This year’s election season is in full swing and presidential hopefuls are stopping into small businesses to spread their respective messages. Here, we chat with three restaurant owners who have hosted Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum (back when he was still in the race), Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama (in his pre-presidential days).
Bonus material: We also have easy tips for attracting a politician or celebrity to your business, and how to turn that visit into a marketing miracle. Read on.
Charlie Parker’s Diner
On March 18, three men dressed in black suits walked into Charlie Parker’s Diner in Springfield, Ill. All of them were members of the U.S. Secret Service, there on a reconnaissance mission.
“I’d received a phone call a few days earlier from Mitt Romney’s campaign telling me that they wanted to stop at my restaurant; the Secret Service was there to check things out,” says owner Mike Murphy.
Customers started lining up at 4 a.m. on March 19 just to get a seat.
“We are first come, first serve, and the restaurant seats only 94 people,” Murphy says. “We had to section off six tables for the press corral, so we ended up having about 80 customers inside and about 150 customers outside listening to speakers of the event.”
At 7:20 a.m., Romney’s SUV pulled up. For the next hour and 20 minutes the presidential hopeful mingled with locals and spoke with press.
So did the diner's business increase because of Romney’s visit?
“Yes, I think it has helped," Murphy says. "A lot of people come in and ask me about it. I think it will really help if he becomes president.”
On March 16, Brenda Egenlauf hung up the phone in complete disbelief. She’d just received a call from a person claiming to be a member of Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign. The person was calling to secure a time when Santorum himself could visit Chez Willy’s, her restaurant in Galesburg, Ill. After agreeing that the visit would happen three days later, she hung up and then immediately called back.
“I wanted to make sure it was the real deal; it was,” Egenlauf says.
The news spread, and on March 19, Egenlauf’s restaurant was packed. Santorum came in around 6 p.m. and stayed for 30 minutes, talking to the crowd and local press.
Chez Willy’s was busy for the rest of the week. The best byproduct of the event, she says, was the free advertising.
Steven Tisher knows a thing or two about welcoming presidential hopefuls at Tish’s Restaurant in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
“We’ve had Herman Cain here three times, Tim Pawlenty once, Rick Santorum once, Rick Perry once, and Newt Gingrich twice,” he says.
How has so many visits helped business at Tish’s?
“It brings people here who’ve never been before,” Tisher says.
Chicago’s Spiaggia Chef Tony Mantuano first met President Barack Obama long before he entered the political sphere.
“We’ve been around for 28 years and Barack and Michelle used to come in for special occasions all the time,” says Mantuano.
What has Obama’s affinity for Mantuano and Spiaggia done for business?
“It’s been really great for us,” Mantuano says. “A lot of people want to know where he sits. It has also really increased our visibility with the international community. Italians love knowing that Barack likes Italian food.”
Attracting Politicians and Celebrities
Check out your local newspaper to see if a politician will be making a local appearance or if a celebrity is stopping by your ZIP code for a movie shoot, and then reach out to their representatives. For politicians, call the campaign office; for celebrities, Jennifer Berson, founder of Jeneration PR in Sherman Oaks, Calif., recommends paying for a subscription (around $16 per month) to IMDbPro, an online celebrity directory.
“If you own a bakery, tell them that the star’s visit to your town won’t be complete without sampling your apple pie, for example,” Berson says.
Do research on the star or politician. Do you have a product or service that would interest them on a personal level? If so, target your conversation with the representative to your offering.
“You could also try including the celebrity’s Twitter handle in a tweet about them visiting your place of business; just make sure not to overdo it,” Berson adds.
Exploiting a Visit
Introduce yourself the minute a politician or celebrity waltzes into your place of business. Tell him or her how honored you are for the visit and ask for a photo.
If they accept, have someone take a photo of you and the star (to put up in the store later), then shoot a few candid shots of them shopping (or eating). Once you have these shots, contact the local or national press to offer the images and a minute-by-minute breakdown of the visit.
“Get as many facts as you can--what they said, what they bought, what they ate,” Berson says. “The more details you can share, the more likely you are to get press.”
Use the images on your website, in your marketing materials and, if you are a restaurateur, on your menu. If the person denies a photo, respect his or her privacy, but still write down everything, Berson advises.
“After they leave, reach out on social media to tell your followers that you are honored to just have welcomed the person, but couldn’t snap a picture,” she says. “Be very careful if you sign a non-disclosure agreement, though. You don’t want to get into a legal mess if they don’t want their visit publicized.”
Have you ever hosted a celebrity at your business?
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