If you’re among my faithful readers (Otis, Ethel, how’s the goat farm?), you know that my fiancée and I dine out rather often. For me, a fine meal served in a lovely setting in the company of a loved one is among life’s greatest pleasures. It also often provides find fodder for PR ponderings.
Consider our recent visits to the “tres chic” VOLT restaurant in Frederick, MD, and the ever-popular MELTING POT in Towson (visits part of my week long recognition of my betrothed’s birthday…which reminds me of a PR concept, SPOTTING TRENDS, as I believe the trend in question is celebrating birthWEEKS versus birthDAYS…not that there’s anything wrong with that, more gifts, more eating out, more parties!).
These two restaurants serve as metaphors for two important public relations philosophies. Specifically…
VOLT is the perfect example of what it means to be TRENDY. Visit their website and you are invited to learn about their “philosophy.”
Philosophy? A place to get a sandwich and coffee has a PHILOSOPHY? Who’s in the kitchen, Kierkegaard?
Of course, that’s a trend right there. Every company nowadays wants you to know they are about something more than a buck. As Henry Ford, a PR pioneer himself, once said, “Business can’t just be a bonanza.” In other words, there’s more to life than profit. It’s important to have a mission, to MEAN something. And marketing research shows that companies that “give back,” “pay it forward,” “do community outreach,” “are green,” whatever, do better in the hearts and minds (and wallets) of the people than those that say, a la Vanderbilt, “The public be damned.” (Well, they might not say it OUT LOUD or post it on their corporate FACEBOOK site, but you know what I mean.)
Of course, another element of PR is that you can’t just have sizzle, you’ve got to have the steak. VOLT delivers both. In addition to offering a cultured, refined AMBIANCE, the food ain’t bad neither.
And here’s another PR concept coming to the fore. People are influenced much more by their emotions, by their feelings, more often than not, than their minds.
I once dated a woman who said, “Food is fuel.” By that mindset, dining in a place that charges $100 for lunch would seem illogical when you can fill up for less than 10% of that cost via the corner hot dog vendor.
But for those of us who view our mouths as something more than the entrance to a locomotive engine in which we’re dutifully shoveling “coal,” we dine out not merely for what’s on the plate but for what’s around us. To have a “nice time.” To share our favorite drink, which for my honey and I is a Kir Royale (which you will NOT find at the corner hotdog stand). VOLT makes a great one, btw, with the flavors of the sparkling wine and the Chambord perfectly balanced so that one flavor does not overcome the other, resulting in a brand NEW flavor—creating something that is more than the sum of its parts, that’s part of PR as well.
Case in point, The Melting Pot, where the whole is most definitely more than all the bit components. Your waitress, who is also sort of like your cook, provides (first course) some shredded cheddar, some beer, and a bit of olive oil, can’t recall all that went into the pot which heats up at your table creating a flavor and a taste experience that’s beyond just melted dairy product on a piece of broccoli.
The second course puts me even more in mind of PR since it involves work.
In essence, you cook your own meal. The pot is filled with a slowly boiling concoction of oils and spices in which you dunk your raw chicken, beef and shrimp. Using my iPhone stopwatch function, I was able to time out the cooking time for each piece. Since I’m a “well done” kind of guy, it took about twice as long as our server-cook said it would take.
So a meal at the Melting Pot can, like good PR, require PATIENCE. It requires EFFORT, and that’s a point many people who WANT PR but don’t know ANYTHING ABOUT IT often miss.
Public relations is a skill, a discipline, that involves constant education and re-education; practicing PR is like living a continuing education course that never ends. You have to stay on top of the trends, what’s happening, what’s changing? Not long ago, the most important tool in my PR arsenal was the FAX. Now, you find the fax machine in the Smithsonian, if you get my drift.
If you want the meal—the project, the campaign—to work out, it takes time, effort, planning. You want to be able to eat a chunk of your beef with a piece of your shrimp for a nice surf-and-turf flavor, you’ve got to time out the cooking so they’re both done at the same time. You want the news story about your new building expansion to come out at the same time as an editorial and your company’s promotional TV commercial, that involves planning, preparation—EFFORT.
PR doesn’t just “happen.” I’m reminded of a favorite bit of dialogue from the play/movie, THE ODD COUPLE regards how best to keep a meatloaf moist…
OSCAR: Can't you keep it warm?
FELIX: Who the hell do you think I am, the Magic Chef? I'm lucky I got it to come out at eight o'clock. Wh-wh-what am I gonna do?
OSCAR: I dunno, keep pouring gravy on it.
FELIX: Gravy? What gravy?
OSCAR: Don't you have any gravy?
FELIX: Where the hell am I gonna get gravy at eight o'clock?
OSCAR: I dunno, I though it comes when you cook the meat.
FELIX: You don't know what you're talking about, Oscar. You just don't know, because you have to MAKE gravy, it doesn't come!
You have to “make” public relations—it involves research, planning, strategy, tactics. It involves meetings, way-too-often politics, a heavy dose of psychology, and perhaps most importantly, a BUDGET. It involves INPUT from the client. It doesn’t just “come.” Have always been amazed at how people with graduate degrees, went to Harvard, whatever, don’t get that.
Anyway, all this came to mind while eating meals at VOLT and The Melting Pot. And so it goes…