Published on October 27, 2021 at 6:55 p.m.
by Mallory Westry.
Birmingham, Alabama, is home to various public relations firms and advertising agencies. However, one company in particular has placed a special emphasis on the city’s rising culinary scene — STYLE Advertising.
STYLE Advertising is a public relations, marketing and advertising firm, owned by Bill Stoeffhaas and Chuck Cargal. As noted on its website, the full-service agency has gained recognition as Alabama’s “Top Ranked Public Relations Firm” by Business Alabama and is one of Birmingham’s largest public relations firms, according to Birmingham Business Journal. In addition to these impressive milestones, STYLE Advertising holds the title of Alabama’s oldest operating agency, maintaining the same name since 1970.
Throughout the years, the firm has developed a diverse portfolio, assisting clients with digital marketing, branding, social media management, media strategy and placement, public relations, and numerous other services.
Birmingham Restaurant Week (BRW)
After experiencing Atlanta Restaurant Week in 2010, James Little, a co-founder of BRW, reached out to STYLE Advertising proposing a Restaurant Week for the Birmingham area. While Little initially had the vision to only hold the event in Five Points South, the STYLE team knew that it had the potential to expand much farther.
“We really needed it to be something that is Birmingham’s Restaurant Week and that covers the whole Birmingham area,” noted Stoeffhaas, BRW’s other co-founder. “We brought the idea to the James Beard Award-winning chef Frank Stitt, and he thought it was a terrific idea for the Birmingham culinary community. When other restaurants saw that Frank Stitt was supporting BRW, it gave us a great opportunity to get started.”
Today, BRW, which is organized by STYLE Advertising and Little, is the city’s premiere dining out event and features locally owned restaurants, bars and food trucks from all over the Birmingham area, as well as its neighboring cities.
Audrey Pannell, STYLE Advertising’s VP of public relations, described BRW as one of the region’s biggest culinary and beverage events, including 50-60 participating restaurants each year. Over the duration of BRW, participating restaurants offer special two-to-three-course menus with prices ranging from $5-$50 for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.
“It’s a great opportunity for those in the community to get out and try something new or revisit one of their favorites,” said Pannell.
The BRW process
Because BRW holds events in both the summer and winter each year, it is a year-long effort for the STYLE team, according to Pannell. “As a team, we pour our blood, sweat and tears into this project, and it’s not just our client — it’s our baby,” she explained.
STYLE Advertising’s PR and digital media coordinator, Ryleigh Esco, added, “It’s not an 8-5 workday during BRW. It’s 8-8 or 8-midnight sometimes, and not because we feel like we have to do it — it’s because we want to do it.”
Months before each Restaurant Week, STYLE Advertising begins its preparations as the primary organizer of BRW. More than just promotion goes into making the culinary and beverage event a success. The agency directs every aspect of BRW, including creating the branding; developing marketing materials; recruiting sponsors and restaurants; partnering with media outlets; coordinating media coverage; promoting the event on social media channels; hosting restaurant training meetings; preparing a social media toolkit for use by restaurants, media and sponsors; and sending out e-blasts.
With all the work that goes into BRW, Little describes the event as a “PR and social media marketing machine.” The event lives up to his statement, as its most recent Restaurant Week reeled in a total of 261 pieces of media coverage, Pannell noted.
“We do everything from coordinating with the media outlets to making sure that the restaurant owners are involved,” said Pannell. “This past Restaurant Week, probably three-fourths of the participants were included in a TV interview, or some other type of print or online interview. We make sure that they are all being promoted and that we’re hand-holding them throughout it, by writing the talking points and attending the segments to ensure that it goes as well as possible.”
Because participating restaurants are an essential component in the success of BRW, the STYLE team relies heavily on feedback. Each year, the agency learns how Restaurant Week impacted sales by sending out post-BRW surveys to participants.
In a testimonial video, Farrelly’s Southern Bar and Kitchen owner Eileen McCluney reflected on her BRW experience, stating, “We saw an increase of at least 25% in business. It was amazing, and so many of those customers have become loyal customers.”
Esco explained that the testimonial video was released both in English and Spanish, after Sabor Latino owner Liliana Barco Maccari brought to their attention that many Spanish-speaking restaurants may be interested in participating. Relaying the message in both languages allowed the agency to meet these restaurants halfway.
In addition to establishing relationships with the restaurants, STYLE Advertising also develops connections with the BRW patrons. During Restaurant Week, the agency hosts a series of “Free Food Friday” social media contests where followers can like, comment and share a BRW graphic for a chance to win a gift card to one of the participating restaurants. The event’s organizers also partnered with Bham Now to provide patrons with an additional social media-based giveaway.
To receive feedback from BRW customers, the STYLE team released a community survey asking patrons for their opinions on Restaurant Week. From this survey, the agency was able to gather data to provide to restaurants and help with further planning.
“These stats are super important for us to show to restaurants later on, so they won’t think that this is just a gimmick to get people in the door and never come back,” said Pannell. “About 60%-70% of [customers] will come back after Restaurant Week.”
BRW gives back
“Since the very beginning of Birmingham Restaurant Week, we’ve had a nonprofit component to it, so that we could provide funds to a worthy cause,” said Stoeffhaas. From the first event to now, the team has donated over $80,000 to nonprofits, such as the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and the Firehouse Shelter. BRW also partnered with Tito’s Handmade Vodka to donate $2,500 to the AL Hospitality Workers Relief Fund.
This year, STYLE Advertising added a new feature to the Restaurant Week website in acknowledgement of the current labor shortage. The goal of the newly implemented Culinary Job Recruitment Database is to serve as an “‘Indeed’ for restaurants,” Pannell explained.
“The database and application are a one-stop shop for local job seekers to find culinary jobs. We serve as the connector to help people find jobs and restaurants to find employees,” said Esco. “During this time, we don’t really know what these restaurants are going through, but we’re trying our best to learn and to figure out what we can do to help out.”
The database provides an inclusive list of BRW restaurants that are currently hiring, as well as the available positions and points of contact. Interested individuals also have the option to fill out a single application to apply for jobs at all of the restaurants at once.
When questioned about the biggest factors in the success of BRW, the STYLE team expressed gratitude toward the event’s sponsors, such as Spire, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Red Diamond, Birmingham Budweiser, Coca-Cola United, Sysco, United-Johnson Brothers, Birmingham City Council and others. They also explained that patrons, restaurants, community support and media are major components in making the event a hit.
“Whether they’re a sponsor or not, everyone loves this event,” said Pannell. “We couldn’t do this without them.”
STYLE Advertising just wrapped its 12th annual Restaurant Week in August 2021, and will return on Jan. 20-29, 2022, for its traditional winter edition.