The Bar Business: Up your social media game

What does having a PR strategy or an active social media platform actually entail and do you really need to get involved? We asked our panel about their experiences and there were a lot of opinions.

• Emily Lloyd-Tait, Time Out Bars Editor for Sydney
• Meg Smith, SideCar
• Toby Hilton, Swillhouse
• Michael Nouri, The Exchange
• Jeremy Shipley, Solotel
• Russ McFadden, General Manager of EDV Sydney


MS From a PR point of view, sometimes we have to push back to the clients to get them to clear up their messaging – be honest and to the point. And to be honest you can lose some credibility by employing a middle man. You want the press to have your direct contact details, rather than the details of a PR agent they have probably heard from 10 times already that day about other things. The number of bloggers – sorry, online journalists – who have moved into PR and tell me that they’re representing 10 different bars, I always ask ‘Well, what are your qualifications for doing that?’ and they’re answer is usually ‘I can write a press release’. Surely, a) that is a conflict of interest, but also, b) I don’t know what you’re charging but it’s probably too much. Bar PR is about relationships. It is about the initial burst and then it’s about making sure the bar is top of mind when something comes up – it’s not about pushing that journalist to be in every feature that is coming up because it’s probably not relevant.

ELT New bar owners who are just starting out would potentially be better serviced by hiring their own photographer rather than a PR firm and simply sending an email direct to us rather than through a third party. So often we get the big PR spin but there are no images, no address, no opening hours – and the email says “If you need anything, email me back”. But we actually don’t have time to play the game of email cat and mouse with someone who is charging the venue per email that they send out. Please send me all of the information all in one go as I am more likely to care. And later on when I’m doing, say, a Halloween article, I can get onto you straight away and ask ‘Are you doing anything for Halloween?’. I don’t have to email someone who has to email someone else who has to email someone else. And then most of the time we don’t get the information that we need anyway.

RM The problem about working with PR companies is that they are all about building a “brand”. And that is fine for when you’re creating a “brand”. But working with bars, they are not a brand and you can’t just blanket it like that – it’s someone’s life, it is someone’s dream, it’s all about finding the right market through word of mouth rather than just doing a branding exercise. It becomes too one-dimensional. There is too much ‘We want 18-35 year olds who live in the area and earn 60K a year’. But that’s not how it works.

MN Honesty is the ultimate goal. And from a venue point of view it isn’t difficult to find and email the right people in the media. Also, it’s not about a quick buck – it’s about the long game and what good you can do long term by having people talk about your venue in a positive way.

TH On the PR front, spend less time and money flogging your venue, and just get some better staff. Pay your staff more, put your money on your front line and let word of mouth do the marketing for you.


ELT Embrace the business Facebook. You’ll keep coming up in people’s feed. Take good photos of your drinks and put them up – then on a Friday people will be scanning through and think ‘Actually, I do feel like a margarita’ and they will call their friends. Having a website is static, people have to come to you but with Facebook you will get in front of them.

JS People need to be smart about it as well. We might have a reminder in a manager’s phone at 3pm on a Friday to take a good photo, usually of a drink, and not necessarily as a “come-on-down” but so it’s on someone’s feed so they think ‘Oh yeah, that looks good’ and they remember it. It works for Opera Bar for example because, visually, it’s stunning, especially on a sunny day – you’ve got the bridge, you’ve got the harbour, you’ve got everything. It makes sense.

MS The Facebook thing works for some venues but not necessarily for others. For some it’s just not right. It’s not going to work somewhere like Baxter Inn. I was asked recently, by a client, about social media, and I said ‘If you don’t have anything to say, don’t do it’. If you can’t resource it properly, don’t do it. I’m so bad at it, our Facebook page never gets updated and it’s shit. I just don’t have the time and I honestly don’t think about it because I’m just not that interested in engaging people through Facebook.

TH With Baxter Inn and Shady Pines, the social media is done for you by other people. I think the most instagrammed moose in the world is at Shady Pines. It pops up in everyone’s feed. So I think by having an interesting fit out and doing a good job, I believe it sometimes gets done for you.

MN I think sometimes it’s a fine line. Like Ramblin’ Rascal. I personally find their Instagram feed hilarious – I absolutely love it and they don’t suit Facebook – but the immediate catch of their Instagram feed, it’s hilarious and I wait for it because it makes me laugh and it’s authentic. It’s them. You look at those guys and they come across in that feed. It’s totally relevant to their venue, it’s totally sincere and it works. And people love it. You’re never going to please everyone, and you can put that on your ‘what to watch out for’ list. You’re never going to please everybody and if you try you’re going to fail from the get-go.

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