The U.S. pizza team publicity machine: what's in it for me?

This phenomenon is the biggest event to ever hit to the pizza industry. Here's how you can ride the wave of publicity. PMQ and the USPT sponsors have spent a ton of money and time building this machine only so every pizza operator in the U.S. can draw more attention and publicity to pizza. The payoff is here. Were about to tell you how you can benefit. The Food Network will air a one-hour special on the U. S. Pizza team on Sunday March 21st. National attention is about to be drawn to your business and you can capitalize on the opportunity. We've outlined several ideas for those who just want to benefit from the publicity, those who want to participate, those who want to sponsor and those already participating. The U.S. Pizza Team wouldn't normally make the front cover of PMQ, but then again, the Food Network doesn't normally do a one-hour documentary, which shows our pizza industry in such a positive light. On Sunday, March 21 at 9 p.m. Eastern, millions of your customers and peers will be watching some fairly ordinary pizza operators as they travel to the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy and achieve the extraordinary. The 2003 team garnered a huge amount of attention. It began in New York when CNN's Jeanne Moos covered the three days of competition. Following this was a week of constantly ringing phones from newspaper reporters and television and radio stations. The 2003 team members were featured in over 100 newspapers across the country. The buzz spread as far as the children's magazine, Weekly Reader, which is circulated to over 700,000 students. This article will describe ways for you to use the U.S. Pizza Team in your marketing plan as a pizza store owner, sponsor, participant or member. You'll see how pizza competitions provide our industry with a better knowledge of pizza recipes (see recipe bank www.pmq.com) and techniques. You'll also see how competitors can quickly become friends, advisors and supporters. The U.S. Pizza Team is becoming an increasingly important industry publicity machine, of which your store can be a part.

But I'm Not Involved with the USPT. . . What's in It for Me?

What can the team do for you as a pizza store owner? Here is an idea that anyone in the pizza business could incorporate into his or her marketing plan. This is a way to become associated with a school. Recently, a high school home economics teacher in Ventura County, California decided to make the U.S. Pizza Team a part of her learning curriculum. Melissa Gunnels came to the Los Angeles trials and learned about pizza competitions. She and a colleague went home and organized a group of schools to host the Oxnard Union High School District Pizza Contest.

They taught students how to toss dough with wet towels as suggested by Tony Gemignani. The students also created a pizza recipe. Prizes were U.S. Pizza Team t-shirts, trophies, participation ribbons and team patches for lab coats. "The kids loved the patches," Melissa says. "They had so much fun. The cooking gave them so much pride." They held this event during October, which everyone in the business knows is National Pizza Month. It was definitely a newsworthy event.

Sponsoring or organizing an event such as this could be very beneficial for your business. It offers limitless possibilities of getting your name in kids' and teachers' minds. Bring free food, give out t-shirts, and give gift certificates for prizes. Another advantage is teens that are interested in the pizza business, which will give you a pool of potential employees. Proud parents come to watch their children. Target them with a discount coupon or magnets. Get them on your e-mail mailing list. Next time the teachers plan a pizza party; you'll be the first person they call. Same goes for the PTA.

Learn how to do some of the dough tricks. Get in touch with the schools about doing a demonstration for students. Let them tour your restaurant and learn about pizza and its health benefits. Again, this gets you in the door for school related events and in the minds of your future customers.

A very easy way to get the U.S. Pizza Team involved in your business is to become a supporting sponsor of the team. You can do this by adding the U.S. Pizza Team logo to your website and we'll add your name to our site as a supporting sponsor. We've created a press release that announces your store as a supporting sponsor of the team, which will give you the opportunity to get your store in the paper. The team members will be making weekly posts to the site as they prepare for the World Pizza Championship. They'll be writing daily entries in Italy and you can add these and the daily updates we'll be sending from Italy to your site. Your customers and members of the media can see your support as a local news affiliate for the team.

You will have access to the U.S. Pizza Team logo so that you can put it on your promotional materials. Add it to box toppers and specials signs in your store to get people interested in your sponsorship. Help us get the publicity going for the industry as a whole. You can also let customers and media know in an e-mail alert with your weekly specials about the upcoming special on the Food Network. Maybe you can create a promotion based around it. This could be a great way to tell them about your sponsorship. The press release announcing your support will be available in the Manager's Toolbox at www.pmq.com and at www.uspizzateam.com.

Become a Competitor or Competition Sponsor

Last year, in New York, we had a guy from Macon, Georgia compete for a spot on the U.S. Pizza Team named JEF Fraley. He used the fact that this was a national competition to his advantage. The first thing he did was get a sponsorship for his trip to New York. By working out a deal with U.S. Foodservice, they paid for his trip and got the ultimate exposure. His local newspaper, The Macon Telegraph picked up the story. They ran a series of stories on him and each time the sponsorship was mentioned. One article appeared on the front page of the paper. You can't buy that kind of publicity for the $1,000 it cost to send JEF to New York. Not only did this story make the front page of one newspaper, it was picked up by The Associated Press and syndicated all over the country. Even after he placed fifth, the paper ran another story on him. It pays to enter.

We decided to branch out and gather a larger variety of America's pizza people for the 2004 team. Sofo Foods approached us about having their pizza contest winner go to Italy. We welcome Chef Keith Yonker from Ft. Wayne, Indiana to the team. This regional competition became a national publicity opportunity when Sofo decided to send Chef Keith to Italy. Now, he'll wear their logo and mention their name when talking about the competition. It helps not only the operator but also the sponsor. Their small competition just became a national event.

To take it to even the next level, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association approached us last fall about hosting an acrobatic trial at the Host Midwest Expo, March 8-10. We decided that a dough stretch was the answer. State restaurant associations host all sorts of competitions. Expand you exhibition with a pizza baking or dough competition. The Wisconsin association expanded their show by adding a pizza pavilion. Invite someone from the team to demonstrate or to be a judge.

The Participant's Advantage

Just because you don't place or win a competition doesn't mean it's not newsworthy. Any time you enter a competition you should alert your local media. They will most likely feature something on you because you are offering them what people want to hear-local news. When you compete in a national competition, you become a local angle on a national event.

One of the first rules of getting free publicity is to tie your organization to something that is happening in the national news. Newspaper and news stations are always looking for these stories. Take what Mike Amheiser (featured in our Spring 2002 issue) did. He decided to enter the Culinary Trials at the last minute. He walked away with a third place finish in the gourmet category. Seizing the opportunity, he let his hometown customers know they had one of the top pizzerias in the country right there in their backyard. He lettered his front window with the team logo and purchased U.S. Pizza Team shirts for his staff. The lettering and the shirts captured curiosity of customers. People wanted to know what the team was, which gave Mike the opportunity to tell the story of his pizza. As a result of his efforts, Mike was featured on the front page of his newspaper.

Sean Brauser, owner of Romeo's Pizza has a similar story. He took it to the next level by incorporating his title into all of his marketing materials. Sean went to Italy in 2002, placed in 2003 and is back on the team for 2004. He's always entered the same pizza. Check out how he's used it to his advantage.

"The first year I won I didn't know how to handle the PR, but after a few months I ended up going on TV and made my winning pizza," Sean says. He also appeared on some local radio shows and television news programs. "The payoff was huge. Sales jumped 10 percent, and they've stayed up," he says.

One big thing that Sean has added to every printed piece in his store is "Voted Best Pizza in the Midwest." Before there was a U.S. Pizza Team logo he created one of his own that looked like an Olympic logo for the pizza industry. "It had a pizza in one of the rings," he says. "I am going to put the team logo on all my printed stuff including t-shirts." Sean's advice on using the U.S. Pizza Team or a big competition to benefit the business is "to market it right. You have to know how to get the press. It's not about phone calls, but about sending e-mails to the right people."

Sean is working on a new advertisement for his store with the slogan "Others claim they have the best pizza, but, we have the hardware to prove it." He's including a picture of the two trophies he's won in the Culinary Trials. This ad will appear in the circular Mail Box Values by Advo. He says these ads are pricey, but worth it. "We make around $3,000 off it the first week it runs and $2,000 the second week."

Something new we are offering for present participants and future participants is a publicity toolkit. In this kit, we'll provide instructions on submitting your releases, when and why to use a pitch letter, as well as template releases and letters for you to use in your hometown. This is all available to you for free via the Manager's Toolbox at www.pmq.com or at www.uspizzateam.com.