A virtuous PR path for the country’s first restaurant incubator
Since we started working with Smallman Galley just over a year ago (has it really been an entire year?!), we’ve been on an adventure to collaborate with the owners, the chefs, and the bar-program manager to bring their passions to life: four aspiring chefs in four separate kitchens — with four completely different concepts — serving the dining public under one roof in a lovingly renovated Strip District space.
At Shift, we love risk-takers, and we equally love having the opportunity to participate in the complete marketing effort: logo, branding, design, web development, social media, collateral-creation, and PR.
For Smallman Galley, the media strategy has been particularly important: engaging local media coverage first, then leveraging those successes to secure terrific national placements (with more in the pipeline). The strategy has paid off so far for Smallman Galley and for the Pittsburgh region’s burgeoning national reputation as a hot-bed of innovation in the food and restaurant space.
First, Think Local
Engaging local media before approaching national outlets was a counter-intuitive approach according to some naysayers. After all, as the nation’s first restaurant incubator, why not a major coast-to-coast PR push from the get-go? Why not capitalize on Pittsburgh’s already being showcased in national press?
Our theory in this situation was that national media would be easier to attract once we had a slew of local posts, articles, and TV links to share, to use as an inducement to coverage: “There’s big news coming out of Pittsburgh — look at all this coverage.”
But also, on a purely practical level, given our team’s long experience with restaurant launches, we were concerned that we’d make a national push for awareness, name the opening date for the restaurant, and then have to postpone the media because the place hadn’t yet opened. Best of intentions aside, delays always occur amid the complexities of contractors, subcontractors, multiple vendors, licensing, and permitting. (And like home-improvement projects, they rarely come in under budget.) Why set up the Smallman Galley team for failure if they couldn’t open as initially scheduled?
So we made a plan: Get open, establish success, flood the local market — and then bring the national guys in. The clients agreed, and we placed our bet.
As we mapped out potential local coverage, we broke it down into three phases that would be ripe for media interest. Judge the results for yourself: here’s the coverage we gained.
Media Coverage Phase 1: Concept Announcement in April
There was a lot of “new” going on: a new concept helmed by new restaurateurs seeking new cooking talent, so a large part of our messaging and media training sought to build confidence and trust that the project also possessed advisors with deep industry experience (in this case the unimpeachably pedigreed Troiani Family). This first wave of coverage wouldalso serve as a useful recruiting tool, augment other initiatives in attracting the first class of chef-applicants.
April 1: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
New Chefs get a taste of how to run a restaurant
April 1: Next Pittsburgh
Restaurant incubator launches in the Strip District–now accepting applications for its first class
April 8: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
New galley in the Strip hopes to turn out top chefs
April 29: WPXI-TV Our Region’s Business
Smallman Galley: A Restaurant Incubator in Pittsburgh’s Strip District
May 8: WTAE-TV
Unique competition concept will bring top chefs to new Pittsburgh restaurant
May 20: WESA-FM 90.5
Restaurant Start-up (starts at 36:29)
June 12: Pittsburgh Business Times
Culinary incubators offer place to hone menus
As Mr. Burns would say: “Excellent.”
Media Coverage Phase 2: Chef Announcement in July
Wave two of our coverage centered on the announcement of the chefs who had been selected to be a part of the inaugural Smallman Galley incubation class. With so much initial coverage (rightly) focused on explaining the concept, we wanted to engineer something extra-special that would turn the spotlight on the culinary talent. We decided to give Table Magazine the exclusive. Their reputation for beautifully art-directed photography made them the ideal brand-building platform for this important phase (not to mention that the opening was just two short months away).
July 27: Table Magazine
Meet the Inaugural Class at Smallman Galley
August 16: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Smallman Galley to give chefs a boost
Table’s website crashed for several hours on the day of the announcement. Talk about popularity!
Media Coverage Phase 3: The Grand Opening in October
When communicating a radical departure from the traditional restaurant model — especially given a multi-month time lag, we knew repetition of the core elements would be key to prepare (and entice) potential patrons: Four diverse chefs dishing out deliciousness in this innovative, incubator environment.
December 14: Next Pittsburgh
Eat.Drink.Do. Smallman Galley adds four more reasons to visit the Strip
December 17: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Restaurant scene: Smallman Galley will nurture big ambition
December 18: CBS Pittsburgh
Restaurant Incubator Opens In The Strip This Weekend
December 18: Pittsburgh Business Times
Five things to know today, and a new food incubator opens in the Strip District
December 22: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Hatching new ideas: Smallman Galley food hall an incubator of 4 restaurants
December 23: Pittsburgh City Paper
The story behind Smallman Galley’s a broad and quirky beverage program
January 7: Pittsburgh Magazine
First Look: Smallman Galley
Should it have escaped your notice, dear reader, please note a certain time-lag. Did we place a two-month embargo on opening coverage in some bizarre ploy to depress attendance? No. As we anticipated, the opening had been delayed due to construction issues. While we were thrilled with the amount and quality of media attention, our initial reluctance to go big nationally was looking well-founded.
Media Coverage Phase 4: Pitch National
Armed with this slew of impressive third-party validation, and two months of capacity crowds, we turned to the national media. From the beginning we had our eye on the platinum standard of food and restaurant coverage: The New York Times. Its lively, deeply-reported Wednesday food section is must-read for foodies, industry professionals, and restaurant enthusiasts across the country; it truly sets the national food agenda.
Nearly a year to the day after the announcement of this new concept, the Times’ millions of online and print subscribers were treated to this beauty:
March 15: The New York Times
Pittsburgh’s Youth-Driven Food Boom
What we especially enjoy about this article is that it gives due attention to other restaurateurs in town, helping to further position the Pittsburgh region as a culinary leader. As one journalist who works for a prestigious national publication — and not-so- incidentally has been to Pittsburgh and loves it — told us, and this is almost a direct quote: “Every mid-sized city in the country is riding a wave of local, organic, and artisanal — what’s so different about Pittsburgh?”
She will soon be in town to see — and cover this story — for herself. We’re pleased to report that her article will join Eater (“The 13 Hottest New Restaurants in Pittsburgh Right Now”) and a host of other publications, websites, and media outlets sharing with their readers and viewers.
It will be new to them, but old news (by design) to Pittsburgh.