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Trend Watch: Leave it to PR

Seafood companies turn to public relations for marketing strategies

By Lauren Kramer
June 01, 2007

Public relations produces marketing results that are difficult to quantify. How do you measure buzz, and the power of consumer awareness? And what if it doesn't immediately translate into more diners in your restaurant, or more sales of your seafood products? These are questions many companies have struggled with as they attempt to justify PR within marketing budgets.

The results of PR campaigns can be subtle, while some are not so subtle. For example, Aaron Allen, CEO of the Quantified Marketing Group in Orlando, Fla., recently launched a media campaign to announce that Señor Frog's, Mexico's largest restaurant chain, was entering the U.S. market. The PR company received a number of press 
hits as a result, and ultimately achieved national coverage for the restaurant in a two-page Forbes magazine feature.

"An investor saw the article, called the company and invested $13 million in it, within a very short time," says Allen. "Yet it would have been impossible to quantify the actual value of that feature in Forbes .

"Through advertising alone, we could never have generated such broad and favorable exposure for Señor Frog's," he continues. "With just one unit in the [United States], the restaurant is a well-recognized brand nationally."

Overall, PR has been an underused marketing strategy for restaurants, according to Allen, who estimates that less than 5 percent of a company's marketing budget goes toward PR. "We recommend that 15 to 20 percent of their total marketing budget be allocated toward PR, because this vehicle has much more credibility than advertising does," he says.

The Council of Public Relations Firms estimates the industry grew 13 percent in 2006, while a September 2006 report by Veronis Shuler Stevenson, a media industry-focused private equity firm, estimates the annual North American PR business to be about $4 billion.

"Public relations is on the increase, and the reason is that there's so much fragmented media right now, so many different vehicles to convey your message," says Allen.

Slade Gorton & Co. of Boston invests up to 30 percent of its annual marketing budget in PR, an amount that will increase over time, says company President Kim Gorton. "We've found PR to be one of the better vehicles for marketing our company," she says.

"I think it lends itself to greater objectivity, or the perception thereof. Positive articles about us in the media have been a tremendous vehicle to help open the door to discussions, because when you see a great story about a company, you think, 'There's someone we should be doing business with.' If a prospective trading partner has read about you in an article relating to other trading partners, it eliminates a lot of concerns they might have right away."

Last year Slade Gorton hired the PR representation of Wanger Associates to help the previously low-profile company achieve visibility in the media.

"We've been developing story ideas for journalists covering the seafood industry, including writers at BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal, as well as the important industry trades," says Barry Wanger, president of the Boston PR agency. 

"An important aspect of media relations is to develop and cultivate relationships with reporters and editors at different trade publications so that when journalists need an industry expert, they'll know they can rely on us to provide the individual they need."

Wanger also launched a PR campaign to promote Slade Gorton's partnership with a Venezuelan company that produces farm-raised, head-on shrimp.

"This was a major new initiative for the company so, as part of our campaign, we prepared stories announcing the partnership and the significance of the venture," he says.

The story was designed to position Slade Gorton as a leading distributor of head-on shrimp in the U.S. market, increase the company's visibility in the growing ethnic market and emphasize its commitment to product quality, year-round availability and economic integrity, Wanger says.

Quantifying those results is difficult, says Wanger. "In some cases, you can trace a sale, for example a story on head-on shrimp in a trade magazine that generated a new customer. But what media relations does is give you credibility by way of a third-party endorsement. People start seeing your name more often, and for Slade Gorton, as experts in the field developing major initiatives, it has a very positive impact on the company image."

John Sawyer, senior VP of sales and marketing for Chicken of the Sea International, has employed the PR services of Nuffer Smith Tucker in San Diego since 2000, though the company has used PR activities since it began in 1914. "Through public relations activities, we are able to communicate directly with our target audiences - mainly women who are household decision makers - in a cost-efficient way," he says.

One example of how this is achieved is Chicken of the Sea's Mermaid Club, an online affinity club of about 104,000 members.

"The club was created in conjunction with our PR agency and has an increasing membership largely supported by PR efforts," Sawyer says. "It allows us to build relationships by communicating with our members through our monthly Mermaid Memo and our quarterly recipe blasts. But we also rely on our members for input on everything from new products to our television commercials.

"At its core, public relations is about building long-term relationships, and the Mermaid Club is a perfect example of how we are doing this," he continues. "Our public relations strategies tie in both on-line and off-line tactics that work together to support our brand. And we've been able to correlate PR efforts with an increase in sales."

Don't underestimate the credibility in your business stimulated through media interest, he cautions. And when you're ready to choose a PR firm to gain that credibility, be sure you find someone that has knowledge about your industry, rather than a generalist PR firm.

"Public relations can be a great tool to support any company," concurs Sawyer. "When selecting an agency, it's important to find one that understands your business, 
its vision and your organizational culture."


Contributing Editor Lauren Kra m er lives in British Columbia


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