Second Annual Bertolli Sous Chef Awards
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
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Second Annual Bertolli Sous Chef Awards

Bertolli USA (a Unilever Bestfoods Company) has sponsored food industry events for years ranging from Aspen Food & Wine, which targets upscale consumers, to the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference, which targets key industry leaders.

Paul Holmes

Bertolli USA (a Unilever Bestfoods Company) has sponsored food industry events for years ranging from Aspen Food & Wine, which targets upscale consumers, to the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference, which targets key industry leaders. While these events are valuable in reaching Bertolli’s target audiences, they do not offer opportunities for exclusive exposure and widespread branded media coverage.
To address these needs, Vorhaus & Company Inc. and Bertolli worked together to create the Bertolli Sous Chef Awards, a unique event that would provide multiple opportunities for national and local media coverage and reach each of our target audiences – consumers, culinary professionals and media – all at once.
The Bertolli Sous Chef Awards were created to honor non-executive chefs who often handle much of the work in the kitchen yet receive little credit. Despite the fact that these rising chefs are future executive and possibly celebrity chefs, they had never been widely recognized until Bertolli’s inaugural event in 2001. The First Annual Bertolli Sous Chef Awards exceeded all expectations, making the objectives for improving the Second Annual Bertolli Sous Chef Awards particularly challenging.
The PR team began planning for the August 2002 event in November 2001 to ensure there was enough time to solicit and collect nominations; secure a high-profile emcee, judges and sponsors; and to maximize opportunities for media coverage.
The team also created a timeline for announcing news to sustain media coverage across several months. We announced the call for nominations in December 2001; the top 10 winners in May 2002; and categorical award winners at the event in August 2002.
Vorhaus pitched various story angles to consumer and culinary print and broadcast media outlets to achieve widespread exposure. The main pitch was the competition’s unique concept: honoring the unsung heroes of the culinary world, celebrating those hard-working individuals who were behind the scenes in restaurants across the country. To broaden the story, additional angles included: the call for nominations; the announcement of the 10 winners; publicizing the individual Sous Chefs in their local markets; and cooking demonstrations with our event emcee, celebrity chef Martin Yan, and judging chair and celebrity chef Nick Stellino.
Vorhaus organized the entire competition including collecting and reviewing nominations, securing prestigious judges and selecting 10 finalists. The firm conducted proactive media relations before, during and after the Second Annual Bertolli Sous Chef Awards, targeting key food and consumer media, both nationally and locally.
The selection of the emcee and judges was vital to elevating the image and newsworthiness of the Awards in its second year. For the emcee, the firm carefully selected celebrity chef and host of PBS’ “Yan Can Cook,” Martin Yan, for his personable image among consumers. Other prestigious judges included Nick Stellino, cookbook author and host of “Nick Stellino’s Family Kitchen,” PBS-TV; Bonnie Tandy Leblang, internationally syndicated columnist, United Press Syndicate; Tina Ujlaki, executive food editor, Food & Wine; Tyler Florence, host of “Food 911,” Food Network; and Lauren Groveman, cookbook author and host of “Home Cooking with Lauren Groveman,” PBS-TV.
The call for nominations was officially announced in December 2001. In addition to the announcement, press materials were distributed to culinary trade publications and the top 300 daily newspapers.
Once the nominations were all received in April 2002, Bertolli and Vorhaus selected and announced the top 10 Sous Chefs and the news that categorical winners would be named at a celebratory media-driven event in Tarrytown, New York on August 8, 2002.
Vorhaus began intense media pitching so that we could build awareness and excitement about the Awards in general and the media event in August. The firm contacted national, local and key food and consumer media, encouraging them to publish stories on the Bertolli Sous Chef Awards and the individual chefs. Key coverage markets included San Francisco, Santa Barbara, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, Honolulu and Washington, with placements ranging from several broadcast and print stories about the individual chefs to articles announcing the event.
Food industry, consumer and local New York media were invited to the event in an effort to encourage coverage and build relationships.
The judges reviewed the nominations of the 10 chefs and tasted each Sous Chef’s menu item at the reception, where they chose the Judges’ Choice Winner, the top honor that was announced that evening. After the event, we quickly distributed the announcement release and a photograph to media across the country. The firm extended it media outreach efforts by distributing video footage/B-roll from the event via satellite to newsrooms in the local markets of each Sous Chef. The footage was edited immediately after the event and was up on satellite by 4:00 a.m. Vorhaus then specifically followed up with media who had shown interest in the story but could not attend the event, and distributed photos to culinary publications and local market print media.
In its second year, the Bertolli Sous Chef Awards yielded national publicity as well as media coverage in each Sous Chef’s local market.
The caliber of the entire program was amplified. Our success with the inaugural event brought enough attention that the PR team was able to secure Martin Yan as our emcee and several judges who have a heavy consumer presence in the food industry, including Tyler Florence of Food Network’s “Food 911.” Due to their credibility, their participation elevated the event to a new level.
The PR team was also able to attract more top-tier media to the event. In addition, we secured four food demonstration segments, including Martin Yan on NBC’s “The Today Show” and Nick Stellino on CBS’ “The Early Show.” The number of media attendees tripled from the first year. Editors from The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, Nation’s Restaurant News and Good Housekeeping were intrigued enough to make the trip.
The Second Annual Bertolli Sous Chef Awards yielded national publicity as well as media coverage in each Sous Chef’s local market. Coverage included television, newspaper, radio, chef’s magazines, other culinary publications and online media. Total audience reach for 2001 was 22,579,554. For 2002, the campaign generated national, major market and food industry publicity with overall impressions totaling more than 32,000,000, a 41 percent increase over last year.
Coverage included Food & Wine Magazine, Associated Press, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Observer, Chef Magazine, Nation’s Restaurant News, www.feastivals.com and www.chef2chef.com.
For the time period associated with the event, Nielsen data shows total pound sales to supermarkets up +4-8 percent. In the Bertolli Sous Chef Awards markets (San Francisco, Santa Barbara, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, Honolulu and Washington, VA), total sales in May (when 10 winners were announced) were up 4.6 percent, and total sales in August (when 10 winners were honored at event in New York) were up 7.8 percent.
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