeless, visuals would be an absolute necessity and powerful photography would be a must. Yet, this had to be balanced against respecting the wishes of the homeless diners themselves, many who would be understandably camera shy and unwilling to be in the media spotlight.
So our first priority was to secure the services of a highly-respected professional photographer well before the time. He was given a detailed advance briefing of what to expect, ensuring that any photography on the day would be discreet, low key and that vulnerable people would be given the utmost respect and consideration.
Members of the Holyrood PR team also made contact with the various homeless support organisations involved in the event, to advise homeless attendees on the day would be fully aware that a photographer would be on site This ensured that we could quickly and easily identify those participants who were happy to be photographed and interviewed, as well as those who wanted to remain totally anonymous and uninvolved.
2 – Petit Fours
Like most gourmet innovations, this term also comes from French and translates literally as “small oven”. However, it actually refers to delicate, bite-sized treats – both sweet and savoury – served up as appetisers.
Since we are public relations agency with a ‘multiple bites of the cherry’ mentality, we wanted to make sure the media received an ‘appetiser’ ahead of the main event.
So in the week before the homeless sitting, we ensured that an extensive range of target media titles received advance notice of what would be taking place, including an indication of numbers attending and what would be on the menu. This delivered two distinct advantages.
First it saw a number of news outlets – including the hugely influential Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News titles both of which reaching tens of thousands of discerning readers in Edinburgh – tee up advance news of the first sitting for homeless diners at the new restaurant.
Meanwhile, it also saw the hugely influential Press Association (PA) add the story to its forward planning schedule – which meant that on the day of the homeless sitting, the event was front of mind for every news outlet in the country.
3 – Maitre d’
Front of house is essential to restaurant success. Likewise we knew the front-facing skills of our PR agency would be vital on the day.
Thanks to the inclusion in the daily PA news schedule – one of the most important tools for setting the daily news agenda – we were contacted by numerous pictures desks requesting permission for their photographers to attend.
Fielding those calls properly was another vital element in the careful balancing act, since turning down such requests normally would be a surefire way to put noses out of joint.
However, our careful forward planning proved its worth, as we were able to explain why a large scale media photocall was not possible – while also assuring those news titles that they would get free-to-use pictures from a respected freelance photographer they were all used to working with.
Meanwhile, our Account Executive Alicia Simpson, who had been involved in the entire process, attended the restaurant throughout the sitting. She greeted diners and worked closely with the photographer and our client to make sure that only those who had given their permission were included in the photos.
This also enabled her to get quotes from each of the satisfied diners who agreed to be photographed. She then included those brand new quotes, names and details in a media release she had prepared earlier – thereby ensuring the media received a perfect package of words and pictures to meet their tight deadlines – and satisfy the media appetite for the story.
To find out more about the concept behind the social enterprise restaurant – a joint venture between the father and daughter behind Maison Bleue and the Social Bite founder Josh Littlejohn – please check our original release
What is most important is that the success happened in a way that involved working with the homeless beneficiaries to ensure the media coverage was achieved in a totally dignified and non-exploitative way.
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Scott Douglas is the co-founder of the multi award-winning Holyrood Partnership, renowned public relations agency in Edinburgh, Scotland.
As well as providing expert PR services in Scotland and the UK, the former journalist heads a team which offers a host of other professional media services.
Those include crisis management PR, photography for business PR, affordable business video, social media campaigns and strategic content planning and delivery for businesses of all sizes.
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