Look beyond paid advertising by marketing yourself wisely
By  Gary Midge

Newspaper ads –– expensive. Broadcast ads –– astronomical. Public image –– priceless.
Sure, donations and ad campaigns might buy pseudo-image. Genuine image, though, is not for sale. That’s good for pizzerias, because long-term success depends on deep-seated positive image. Savvy customers equate image advertising with chest pounding, but perceive community service, charitable partnerships and third-party media coverage in a positive light. And they act on their perceptions.
If you’re ready to start, try service clubs as a first step. Clubs like Lions, Rotary International and Sertoma build playgrounds, sponsor exchange students and provide funds for need-based projects. You’ll interact with a cross-section of community life. Shop around. Select a group matching your interests, schedule and budget.

Chamber of Commerce
Chamber of commerce membership opens doors to business leaders. When I managed a Pizza Hut in Shakopee, Minnesota, chamber involvement proved invaluable. Community interaction earned respect, new business and customer loyalty that advertising could not purchase. Tourism Committee participation allowed input on projects impacting short-term revenue and long-term success. Chamber-forged contacts provided access to cross-promotions, cooperative advertising and other shared projects.

Charitable Organizations
Charities need partners offering volunteers or facilities. It’s your opportunity to help others and benefit from participation without writing a check. For example, participate in popular, well-attended “Taste of…” events. Some restaurants host such events in partnership with the sponsoring charity.
When Minneapolis/St. Paul area Pizza Huts co-sponsored a Walk-A-Thon with the Heart Association, we supplied volunteers and participant registration locations. Our employees formed a group of walkers that solicited donor pledges. We displayed in-store registration materials and arranged for a sports celebrity to tape public service announcements (PSA) for radio and television. PSA production and airtime was donated. Company volunteers raised $16,000 and experienced the satisfaction of helping a worthy cause. Related publicity was amazing. Promotional spots mentioned our co-sponsorship, volunteer walkers flocked to the restaurants to register and broadcasters conducted live sponsor interviews.
Charitable partnerships come in many forms. Contact reputable local organizations and let them know you’d like to help.

Pizzeria tours
Tours (Brownies, Scouts, school classes) are a tremendous tool for cultivating positive image. Every kid loves an inside look at a pizzeria and group leaders appreciate your cooperation. Cavernous walk-ins, gigantic mixers and scary-looking rollers fascinate them. They go crazy over making their own pizzas –– a must unless it can’t be accomplished within applicable health codes. Group leaders marvel (provided you’ve done your homework) at the cleanliness and organization. Even better, kids return later to show their parents where they saw the monster dough roller and made pizza. Don’t bother advertising –– phone area schools and group leaders; word will get around. And remember, you determine tour effectiveness. Set aside uninterrupted time and donate product. Spiff the place up and stage the best show possible.

Third-Party Media
See your name in print without a fee by utilizing third-party media. Experts that ballyhoo publicity over advertising crow about this kind of marketing. Press releases work wonders. Media needs short interest pieces that readers perceive more favorably than advertisements. Distribute press releases for events like employee or customer awards, the pizzeria’s anniversary or participation in community projects. Any legitimate activity deserves a well-written press release.
Learning how to write press releases is easy. Google “How to write press release” and have at it. When you’re comfortable with the format, use them regularly, but don’t expect automatic publication. You’ll achieve a percentage of acceptances, primarily due to space or airtime considerations. Usually releases are mailed or emailed, but check with publications for submission guidelines and word count restrictions.
Community leadership is a source of personal satisfaction that also provides opportunities for publicity. Personal interviews are examples of utilizing third-party media. You’ll be asked to mention your pizzeria’s name and probably a lot more. Frequently, hosts ask questions about your operation and products before tackling the primary topic. You can’t buy it.

It’s Up to You
Public image and success travel the same road. Building positive image takes time so don’t delay. Join a service organization and chamber of commerce. Develop partnerships with charitable groups. Give time to help your community prosper. It shouldn’t be long before your pizzeria achieves increased sales with less advertising dollars. Along the way you’ll experience personal satisfaction and professional success many times as valuable as your expenditure. Sounds like a wise investment.

Tips & Pitfalls for Building Your Image

Building image is great for business, but you must possess a genuine spirit of good will or business leaders and the public will quickly dismiss you as a greedy merchant bellying up to the community trough. That is worse than no image at all.
Here’s a list of 10 tips and pitfalls:

• Improving community is key; expanding business is a by-product.
• Join organizations matching your interests, schedule and budget.
• Select charitable partners with impeccable reputations.
• Inactive membership, tardiness or broken commitments equal negative publicity.
• Don’t downgrade the competition.
• Spruce up your manners, language and appearance if necessary.
• Don’t exceed budgeted promo.
• Spread special offers out over time to avoid extra staffing.
• Spell-check press releases and proof for inaccurate information.
• Inform employees about company participation so they can help spread the word.

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