How to Create a Buzz Before You Officially Open for Business

Insider tips to leverage pre-, soft- and grand-opening events
By Jennifer Whittle, Associate Director, Public Relations

There’s never been a better time to host grand opening, soft opening, and even pre-opening events to introduce a new or expanding business to community leaders, media and customers.

Considering such events have become less common, doing so is exactly why grand openings are extremely important—now more than ever. Whether you’re introducing a healthcare facility, educational institution, restaurant, or a new housing community, hosting a grand opening is a great way to stand out from the crowd.

Bottom line: regardless of the public-facing industry you serve, you still need to create an event to make an impact with your brand. Let’s begin by taking a look at healthcare.

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Pave the way for a medical practice by breaking ground

While your grand opening must wait until your waiting rooms are ready and necessary medical equipment is in place, it doesn’t mean you can’t stage soft- opening or pre-opening events well before a healthcare facility is fully opened to the public.

A time-honored, celebratory tactic is to hold a ground-breaking ceremony. Dignitaries should be invited, with a golden shovels on hand for each one. Don’t sweat visiting your local hardware store to buy tools and paint. Your public relations agency can provide you with the perfect props—right down to ribbon that matches decorative bows on the stage’s bunting.

These types of events require a professional setup. You’ll need a platform with a podium, a generator for your microphone’s sound system and plenty of folding chairs. Depending on the weather you might need to put up a canopy for guests and always have refreshments on hand.

However you decorate, make it a comfortable space so attendees can focus on the keynote speaker’s “shovel speech” instead of sweltering in the heat or drowning in rain. Consider asking the city’s economic development representative to explain the project’s importance to the local economy, including job creation.

Meanwhile, invite top company thought leaders or local representatives to speak about the much-needed medical services for enhancing patient care in the community that your facility will soon provide.

Ribbon ceremonies still ‘cut it’ for healthcare

Ready to open your new radiology center or medical services building? When planning a grand opening for a healthcare facility whatever its size, it still makes sense to stage an old-fashioned ribbon cutting.

Remember to invite the mayor and key members of the city council who helped with zoning or cutting other proverbial red tape to make opening your location possible. Also recognize the commercial developer, city planners and other guests of honor. This could include representatives from your corporate office as well as the on-site director of the new facility.

In addition, play up how your services address existing and future community needs. Don’t be shy about sharing statistics to back it up. Members of the press, in particular, will appreciate the effort.

Open with community health fairs, free screenings

Before your big opening day, consider offering free screenings for blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) asthma and/or glucose, or mini fitness classes. This not only gives the local community a sneak peek, but offers healthcare providers the chance to pre-book appointments, hand out flyers and get the word out about any specials they will be offering on or before the facility’s official grand opening event

From complimentary five-minute chair massages to free color-changing stress-test strips or a stack of bandages in branded pocket kits to go, you’re likely to grab plenty of foot traffic and local media attention. So go ahead and add a few soft opening events before opening your doors in grand fashion.

Welcome students to campus long before classes begin

While a medical facility doesn’t typically open its doors weeks before patients show up, schools most definitely should—and do—welcome guests to campus fairly far in advance.

Long before instructors receive student rosters and finalize their first-session lesson plans, school marketers can create a buzz with pre-opening, soft-opening and grand-opening events.

Consider holding education fairs complete with campus tours. You don’t need to have every classroom open and accessible. By opening your student union, administration offices and at least one or more sections of classrooms, prospective students and their families can get a good feel for what you have to offer.

Identify complementary long-term business and community partners

One way to attract guests to your campus might be to partner with local business leaders who plan to hire students who complete your program. If you train cosmetologists, for example, consider inviting representatives from barbershops, hair salons and nail salons to attend a career day as part of a soft opening. In future years, the event could be restaged as a job fair—once you have graduates ready to put their skills to work.

Staging career-related events on campus is a great way to demonstrate value, giving potential students a stronger incentive to commit to enrolling. Alternatively, consider having school representatives meet with students off-campus at one of the high-profile employers in your area.

Do what makes the most sense for your community. Partnering with a public relations firm, such as LAVIDGE, can provide guidance on which opening-event options your school should explore.

Grand Canyon University Arena unveiling reaches millions

Take, for example, Grand Canyon University’s announcement of its $40 million, 5,000-seat arena. Our goals as publicity partners were to position the new venue as a key location for Valley sports, entertainment and community events. We also wanted to raise visibility of the 100-acre Phoenix campus and promote its status as Arizona’s premier private Christian university.

We did just that, and then some, by securing an audience of nearly 20 million through extensive coverage on all Phoenix television stations and print publications throughout the state.

It didn’t happen by chance.

Our LAVIDGE public relations team pitched sneak peek opportunities to local media. This included sports, business, education, construction and entertainment journalists, to ensure wide coverage and a diverse audience. We provided a behind-the-scenes look at construction details and special features, and invited key dignitaries and the local media to a ribbon-cutting.

The arena was an immediate hit. Within three years of opening, GCU had to add 2,100 seats to the arena to handle local demand.

Remember, while not every school expansion project has the potential for such widespread reach, each has value. Our public relations team will plan a strategy scaled for an appropriate approach to deliver the desired response.

Stage pre- and soft openings to give diners a taste of what’s to come

Pulling off a great grand opening is likely easier to do when it comes to the food service industry. Much information is available online, including our article outlining 12 killer restaurant grand opening ideas.

So, for this category, let’s focus on a three-part strategy to guide restaurateurs through a pre-opening and a soft-opening event before hosting the grand-opening main event.

It all begins with your pre-opening. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for your staff in addition to providing you with valuable feedback before officially opening your doors. Limit guests to family members, friends and vendors.

Offer a representative selection from your menu and do your best to provide the same experience they can expect when they return. Make sure to ask for honest feedback on what to tweak, what to overhaul and what you might want to consider ditching.

This pre-opening event also offers a lower-stress way for your kitchen and wait staff to learn how to work together. It gives them a chance to test out your equipment and to ask questions of your vendors, which is why we recommend inviting them to attend.

Soft openings take your community and media buzz to the next level

Once you’ve made a few changes based on your pre-opening feedback, it’s time to invite the next round of guests. You’ll likely have to move quickly between steps, so plan ahead by building in some flexibility for your soft opening.

By now, you should have the confidence to invite a few members of the community, exclusive bloggers who can introduce your restaurant concept through the traditional and social media, and representatives from a few complementary businesses which operate nearby. Your restaurant soft opening can be stretched across a few days or a week, making changes as needed as your grand opening date draws near.

Consider hosting the media for one of your soft opening days. They will appreciate the opportunity to photograph specially prepared dishes, sample your food and preview your menu as it will be presented on opening day.

Finally, the additional feedback you collect by hosting a series of soft-opening events provide additional information to help your grand opening be as successful as possible. It also helps your staff to be ready, confident and on point by the time dignitaries and other important guests arrive.

They don’t call them grand for nothing

You’ll thank yourself on opening day for having taken the time to host pre- and soft openings—and to implement any lessons learned. Things will run more smoothly, because you’ll be better prepared to make a great impression.

In the food service industry, opening events can literally make or break your business. If it’s a bust on Day One, few diners may be aware you exist, let alone order a meal. In fact, research shows that up to 90% of independent restaurant businesses close within the first year. Those which make it past their first anniversary, on average, close within another four years.

On the other hand, a well-planned restaurant opening can set you up for long-term success. Such was the case in 2011 when LAVIDGE Public Relations managed the very successful grand opening for Dominick’s Steakhouse in the Scottsdale Quarter in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Our objectives were to introduce the new high-end steakhouse, pique interest and build credibility by promoting its star chef, create a buzz branding Dominick’s as the new “wow” restaurant in town to generate traffic and reservations, and to generate awareness among meeting and event planners at nearby hotels and resorts.

From creating announcements promoting the restaurant’s initial hiring camp to distributing press materials highlighting the exceptional food, service and exquisite design, LAVIDGE expertly spread the word about the newest luxury prime steak concept in the swankiest part of the Valley which resulted in an abundance of behind-the-scenes coverage and multi-page photo feature articles.

A great opening leads to a grand future for restaurant owners

The publicity blitz bolstered attendance during a week-long series of grand opening parties. Overall, it was such a success that Dominick’s was sold out for both Friday and Saturday nights for several months. This set them firmly on the pathway to being numbered among the 10% of restaurants which survive year one.

In true fairytale fashion, the owners quickly opened a second steakhouse—this time in Phoenix. Then they added a high-end seafood concept location in Scottsdale. They have since expanded their fine dining concept to Texas and Illinois and are planning more locations in the near future.

Having passed the critical five-year mark in 2016, the parent company is well on its way to its tenth. Restaurateurs who meet that milestone, statistics show, can expect long-term success.

Without the smashing success Dominick’s experienced in the very beginning, the outcome could have been quite different.

Aiming high pays off for builder introducing upscale condominiums

Quality matters when planning events to announce new residential real estate developments—even more so when your target audience is buyers for high-end residences.

Such was the case when LAVIDGE Public Relations paved the way to open an upscale condo development in Scottsdale, Ariz. Our objective was to leverage public relations tactics to position ST Residential as a leader in the high-end real estate market. We also wanted to promote sales at the Safari Drive property.

With new-home communities breaking ground often in the Phoenix area, we knew we needed to do something unique, creative and significant enough to get the VIPs and media’s attention. So, in addition to creating outstanding collateral materials and signage for the sales center, we planned something special: a Cirque du Soleil-themed VIP event.

Every last detail, from specialty cuisine down to aerial servers pouring cocktails from a trapeze, took this goal into account when planning the grand opening for the Scottsdale Waterfront property. When your “wow” factor is off the charts, it has an effect on people. Its success was immediately evident when numerous participants made reservations to purchase these high-end homes.

Members of the media were impressed as well. LAVIDGE secured strong local media coverage in the daily and weekly newspapers as well as city glossy magazines with additional exposure online. This kept the condo community in the public eye, both growing and maintaining interest.

As a result, ST Residential sold 19 Safari Drive homes in 20 weeks—including a penthouse.

Grand opening publicity is most successful when it's custom fit

Didn’t see an exact fit for a grand opening (or re-opening event) to launch or rebrand your business? Rest assured.  

We understand. It’s impossible to address every possible scenario when addressing a general audience. Working one-on-one, however, a LAVIDGE public relations specialist can help you explore your best options to develop a personalized creative hook—with a perfect fit.

To learn more, give us a call at 480.998.2600 or send email to [email protected].

 

Jennifer Whittle
Jennifer Whittle
Associate Director, Public Relations
Jennifer Whittle is a seasoned public relations strategist, practitioner and leader with more than 25 years of agency and corporate experience. The graduate of Northern Arizona University joined LAVIDGE in 2011.

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