David Semanoff is a hospitality PR professional with over 15 years of experience leading PR efforts for restaurants, chefs, bars, spirit brands, cookbook authors, hotels and resorts. He’s worked with culinary personalities such as Sarah Grueneberg, Tony Mantuano, Jonathan Waxman, Lior Lev Sercarz and Katie Parla; launched the 1 Hotels brand and the opening of The Hoxton, Chicago; and delved into spirits with Fords Gin and Shōshin Art Club, among other individuals and brands. Semanoff launched his one-man shop DJS Hospitality Consulting (DJSHC) in March 2012.
Recently, we spoke with David to learn what food and beverage makers should do when plotting out their media strategy, whether they are just launching their product or seeking new ways to drum attention for an existing product line. Here’s what David had to say:
How did you get started working with food and beverage brands?
I specialize in hospitality PR, working with chefs, restaurants, bars, spirits brands, hotels and more. When I was first starting out, I was working with Chef Tony Mantuano who was the partner of Chicago’s Spiaggia (at the time). Through working with him, I ended up meeting various creators across the F&B spectrum – cheese, balsamic, vintners, pasta, water, snacks, sweets, etc. I’ve been able to become friends with most, work with some, and then find ways to collaborate with others over the years.
What do you love about this space?
What I love about food and beverage is the fun and quirky community it is. All this creativity wouldn’t be possible if everyone approached life the same way. While the space can be segmented (makers with makers, chefs with chefs, bartenders with bartenders, etc.), they almost always overlap and your little community expands. There are so many creative people you get to meet and end up collaborating with. The community understands how much of a hustle it is to make it the food and beverage world that I admire how everyone really tries to help each other out.
What are some of the trends you are seeing these days as people start to ditch their pandemic habits?
This one is tough as I think everyone’s habits changed so much during the pandemic. We’re all still trying to figure out what habits we want to keep, stop or improve. I do think that we’ve all come to realize the importance of small business and how vital it is that we support the start-ups, the neighborhood spots, and all the new companies born out of the pandemic.
With that said, healthy snacks will continue to rise and gain popularity. Many of us started to navigate what we “should” be snacking on when at home 24/7 and that sector will only grow. RTD cocktails are almost at their tipping point, but that area will only expand as the bigger brands start to get into the action.
Lastly, we’ll see more of the curated food/wine/(plant/design/objects) stores in 2021 and beyond – this one is exciting as they’ll always be looking to include newer, local brands that are just to market.
For a maker that’s just starting out, what should their media strategy entail?
If you’re just starting out there a few things to consider.
Get your messaging down. Write 1-2 quick sentences about your product/business that gives media/investors/distributors/consumers a quick overview of who you are and hopefully get their ears perking up. We all love a heartwarming story but the days of four to five paragraphs about your company on your website are gone.
Then, get your message out. It’s always great to start with local media when your business is getting off the ground. You may want to go BIG right away with a national trade or consumer outlet. However, it’s important to engage with your local newspapers, websites, TV stations, etc. They’ll be your biggest champions as you start the PR journey and it will be good when national media Google you and they see how much the local community is on your side.
Photos. While this can be a costly expense in the beginning, getting good product, lifestyle and founder shots will go a long way. Even with established brands, if you don’t have good photos, your opportunities for coverage are less. Online outlets love horizontal/landscape photos too as they are a better fit for their layouts (and slideshow stories). To find a photographer, I would ask your community of friends, look at local media outlets and see who is shooting the photos you like and even turn to Instagram to see if any of the photographer “influencers” also shoot on the side as some of them are just starting out and are more affordable.
Google It. It’s all about research. Just like the R&D you put into your company, you’ll need to put some time and research into the media landscape and finding the right journalists to talk to. You can email the general “contact us” email for most sites but the bigger they are, the more unlikely they will respond. That’s when you get creative.
Start to research the outlet and what journalists are covering your type of product, small business stories, entrepreneurship, etc. (pending the story angle and what you’re looking for). You’ll start to see the same name writing stories you like and ones that may fit your product for the future. Then, Google, Google, Google. A lot of freelancers will have a website with their email, put them in their Instagram or Twitter profile or if you Google “First Name Last Name” + email, you can find a lot!
Many local outlets will list their masthead (titles of the staff) online and you might find the editor there to reach out to. If you have trouble figuring out an outlet’s email format, click around on the media kit to see how their advertising contacts are formatted and often enough it’s the same for the editorial side. (Quick note, never email a journalist who just wrote a story your product would be perfect for and say “Can you add me into this story?” Instead start the relationship. “Hi! I saw this story and wanted to reach out as I just launched XYZ. Would love for you to consider us if you end up doing any similar stories in the future.”)
Be patient and have honest conversations. Understanding how PR works is knowing that it takes time to get the results you want. You can reach out to a journalist and a story could happen in a week or it could take a year. It’s hard not to get discouraged but be patient, yet persistent, and the results will come. At the same time, you need to be honest with yourself and your offering. You may think you have the next great item for “The O List” – and you might – but it’s rare that will happen at launch. Set the right expectations for you and your product and you won’t be going “I HATE PR, WHAT A SHAM!”
Product. Be sure to have enough product built into the budget for gifting for press samples and other influencers (and this doesn’t have to be Instagram influencers but the GM at a store you want to be in, a friend of a friend who knows the rights investors, etc…). You do not need to send the product to EVERYONE, but you will send more than you think. Oh, and never send product to media unsolicited. Get the OK first before sending and don’t forget that handwritten note.