Public relations: a basic guide

14 August 2002 by
Public relations: a basic guide

Public relations, or PR as it is universally referred to, is an important part of the marketing mix.

So what is it exactly?

Put simply, for a hospitality business, it's about how you communicate with your existing customers and those you have identified as future customers. It's usually about getting editorial coverage in newspapers or magazines, on radio or television, as opposed to placing a paid-for advertisment.

Marketing textbooks define PR as:

  • The projection of the personality of a company or organisation
  • Structured, planned, communication between you (the organisation) and the audience you have identified as critical to your success
  • Activity that creates favourable attitudes among key audiences
  • Activities that build good relations with audiences, attempting to change incorrect opinions and reinforce positive or correct ones.

PR is particularly effective for communicating specific promotions, projecting the benefit of a particular programme or product. Although more time-consuming than paying for an advertisement, editorial copy in whatever medium is many times more believable that an advert.

Three golden rules before you start

1. Agree that your business is in sufficiently good shape to benefit from greater exposure. Your plans depend entirely on the value for money and consistency of your product. If you go down the road of a PR plan in order to salvage a poor business or paper over the cracks, then you are exposing yourself in a public arena to further criticism.

2. Know your product but understand what your customers want from you. Often businesses are too wrapped up in themselves to deliver what the customer wants. You can't press the right PR buttons if you are inward-looking, running a business around your own needs.

3. Define your audience. Who do you want to reach? Do you want more of what you have, or a new market? How have you arrived at that decision? By researching the average spend per head of your target audience? By researching the competition? By knowing the demographics of your catchment area? Seek ideas from your team and then make sure you stay focused on your objectives.

How to put together your PR plan

Once you have agreed who you want to reach, then you can shape your PR plan:

Step One

What are your PR needs? Can you place them in different categories and order them by time of the year and by season? Create a monthly chart with no more than two actions in each month. For instance, in January you may aim to drum up press coverage for your Valentine's Day activities, in May you may want to promote what you are doing for Father's Day (which is in June). If you are opening a new restaurant, you could start work on promoting it to the media two months in advance. In October or November, you could work up a story about part-time recruitment to cover the Christmas period.

Step Two

Step Three

Don't skimp on the research. Call each of your chosen media targets and check you are contacting the correct person. Think how your month-by-month plan could interest the news editor, features editor, women's editor, gossip columnist, travel editor or business editor of the same paper.

Step Four

Build relationships with your chosen contacts. Drop them a personal line. Invite them to experience your restaurant or hotel. Remember that hospitality businesses have something exciting to sell - the so-called "wow factor". Pity the poor guy trying to do this for a widget manufacturer.

Getting the message across

Once you are clear about the message you want to get over, writing a press release or invitation is simpler than you think. Start with a simple, eye-catching opening sentence that goes to the heart of what you want to say. Keep it to three lines at the most, then move to the next paragraph.

Use one-and-a-half spaces between lines and double spacing between paragraphs. Keep the text short but informative and include an indented quote in the middle. Keep the release to one page, or two at most. Always end with a short, punchy sentence, followed by a name and telephone number. If you are sending the release out on a Monday, make sure you are around on Tuesday and Wednesday. Call your contacts to let them know it is coming.

If you believe the story is worth a photograph, arrange this yourself. It's rare these days for newspapers to send photographers to attend local functions. Ask your contact if they would like a photograph.

Don't upset three local papers and radio stations by offering a story to someone exclusively - unless there are tremendous benefits to you, or it only fits that particular medium. For example, a new female chef may make a great article for the women's editor of a local regional daily paper which would not necessarily fit local radio or a weekly paper.

Above all, build relationships

A menu of ideas

When building your calendar of events, here are some ideas to throw in:

FESTIVITIES - Easter, Christmas, New Year. Run a Christmas staff training programme in July with all the trimmings and invite the press. It's a great way to promote your packages.

CELEBRATIONS - Father's Day. On each table is a small helium balloon with a basket. In the basket is a present for dad, but one of the baskets holds the winning key to a hot-air balloon ride. Think up a similar idea for Mother's Day.

NATIONAL SPORTS EVENTS - Themed lunches for Ascot, Wimbledon and the Grand National, with large-screen television.

CHEFS - Chefs make great editorial. Invite the press to new menu tastings. Create mini versions of all the dishes.

DRINK - Journalists love a drink. Invite them to a tasting in the wine cellar.

AWARDS - Encourage the kitchen brigade to enter competitions. Announce awards. Invite journalists to work alongside the chef.

LOCAL RADIO SLOTS - Discuss with the local radio station if they would like your chef to have a weekly slot on a consumer food and drink programme.

TRAINING - People make good editorial. Be proud of your training programmes. Your staff will appreciate the recognition and your customers will value your investment.

JOINT PROMOTIONS - Create exciting promotions, giving away free meals or overnight stays in association with a newspaper or magazine. The benefits far outweigh the cost. Ask for copies of all the competition entries to build your own database.


  • Make sure your business is in good shape
  • Know your product and most of all know what its benefits are for your customers
  • Define your audience
  • Place actions against needs by month
  • Build your media contacts by name
  • Build relationships
  • Keep press releases simple and eye-catching
  • Plan well ahead
  • Be creative

by Stuart Harrison
Stuart Harrison, formerly managing director of brands and franchising at Premier Hotels, now runs his own consultancy, the Profitable Hotel Company. He is also a visiting fellow of Oxford Brookes University.


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