From Local Attention to National Acclaim for Smallman Galley

From Local Attention to National Acclaim for Smallman Galley

Communications Media Relations Shift News

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.

Coverage Mapping

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.

Latest Addition to the Shift Team

Shift News

We (Eric and Sarah) recently sat down to talk with Tim Colbert, the latest addition to the growing Shift Team. Our new Public Relations Director is returning to his adopted hometown after 10 years in New York City, where he worked as a director (and award-winning video producer) at a global Business-to-Business marketing and public relations firm advising industrial manufacturers on branding, business development, and media relations.

His most recent venture, TC Communication LLC, embraced a blend of corporate and local businesses clients.

The transcript has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity and, we hope, interest.

Welcome aboard! Tell us a bit about yourself.

tim-colbertI was born in Cleveland (don’t worry my family is from Western PA and I inherited the Steelers-fan gene), attended Duquesne University, and worked in the non-profit sector for many years, including very happy and productive tours of duty in PR and marketing at Pittsburgh Public Theater, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Pittsburgh Opera, and Phipps Conservatory. World-class organizations I am proud to have been associated with.

Then, in a complete change of pace, I took the plunge — and my chances — in New York, where I first worked for a boutique agency specializing in modern dance (Alvin Ailey and Merce Cunningham were clients), classical music groups, and theater companies. It was an eye-opener.

How so?

The competition for coverage was unlike anything I had experienced earlier in my career. The agency was extremely well connected and we still spent hours every week just making sure that our clients got into the listings sections, let alone developing the long-lead pitches to generate favorable feature coverage. It was a whole new game. It forced me, in retrospect, to toughen up in that very tough environment; fools were not suffered gladly.

So how did you end up at a global B2B firm?

Professionally you need to stretch and challenge yourself. There was an entire world out there I was hungry to learn about – the ways of corporate America, the manner in which innovation is nurtured and harnessed to develop new products, hot to generate big coverage with international trade media; these were all very, very green fields. I was fortunate to work my way up the ladder and lead global accounts in the plastics, chemicals, and printing industries for multi-billion dollar Fortune 500 companies.

We achieved great success because (A) I had smart and ambitious people working with me who were never satisfied with the status quo; we pushed one another very hard and (B) this sounds counter-intuitive, but my background in non-profit was the best secret weapon you could imagine.

The virtues I learned in Pittsburgh’s non-profit community served me extremely well in New York: innovation, creativity, collaboration.  Look at this way, if you’ve spent your entire career working for large companies or in one industry then the all-too-human tendency is to stick with the tried and true, be it in business development, branding, or your external-facing communications.

So if anything I brought a different world view and drastically different set of skill-sets than those large industrial clients were used to seeing. And it worked out very well.

That sounds like a difficult transition?

The difference between promoting a new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to pushing performance additives for transportation coatings (what civilians call “Car Paint”) isn’t as much of a stretch as you’d think —  Good PR is Good PR. Develop a strong value proposition, make sure you’re telling a good story, and get the word out in a timely fashion to the right people in cost-effective and efficacious ways.

And I don’t need to tell you both that the Social, Local, Mobile era provides opportunities and challenges for clients in lots of different spaces.

So why the return to Pittsburgh? And why Shift?

It was seeing all the coverage of that big duck. I wanted in on the duck action (laughter).

It’s pretty simple: I do my best work when I work with smart people who have a passion for this business. I’m referring to both of you of course. And while you are both very nice, you also have edge. As an entrepreneur myself,  I know what it takes to start a business and run a small business. It’s exhilarating, terrifying, and gratifying…and all before noon.

Two, you put the clients first. This is the key thing for me. As entrepreneurs and as veterans of the non-profit space you both have the experience and the feel for the challenges they face. And as a result Shift brings all that to bear on how to best strategize and execute on their behalf. You’ve lived it and it’s to their benefit.

But edge is important. It keeps you nimble and keeps you creative. It doesn’t mean you become “edgy” in interpersonal dealings. It is an awfully powerful furnace that keeps generating the heat of fresh thinking.

Won’t you miss New York — The Edge Capital?

I’m really going to miss my friends and neighbors. But I will be in and out of town depending on what sort of media coverage we need to generate in New York; I have many couches on which to surf.

But as within any small ecosystem here’s the one thing I won’t miss and why I’m so happy to be joining Shift: Client Focus.

Not to be Pollyanish about this, and indeed every agency publicly trumpets their clients, but I think the competitiveness for plum jobs in the NYC market breeds far too many agencies and agency people to focus on the wrong things. Too many are obsessed with producing work that gets them buzz and recognition but doesn’t truly address what the clients actually need to be successful. When your audience is other agency people the client is inevitably short-changed.

This business needs to be about developing the long-term relationships and producing the superior work that enables clients to meet their objectives. Too often I have found that it’s about furthering an individual’s professional aspirations. That borders on malpractice in my opinion.

What can our clients expect you to bring to Shift?

In the same way that my Pittsburgh non-profit experience benefited these enormous corporate entities, my expertise in communicating value across global supply chains equips me with a respect for the metrics, processes, and rigor required for client success.

My perspective is different, and I believe that adopting some corporate best practices will ultimately help our clients grow and meet their goals. I don’t judge a corporate path versus a non-profit path — both have value and both sectors have important lessons for each other. In that respect I’m sort of a translator between these two worlds.

I’m also obsessed with the power of the story. Every organization and every entrepreneur has a great story to tell — sometimes it’s pretty obvious (“This cures Halitosis!”) but it usually requires some digging and finesse. Get the story right, compellingly and consistently communicate it across the right channels to the right publics, and evaluate. Keep it simple and the clients benefit.

What are you most looking forward to?

Personally, it’s all about reconnecting with so many old friends and colleagues and members of the media — and not being one of just a few people dressed in black and gold on Steeler Sundays.

Professionally, I am thrilled to collaborate with the smart Shift People and start busting my ass on behalf of our clients. They count on us to deliver great value and results. That’s where my focus rightly is.

Welcome Tim! We are excited to have you on board.  You can email Tim at tim[@]