From Buzz to Brand Loyalty: Hospitality PR Unleashed


The hospitality industry is booming because Americans are eating out more than ever. The 2024 State of the Restaurant Industry report from The National Restaurant Association forecasts a record $1.1 trillion in sales for 2024. On average, our share of spending for restaurants is around 56%.

While we as a nation eat out more, we also have more choices. Fast Company said more than 10,600 restaurants opened in America from October 2022 through September 2023. And specific markets are red hot. During that time, there were 161 new restaurant openings in Atlanta, 191 in Milwaukee, and 189 in Las Vegas.  

The growth in these red-hot markets will continue. On Eater, there is an ever-growing list of restaurants expected to open in the Atlanta area in 2024. If you are a restaurant owner in Atlanta, your customers have hundreds more choices for dinner tonight than they did last year. This trend is also evident in other hospitality sectors, including accommodations and tourism.




To survive and thrive in this competitive market, savvy hospitality leaders invest in creative public relations (PR) campaigns that enhance their visibility, credibility, and reputation. PR is earned media. Strategic PR campaigns tailored to your hospitality company's unique strengths can differentiate your brand from your competitors, attract new customers, retain existing guests, and ensure long-term success. In short, PR can keep your brand relevant in a crowded market.


Addressing Pain Points with PR

When leveraged appropriately, PR campaigns influence several marketing issues many hospitality companies experience.


Brand Awareness

Your brand may struggle to stay top-of-mind in a market overrun by new competitors. PR can increase your visibility. It does this through media coverage, influencer partnerships, and strategic events. PR campaigns educate and remind the public about your unique offerings, initiatives, ethical practices, and community involvement. This kind of positive attention fosters goodwill and loyalty among existing and new guests, keeping you at the top of their favorites list.


Market Differentiation 

PR can help your restaurant or hotel stand out in a saturated market by highlighting your brand personality. PR allows you to create creative and persuasive narratives featuring your strengths, values, offerings, and competitive advantages. Tactics include authentic storytelling, community engagement, and interactive campaigns. The goal is to create a distinct identity that builds meaningful connections with your target audience and sets you apart from others in the market.




Brand Reputation

Strategic PR maintains and enhances your brand reputation by consistently communicating positive stories, addressing misconceptions, and showcasing your values, offerings, and commitment to quality. If you experience negative publicity or reviews, PR is crucial for crisis management. In those situations, PR addresses concerns transparently, makes amends as needed, and highlights positive aspects of your business to counterbalance negative perceptions.


Overall Sales

PR generates buzz, foot traffic, and media coverage. However, it may not generate increased sales on its own. PR should be paired with other marketing and advertising campaigns to increase sales in the short term. Over time, PR campaigns will increase visibility, credibility, and guest engagement, which can lead to business growth, including higher sales, market share, and guest loyalty.


Thought Leadership Positioning

If you or a leader in your company would like to step out as a "star" in your market, PR campaigns can highlight you as an industry expert. These campaigns may include article submissions, speaking engagements, educational webinars, and media interviews. Through the campaign, you will offer insightful commentary and analysis on industry trends, challenges, and developments. The goal is to elevate your brand's reputation as an authority and influence within the industry. Hoteliers and restaurant owners are the most common thought leaders in the hospitality industry.


Staff Retention and Recruitment

Positive PR can enhance your employer brand, making it an attractive place to work. Many hospitality professionals want to work where the buzz is. PR can support your staff retention and recruitment efforts, reduce turnover costs, and maintain your overall service quality.




Factors of a Successful Hospitality PR Campaign

The success of a hospitality PR campaign hinges on several key factors.


Clear Objectives

Clearly defining campaign goals is crucial to keeping everyone involved aligned. Defining clear goals should include the reasons why the goals are chosen, the metrics to measure, and the expectations about what success looks like.

When you establish goals and objectives at the start of the planning process, you are better equipped to create PR strategies to meet your goals. There’ll be less confusion about what will be measured, and goals will be more realistic.

For example, brand awareness could mean different things to different people within a company and within a market. You may feel your brand needs more awareness because a competitor is getting more media attention. In that case, success could be an increase in media stories. However, if you need more brand awareness because your brand is new to the market, your metric may be increased social media engagement or attendance at your launch event.

Remember that some business goals may require an integrated marketing campaign that includes more than PR. The campaign could also include traditional and digital marketing and advertising tactics that maximize reach and impact. These goals and metrics will be more detailed and varied.


Understand the Target Audience

Knowing your target audience's preferences, behaviors, and demographics is essential to tailor your messaging and tactics effectively. This increases the likelihood of capturing their attention and eliciting a positive response.

For example, price and convenience may be key benefits for customers of a family-style restaurant. But they are likely less important to customers of a high-end Michelin-starred restaurant. College students won’t be the target market for hotels charging a premium per night for a room, but honeymooners could be.




In addition, deep knowledge of your target audience lets you anticipate your guest’s behavior and concerns. You'll also be able to identify potential roadblocks or areas of interest. This allows for more strategic campaign planning and message positioning.

Young, trendy professionals may prefer to consume information through TikTok, while business owners may rely on LinkedIn. Some potential guests may read restaurant reviews on Yelp, others read online newspapers, and others rely on food bloggers. Knowing your target audience helps you select the most effective channels for reaching and engaging them.


Clear Brand Elements

A brand defines your business's identity, values, and personality. It is the foundation for your PR campaigns. Your brand guides PR strategy development, informs messaging, and drives engagement with target audiences. When you don't have brand fundamentals in place that are used consistently, the audience may develop an incorrect or inauthentic opinion of your brand.

To illustrate this gap, if your tone on social media is uplifting and fun, but your spokesperson is formal and dry, your audience won't know what to expect when interacting with your company. It's difficult to tell a memorable story without a cohesive, aligned brand.

Consistent and clear brand elements humanize your business, evoke empathy, and inspire interaction. As an example, a heritage hotel may use PR to share stories about its history and culture creating a sense of nostalgia and allure among potential guests.




When PR messages align with your brand, they also reinforce brand loyalty. For instance, a restaurant dedicated to sustainability could build campaigns highlighting its local providers and commitment to ethical sourcing to strengthen its brand identity.


Impactful Storytelling 

Stories create a deeper connection with your audience. The best PR campaigns tap into emotions like joy, empathy, or nostalgia that humanize a brand and resonate with a target audience. Engaging and authentic narratives can highlight unique aspects of your brand, such as its history, cuisine, amenities, or location. These stories capture your audience's attention by breaking through the clutter and noise in a busy marketplace.

Storytelling also lets you move beyond your features and benefits. You can use it to showcase your values, mission, and impact on the community. These narratives can reflect your brand's purpose and personality and build credibility and trust. To illustrate, a restaurant that values sustainability could pitch a story about its commitment to biodegradable food packaging. This would resonate with customers who are also interested in this topic.

Storytelling can also be viral. Notable stories are more likely to be shared across social media and word-of-mouth, amplifying the reach and influence of your PR campaigns. Creating shareable content engages your audience. It can extend your brand's influence and visibility.

This brings up an important point in the strategy of public relations. Successful PR involves more strategy than acquiring media hits.


PR is More than Media Coverage

PR can play a leading role in helping your brand rise above the competition by leveraging various strategies to enhance visibility, credibility, and reputation. Here are the PR strategies (including press coverage) that can make a difference.


Media Coverage

A successful PR campaign should include pitching captivating stories, press releases, or events to journalists and writers. Your pitches should have a distinct hook and highlight something unique about your brand. Pitches must be unforgettable and actionable to set your brand apart from the hundreds of pitches most writers receive daily.




Event Planning 

Events can be a compelling media pitch. Organizing events such as grand openings, culinary showcases, tastings, or fundraisers generates buzz for your brand. PR experts understand how to plan, promote, and execute events to ensure maximum attendance, memorable guest experiences, and outstanding media coverage.

Events are a prominent part of Shake Shack’s expansion marketing plan. The Phase 3 team led their Southeast expansion by planning openings and press opportunities for the Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville markets. Our launch events included opening party event planning and execution, creative promotional activations, sneak-peak pop-ups, and a VIP Housewarming soft-opening party benefiting a local charity.


Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement

PR can include building strategic partnerships. These are with local businesses, tourism boards, event organizers, or community organizations. The goal is to create cross-promotional opportunities through community engagement.

For example, your brand could build a PR campaign around a partnership with a nonprofit that aligns with your values and target audience. The campaign could include a fundraising event or your staff volunteering their time, with social media covering it all. A strategic partnership like this increases your brand exposure and enhances customer experiences.




Social Media Engagement

PR experts include social media strategies in every campaign. Establishing a strong presence on social media allows your brand to talk directly with customers. You can share captivating content and show your offerings. Engaging posts create connections and drive traffic to your establishment. They are a powerful way to improve and extend media coverage.


Influencer Partnerships

Collaborating with industry influencers, food bloggers, travel writers, and local personalities extends your reach to a broader audience and enhances credibility through authentic endorsements. PR experts can find the best influencers for your brand and campaign. They negotiate partnerships and arrange for sponsored content or influencer visits. These activities generate buzz and user-made content.

To generate awareness for the PGA TOUR Championship tournament, Phase 3 developed relationships with influencers to create buzz months in advance. They scheduled influencer tours at East Lake Golf Club and designed striking influencer kits that included items from the event sponsors. The awareness the influencers generated for the tournament was priceless.




Award Recognition 

Pursuing and winning industry awards or accolades can provide valuable third-party validation and differentiate your brand from competitors. Identify relevant award opportunities, prepare compelling submissions, and leverage any award wins to generate media attention and enhance your brand reputation.


A Comprehensive PR Campaign Case Study 

Phase 3 handled the opening of Ole Smoky’s Nashville distillery, 6th & Peabody, in 2019. The campaign included local, regional, and national media pitches and coordinating a VIP Party for media, celebrities, and local influencers. The team designed a one-of-a-kind digital press kit that told the client's exceptional story. The launch included local, regional, and national earned media coverage.




After that success, Phase 3 was named the company’s agency of record. In 2020, Ole Smoky Distilleries were the most visited worldwide, topping 4.5 million visitors. Shortly after, Ole Smoky received the "Hot Brand Award" from M. Shanken Communications. Phase 3 also managed the promotions and earned media coverage for multiple product launches, milestone events, more awards, and their nationwide support of the Friends of the Smokies organization.

Then, in 2021, Ole Smoky Distillery hosted First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and country singer Brad Paisley as part of the White House Administration's nationwide tour to protect Americans from COVID-19. Phase 3 managed on-site media relations, working with the press pool during the event, securing interviews, and managing photographers and reporters from several national news outlets, including the Associated Press, CNN, and The New York Times.




Our work with Ole Smoky Distillery continues today, and we look forward to seeing what other exciting launches, awards, and successes are to come.  

A cohesive PR campaign that leverages strategies tailored to your brand's unique strengths and objectives can effectively distinguish your company from others, attract consumer attention, drive customer engagement, and build long-term profitability. Campaigns like these require a partner who is well-versed in every aspect of a successful hospitality PR campaign.


The Phase 3 Difference 

Our experts have a strong background in both hospitality marketing and operations. This experience ensures that every idea we bring to clients is actionable and executable. We understand the rigors and demands of the industry. The goal is to create a memorable experience for your guests without overextending your team.

We do this by managing every aspect of a campaign, from ideation to execution. We’ll create the campaign. We’ll design the marketing materials and write the press and advertising copy. We’ll build the physical elements for events and engage journalists and influencers. Then, we’ll run the entire campaign and provide measurable results.

Our collaborative team uses traditional media relations, publicity writing, social media marketing, and influencer marketing to tell your story – keeping your audiences engaged and your brand elevated above the noise of competition. 

Here’s what Abigail Knoff, Senior Manager of Shake Shack, said about the Phase 3 team,

“Partnering with Phase 3 was like adding two people to our team in Nashville. We never had to worry about anything, big or small, getting done. They went above and beyond, thoroughly and effectively queueing us up for a strong market launch.”

Let’s work together. Contact us today to schedule a discovery call.