Michael Shawn McCabe was featured on the US Bank BusinessWatch (aired on Local12 WKRC) presented by the Cincinnati Business Courierdiscussing the American Business Journal cover story “Is there P.R. in that?” and the accompanying local cover story “Cincinnati restaurants get creative with their marketing efforts”.

American Business Journal May 2019 Cover Story: The secret ingredient: Should restaurants hire another manager or pay for PR?

Cincinnati Business Courier May 2019 Cover Story: Read article

Cincinnati restaurants get creative with their marketing efforts 

By Andy Brownfield – Reporter, Cincinnati Business Courier
May 17, 2019, 5:00am EDT Updated May 17, 2019, 6:00am EDT

The 2019 Kentucky Derby captured headlines when the apparent winner, Maximum Security, was stripped of its title for interfering with other horses. It was an unprecedented move in the 145-year-old race’s history.

Lost in the national narrative – but not to one local restaurateur – was a bit of restaurant marketing. The runner-up and eventual winner, Code of Honor, was jockeyed by John Velazquez, who was wearing pants emblazoned with the logo “Jeff Ruby Steakhouses.”

In fact, six jockeys were wearing the pants that day. Ruby has sponsored jockeys since 2012, and five of the last seven Triple Crown winners wore his pants. Ruby doesn’t disclose how much he spends on the marketing, but Apex Marketing, a St. Clair, Mich., firm, puts the return from the sponsorship well into the seven figures. It estimated Ruby’s sponsorship of Velazquez in 2017 – when his horse, Justified, won the Derby – was worth $1.2 million in exposure.

“It’s putting a message and brand out there in an unusual and unexpected place, but based on targeted research and instinct,” said Ben Stallard, chief marketing officer for Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment.

Cincinnati restaurants are competing with a widening pool of available options for diners. More than 153 restaurants opened here since 2016, according to Courier research, so restaurateurs are having to get creative or targeted with their marketing to rise above the noise.

“What no longer works is the scattered approach of be on the billboards, be in the magazines, be everywhere on social,” said Michael Shawn McCabe, owner of downtown restaurant marketing firm McCabe Media. “The people filling their seats are picking a platform or a small combination of platforms and winning at those platforms.”

For one client, Trotta’s Steak & Seafood in Dayton, Ky., he’s eliminated print advertising and expensive local one-off sponsorships. Rather, the restaurant has focused that spend on Facebook.

While many restaurants will advertise their daily features in Facebook posts and then spend money “boosting” those posts so they get in front of more people, McCabe creates events that take advantage of the social network’s algorithm and show up with more frequency than other posts.

Those events are supported with weekly picture-based texts and matching emails to loyal customers, along with coordinated messages to Facebook followers. All-in-all, Trotta’s has seen a 30% increase in business in the last eight months.

Different restaurants have different needs from their marketing as well as different methods to achieve them. Micah Paldino is the founder of the Fallon Thatcher agency in Cincinnati and works with restaurants like Please in Over-the-Rhine and the Metropole in the 21c Museum Hotel downtown.

He said most of his clients need the same thing, but the allocation of media tactics depend on the restaurant.

“For hospitality restaurants like Metropole or Please, we’re looking at ways to get their names out to the national scene because there’s a lot of craft and knowledge being put into their cuisine,” Paldino said. “They’re worthy of getting national attention, and that plumps up our Queen City message of how our scene is booming.”

Please’s chef Ryan Santos has cooked at the James Beard house and gotten mentions in national publications like Food & Wine Magazine, Dwell and Bon Appetit. That not only helps put Cincinnati on the map, but it can be leveraged in local media to draw dinner patrons through the front door.

Metropole has also launched new events that are not typical of restaurant brands, like a slick, elegant annual Halloween party or its first-ever New Year’s Eve party. Those draw up to 1,500 guests per night, introducing them to the restaurant itself and hopefully leaving an impression that will make people want to come back for dinner service.

In the end, though, restaurants are really only as good as the food they put out, Paldino said. No amount of clever marketing or flashy events can cover up mediocre cuisine.

“I tell my clients I’m like Moses – I part the Red Sea for you, and it’s up to you to close the deal,” Paldino said. “It’s up to the chef and your team to deliver.”