How not to do cafe PR

When I am not looking for great coffee out and about, or trying to make great coffee at home, or writing about coffee in these parts, I moonlight as a PR consultant. It pays some of my bills, and along with being a full time student, keeps me pretty busy.

So here’s a case of my interests colliding – coffee, blogging, and public relations, if this was a church owned cafe it’d tick almost all my boxes…

A new cafe was opening its doors. It was trying to create that ephemeral PR currency – buzz. I’m not one for “awareness raising” for the sake of awareness raising, and if any PR person tells you that all publicity is good publicity it’s time to look for a new consultant (ahem, my contact details are pretty easy to find…).

Anyway. The cafe offered free coffees to a bunch of bloggers. And received some initial comment. But then something went wrong. Its opening date was delayed, and for some reason it had to switch addresses. Here’s where things get interesting… They reached out to a blog called fitzroyalty and when nothing had happened for six months he posted wondering where the cafe was, and included the email they’d sent initially.

PR rule number one must be never write anything in an email you don’t want splashed across the web. They broke that one too.

Here’s the highlight…

“It’s going to be massive for the area so it would be great for you write something on your blog about it! We’ll be able to sort you out with a free coffee card or something similar for your trouble.”

Mmm. Free coffee.

But. The cafe owners didn’t like that post – so in the comment thread on a post wondering why they hadn’t opened yet – they withdrew the offer of free coffee. Sad pandas.

Then things got bizarre. The cafe owners emailed the blogger to ban him for six months. Before they opened. On the basis of that discussion.

“The team here at Stencil have recently had a discussion about your article and poor behaviour regarding it. As a result of this we have decided to place a 6 month ban on you coming into the cafe when it opens up the road from the original planned location in just under a month’s time . However, you can work to over turn this ban with positive press on your blog. But as it stands it will be 6 months of not being allowed into the cafe or getting someone else to come in on your behalf so you can blog about it. Once the ban is up you are welcome to come in and PAY for your coffee or check out some of the fantastic artwork.”

And more bizarre… with this invented poster

The second rule of PR, in my experience (or one of them), is to think of your business or brand as a person. And don’t do anything as a brand that people don’t like other people doing – so blowing one’s own trumpet is out (somewhat self defeating, I know). This cafe opened by claiming that it would one day become an institution. The quote on the poster above didn’t come from the blogger in question, but rather, was invented by the cafe.

And here came the icing on the cake. A move that broke just about every PR commandment. Here’s the hilarious pitch after the fake sign went public…

“My suggestion is telling readers that the whole thing was a gag to get everyone talking about Fitzroyalty and just for readers to enjoy as a bit of different content on the site. We could then say that Stencil was kind enough to get in on the fun. If we say it was a viral type ad for Stencil and not content for you is people could still look on not only us but you badly as well, and that’s the last thing we’d want.
So in basic terms it would be like ‘Gotcha! Was just a fun idea me and the guys at Stencil cooked up for something different on the blog’.
This is a win win situation for all parties involved as it will make us both look good.
IMPORTANT! Obviously we would be willing to help you out financially for making a statement like this and are happy for you to discuss a rate, much like it would be as advertising on your site. Now I know you don’t accept free coffee! etc for a review but perhaps we could bend the money rules for this situation as it is very different. We’d of course make sure the money would be worth your while.”

Rule three, or perhaps the golden rule of PR, is don’t bite the hand that feeds you – or, don’t pick fights with people who buy their ink by the tonne – that was the pre-web version. Now it’s just don’t be a nasty person online, or it will come back to haunt you.

For the record, does not accept free coffees for the purpose of a review (I do accept free coffees from people who feel generous)… I have a full and frank disclosure of my approach to reviewing cafes on my about page – it has been there since the very beginning (with slight updates over time).

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