What the Cronut craze taught me about the value of high-touch marketing:


How an entrepreneurial PR professional can help you lock down the tastiest of new business deals. A lesson learned from the Cronut craze.

Earlier this year, I started working with Goldbely, a startup that ships iconic food from regional restaurants -- like New York's Momofuku treats and the pie from Twin Peaks -- to anywhere with a doorstep.

Right here and now, there are few foods more iconic (or in-demand) than the Cronut™. This diminutive croissant-doughnut has become the white whale for New Yorkers and food-fans nationwide -- hopeful buyers line up in the wee hours outside chef Dominique Ansel's bakery in New York. You can't hope to find one elsewhere -- a powerful legal team awaits anyone who dares try and copy it. Deep-fried and delicate, the Cronut is also one of the hardest-to-ship foods in the world.

Goldbely had a few back-and-forths with Dominique Ansel's Amy Ma -- the protector of the Cronut reputation and press opportunities. Goldbely wasn't looking to purchase or ship; it simply wanted to feature the Cronut as one of the most sought-after foods in the nation.

The bakery declined. Not that I blame them. Any crack in a trademark process can be scary, and running a video you’re not authoring could be, too. Eventually, Goldbely and the bakery had a vague discussion about shipping - something for the future - and that was that.

Until, in a moment without shame or fear, I asked if I could talk to Amy about shipping Cronuts with Goldbely. I called her. My first words? "What do we have to do to ship the Cronut?"

Remembering my mother (an accomplished chef) slapping the hands of anyone who tried to "help" un-asked in the kitchen, I wondered if the bakery's shipping hesitation was just an issue of care. And it was. It wasn't that Dominique Ansel was a vicious Cronut-hoarder, hell-bent on protecting his supply; he was a chef, with an insanely popular food and an understandable pride in his work that he didn't want to see haphazardly thrown in a box.

Brainstorming shipping logistics with a chef is definitely outside the realm of typical PR work, but I didn't let that stop me. This wasn't a trick or a scam; I wanted to make this work. And in many ways I was the ideal middle man for the negotiation because I was at least relatively distanced and objective -- able to see the big picture.

To Amy, Goldbely was simply another food company (though not a fly-by-night, as its $3 million in early funding demonstrated) and for all she knew I could have been lying. It was on me if this went to hell.

Joe Ariel and Vanessa Torrivilla, co-founders of Goldbely, confirmed a flight to New York City. A week later, they sat down with Chef Ansel. Within 24 hours, Goldbely's New York-based food and packaging scientist, Frank Luciano, was testing every conceivable shipping solution. Eventually, packaging was settled upon. And then came the actual launch planning. People did not sleep.

I mediated a few conversations between hungry startup and careful baker. I understood both sides -- legalities, shipping issues, members of staff -- and exercised my objectivity to help close loopholes and get the deal done.

Ultimately, it came down to Goldbely and Dominique Ansel to deliver - and they did, of course. Traffic that had crashed Dominique Ansel's site before was not longer standing in way of Cronuts' proliferation. Goldbely's Twitter following tripled. The company scored 15 articles in key publications. And people who had no idea we shipped anything suddenly knew we meant business.

What begun as me calling someone I wasn't specifically meant to be calling became the web's first viral flash sale for food. And what I learned in the process is that a PR person's job is not to interface with media or conduct research; the job of PR is to connect a business to the real world. Sometimes that means inserting yourself in operations, business development, and marketing. And sometimes, if you're lucky, it means man-handling lots of tasty baked goods.

One way or another, stepping out of the PR bubble to become a vital part of the entrepreneurial team tasted like sweet victory for me, my client, and the hungry consumer.

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