Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chef PR Tips- An interview with Traca Savadogo

More people are becoming chefs and more chefs are getting press than ever before, so I thought I would re run this helpful interview with PR tips from the one and only Seattle Tall Poppy herself.

Ask and you shall receive. That is what happened when I asked the delightful @SeattleTallPopp if she would like to be a guest here on the blog. This is a great interview, as Traca answers my questions with honesty and wit. Read the interview and for more on Traca, see her bio below!

Luna Raven: How do you recommend chef's best utilize social media? (twitter, facebook etc (do you have a preference?)

Traca Savadogo: Social media for marketing purposes is tough and I think in many ways, we’re still trying to determine its role.

For me, I’d say the best use of social media—whichever medium you use--is to make it experiential. Give the reader an insiders’ look at your operation. Thanks to the Food Network, now the public is very interested in what goes on behind the scenes in restaurants. Give your audience a look. Bring them along for the journey.

I’m a big fan of Twitter, as opposed to Facebook. With Twitter, you have the opportunity for a broader audience. Anyone in the Twitter sphere can follow you—they don’t need to ask for permission and you don’t need a mutual friend. It’s more transparent than Facebook, which is great! You never know where that next opportunity will come from. In my opinion, Twitter opens the door for a more diverse audience, and as a result, a wider range of possibilities.

Chefs who utilize social media well? On Twitter, I’d take a look at Rick Bayless (@Rick_Bayless), Jamie Oliver (@jaime_oliver), Grant Achatz(@Gachatz) and Dana Cree (@deensie).
Dana is a Rising Star Chef who runs the pastry side of Poppy. I especially love Dana’s use of social media. She talks about what’s in season, changes on the menu, ingredients she’s working with, or issues she’s having obtaining favorite ingredients. For example, on Twitter, she said “Fireweed honey in low production these days. Fireweed is first to come up after logging, and not as much of that going on in public land.” I work in the business…and yet, I’m fascinated by her posts!

Rick Bayless is another chef I really enjoy reading on Twitter. He shares photographs from the line, new menu items, etc. It’s an interesting read…and it doesn’t come across as self-promotional. With Rick and the others, you really get a sense of what their daily life is like and I find that intriguing. I’ve never met Rick Bayless but you can bet, next time I’m in Chicago, I’m making a beeline for one of his restaurants! That’s the power of social media.

Used properly, social media can help develop customer loyalty, generate interest, and educate your readership. On the opposite end of the spectrum, poor use of social media can alienate your audience, resulting in serious negative consequences. It’s a tricky balance.

What’s the benchmark for using social media? Enlighten and educate your readers. Aim for substance. (And no, I’m not talking about your latest happy hour promotion.)

LR: How important is it to follow trends?
TS: I think it’s important for PR to follow trends. Be aware of the trends, certainly. But understand that not every trend is a right fit for you, your client, or your objective.

In trendspotting, they segment the population into three categories…early adopters, mainstream (critical mass) and late adopters. By nature, I’m not an early adopter. I’d rather take the time necessary to identify where something is going before I jump on a trend--especially with social media. I’ve seen chefs make colossal asses out of themselves by not using it in a meaningful way. Then it’s a giant headache trying to regain credibility. And frankly, once you head into that negative space, people never forget it.

For example, a local restaurant set up a Twitter account and gave one of their employees access. Things were moving along fine. They had a solid readership, consistent updates, etc. Things went downhill when a publication printed a less-than-favorable review of the restaurant. That employee—operating under the banner of the restaurant—took the reviewer to task…ON TWITTER! He called the review out, saying her “name should be banned in eight states.”

Talk about a nightmare!

I learned about the fiasco from someone on the James Beard nominating committee: “Did you see what’s happening with (that restaurant) on Twitter????”

It was an absolute nightmare and all I could think was, “Thank God that’s not one of my clients!”

LR: Steps to avoid?
TS: See above

LR: When is the best time to promote self?
TS:Good question. My philosophy is that old adage: slow and steady wins the race.

Self-promotion often comes across as clumsy and insincere. My best advice: In lieu of self-promotion, spend more time honing your skills. If you’re talented, people will find you. And once your star starts to rise, things move very quickly. At that point, you don’t have time to track back and figure out how to bring your ‘A’ game. It’s best to hone that in obscurity.

Before you e-mail/tweet/or make entries on Facebook, remember this is your image, which is connected to your livelihood. Think before you press “send.”

And for me, trust is paramount. Never let anyone doubt the fact that you’re a credible (re)source.

LR: What are the best connections to make in the food industry?
TS: Best connections in the food industry? That depends on what you’re trying to do. There are a number of organizations worth looking into, but how useful they are…is relative to the goal you have in mind.

The food business can be very compartmentalized. Wine people don’t necessarily bond with beer people. Beer people don’t necessarily associate with cocktail people. Baking is very different from cooking. Chocolatiers are different than candy makers. Each craft is supported by specialty organizations. If you have a client with a specialty, it behooves you to investigate their trade organizations.

For me, I’d say the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) is the most important first step. They have an annual conference that is extremely valuable. Both the training sessions and the networking are, for me, unparalleled. Even if you’re working on the local level, it’s important to understand how all the pieces of the food business fit together. Without a doubt, the IACP conference was a launching pad for my career.

I’d say if you’re new, or on the rise, attend everything you can. Eventually it will come back to you. You’ll gain an understanding of how the various events and/or organizations work and make a ton of contacts. And when you attend an event, remember: it’s work. You can’t be a wall flower. Your job is to meet people and make connections. The wine may be flowing, but this is work, and it’s important to treat it as such.

LR: What is the future for chef's and PR?
TS: Personally, I think it’s extremely valuable for a chef to have PR. As a chef, you’re busy managing staff, working on menu development, and growing your business. There’s an art to being a chef. And there’s an art to PR. And they’re very different skills.

Good PR relieves the burden of self-promotion, helps manage the avalanche of media inquiries and keeps things on task. Because PR representatives attend a number of events, they are also attuned to new opportunities—a new editor at x,y,z, television spots, etc.

If the chef’s career has stalled or his public image has grown stale, PR can also help revive that chef’s career. Too often, a chef is in the limelight the minute they open a restaurant. They’re the darling of the media and get tons of coverage. Two years later? For many chefs, they find themselves operating in relative obscurity.

The question is, once you’ve got that spot in the limelight…how do you keep it? Good PR makes sure the chef never slips into obscurity.

LR: What is the most powerful thing a chef can do to promote/establish themselves?

TS:Operate from a place of honor.

Let’s face it, the food community is very small and people move around a lot. Fuck people over and it will come back to haunt you. From your staff to suppliers to the media, I’m here to tell you…we all talk to each other.

Opportunity is knocking on my door all the time. Whether I think of you for that big opportunity, depends on how reliable you are, whether you’re trustworthy. If I endorse you, my reputation is at stake. I’m not going to risk that for some slime ball chef who takes stupid shortcuts.

The truth is, there are a ton of great people doing amazing work…and I’ll move heaven and earth for them. I’d rather take a chance on an up-and-comer, than risk working with a chef who is just out there to make a name for himself.
In this business, humility goes a long way. I’ll take someone who exhibits pride in their work...over ego, any day.

Biggest lesson:
No one ever forgets good manners: Be gracious. Say you’re sorry. And most important: Thank people, liberally.

People don’t “make it” in a vacuum. There are a number of players who help you look good. Be kind to everyone. Whether their actions are obvious to you or not, the most unassuming person may have a hand in your fate. My personal motto: Thank everyone you can think of.

My most valuable resources:
Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty by Harvey McKay
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Websites for Inspiration
Seth Godin
Idea Sandbox by Paul Williams

International Association of Culinary Professionals

Not-to-Miss Events
International Association of Culinary Professionals Annual Conference
Worlds of Flavor at the Culinary Institute of America (Napa Valley, CA)

Traca in her own words:

Food is my true north…. I worked front of the house in restaurants and slung espresso for a number of years, then I moved on to other endeavors (small business finance & publishing). When I wasn’t directly involved in food, I spent my free time taking cooking classes and delving deep into cookbooks. Ultimately, it was a series of conversations with a chef that brought me back to food as a career.

I am Seattle-based and specialize in culinary PR. The food industry is very broad, which provides a diverse range of opportunities. My clients have run the gamut: chefs, authors, bloggers, TV personalities, cooking schools, products and events.

Traca on Twitter:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Traca and Luna's Kitchen Magic for an insightful interview.


Got something to say? Please feel free to share your thoughts!