Chef's Table - Get the word out

Thirteen (years) is a lucky number for Melissa Libby, founder of Melissa Libby & Associates, the city's oldest food-oriented public relations firm. Her roster of clients includes Aria, the Globe, South City Kitchen, Rainwater and Fogo de Chao.

Creative Loafing: I have to ask — is it a prerequisite to be young, good looking and female to be a food PR professional?

Libby: Public relations is a female-dominated business. And food PR is very social, so I believe that is why you see a lot of women. But I would like to point out that I do have a man on my staff of six.

What do you bring to your clients?

Knowledge of the industry, a wealth of contacts and a lot of creativity with regard to getting word out about them, especially over a long period of time. It's relatively easy to get publicity for a new restaurant, but when one has been around for five, eight or 10 years, it is more challenging. My clients want to be in the news as often as possible: radio, TV, newspaper. They want us to get people into the restaurant.

Can you turn the proverbial pig's ear into a silk purse? I am thinking of bad food or location. Is that fixable by PR?

Yes, but not only through publicity. My job is to look for the good things and promote those. A fun, successful place might not have the best food, so we wouldn't invite reviewers.

What happens when a client gets a bad review?

The client is almost always very upset and needs an ear to bend. I provide that. I have a very bent ear, with calluses on it! How would you feel if the world was told when you did something bad or made a mistake? I try to look through the review for elements of truth or ask the writer to clarify things. I advise my clients to take the truth to heart.


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