Melt Bar and Grilled Founder and Owner Matt Fish spoke to PRSSA Kent on Oct. 15 about how he uses public relations in his multi-site restaurant business.
There are four Melt locations in Greater Cleveland and one in Columbus, soon to be followed by a second Columbus-area location. Fish’s business has been featured in the national media, including on cable network shows “Man v. Food” and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Fish spoke at length about how he graduated high school and had no idea what he wanted to do.
While he was taking classes at Cuyahoga Community College, he learned from a first-generation Italian pizza shop owner by way of a happenstance connection that he enjoyed cooking and the restaurant industry.
He had always wanted to open his own business and saw an opportunity in 2006.
“When I decided to open my own place with my rules…The gourmet grilled cheese and craft beer scene in the United States was not where it is 10 years ago. Small, micro, craft breweries were enormously popular, but you couldn’t find it in Cleveland,” Fish said. “If I don’t fill this hole, someone else will.”
And fill the hole he did. Fish has opened a new Melt location every year since 2010. He lauded public relations as a key factor in his success.
“Melt restaurant and retail are all part of the service industry. We are in the business of pleasing guests. We try to keep our brand in publications and out there so people can keep seeing it. It’s all feel-good stuff. I want people to flip by and not necessarily see my ad and read it, but to see the logo and move on and see the logo and move on,” Fish said.
Some of his most successful strategies in maintaining his company's reputation include:
“Whatever somebody else is doing, I do the complete opposite. I don’t look at what other people are doing to copy what they’re doing but to try and do something completely different,” Fish said.
An example of Fish’s ingenuity was his philosophy in targeting an audience when he opened his business.
“[I] didn’t really determine a target audience. I was asked up front, ‘Who are your trying to appeal to?’ ‘What’s your customer base?’ It’s a cop out, but I wanted to get every single walk of life. I really wanted to create Melt to be all encompassing, welcoming, non-pretentious. If [someone] could enjoy food, enjoy service, enjoy a good atmosphere, enjoy beer, I wanted them in my restaurant. And, honestly, we have achieved that goal. We’ve created a perfect restaurant utopia where we get people from all walks of life. Gourmet grilled cheese kind of transcends,” Fish said.
Fish, having had music as his original career ambition, offered one piece of simple advice to aspiring professionals that seems to have served him well: “Go off and do whatever you want to do but always have a ‘plan B.’”
The next PRSSA Kent general meeting is Oct. 29 and will feature PRSSA National Conference attendees presenting what they learned at a variety of sessions.
Two seasoned professionals spoke with PRSSA students on Oct. 1 relaying their part in The Cleveland Comeback Story.
Positively Cleveland Communications Manager Jennifer Kramer has more than 10 years of experience in the communications field. President of Regional Marketing Alliance for Cleveland Plus Rick Batyko has more than 20 years of experience working with Fortune 100 and non-profits clients.
Kramer offered detailed insights into the deep research and strategic thinking that goes into developing a campaign to rebrand an entire city.
"We want people to come here. So, we have to go about it strategically," Kramer said.
Positively Cleveland conducted extensive, exhaustive research and planning efforts for about three years before launching the campaign in 2014. After conducting focus groups and interviewing a myriad of people, Kramer said the organization learned four things.
Kramer and her team set out to tackle these four research insights by established goals, such as treating Cleveland as a branded product, enhancing visitor experiences and changing the narrative about Cleveland as a visitor destination.
The result was three different brand campaigns targeting specific publics: "And for That You're Welcome" for the leisure visitor, "World-Class Experiences Without the World-Class Ego" for meeting visitors and "#ThisisCLE" for locals.
"We have passion beyond anything else. We needed to create a platform for that passion," Kramer said.
The campaigns have only been live since March and have already garnered significant attention.
Batyko discussed how he markets all of Northeast Ohio to attract businesses from different regions to relocate to the area. He focuses much of his time on national and international business media to get positive stories placed about Northeast Ohio.
"We try to attract companies to move here and create jobs so they can hire you," Batyko said, addressing the group.
Batyko emphasized, much like Kramer, that research was key to Cleveland Plus' formation and initial branding. He and his team conducted a year's worth of research before launching the brand circling Northeast Ohio in a 737 jet.
"You don't just do these things. It takes time," Batyko said. "We knew it had to be Cleveland because Cleveland has a lot of equity."
Social media has been useful for Batyko's efforts. Cleveland Plus posts a lot of quality of life material to its nearly 40-thousand followers.
Breaking into the industry
Kramer and Batyko concluded their talk with advice for up-and-coming public relations and communications professionals.
"Public relations is really important work, and we need more of it in this world," Batyko said. "This region is blessed with some amazing marketing, public relations and communications talent. It amazes me how there seems to be a wall between us, sometimes. You guys can’t imagine how many professionals would be thrilled to get an email from you. I would be stunned if almost anybody in this region wouldn’t say yes [to helping you]."
The group asked both professionals for their best tips for landing an internship.
"Always be prepared with questions to ask at the end [of an interview]. Make them good questions. Don’t be afraid to ask a different question. 'How can I grow in this organization?' 'What’s the trajectory for someone like me?' I want to see that you’re invested in the organization," Kramer said.
"We all have big egos in this area. Ask that person all about their career, and be amazed at every answer. Study the organization. It’s okay to do a non-paid internship if you like the company. Really work the ego angle really hard. If you show an interest in that person, odds are they’ll show an interest in you," Batyko said.
PRSSA Kent's next general meeting will feature Melt Bar and Grilled owner Matt Fish discussing the value of PR. The meeting begins Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m.