The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association (NCRLA) leads the charge in advancing and protecting North Carolina’s $23 billion restaurant, foodservice and lodging industry, bringing members together each summer for its annual meeting. In 2016, NCRLA incorporated a cooking competition for a creative and entertaining outlet to showcase members’ expertise. Dubbed the NCRLA Chef Showdown, savory chefs, pastry chefs, distilleries, and mixologists from across the state compete for the coveted titles of NCRLA Chef of the Year, NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year and NCRLA Mixologist & Distillery of the Year.
Since the launch of the competition, NCRLA has tasked Largemouth with promoting the foodie event, and the fourth annual showdown in 2019 reached new heights of success. Largemouth created a strategic communications plan to target important markets across the state including top chefs, restaurant owners, lodging managers, bloggers, consumers, and sponsors.
Through communication and media relations efforts, Largemouth worked to promote the annual event to:
- Drive awareness of NCRLA’s mission and contributions across the industry.
- Advance North Carolina’s hospitality industry and position the state as a prominent culinary destination.
- Attract potential new restaurant and lodging organizations and retain existing NCRLA members.
Largemouth executed a comprehensive communications plan for the fourth annual NCRLA Chef Showdown which had specific outreach for each part of the competition – the Preliminary, Regional and Final Round.
The 2019 NCRLA Chef Showdown kicked off with preliminary rounds in Morehead City, Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, and Chapel Hill. Largemouth shared media advisories to reporters in each market with the slate of participants and selected key influencers to invite to the closed events.
Regionals rounds consisted of 11 chefs who moved past the preliminary rounds and were broken into two events, one in Raleigh and one in Charlotte. Largemouth identified key targets in each area to invite to the closed event and chose influencers to share event details and images with their readers and/or viewers. For the media present during the events, Largemouth monitored all social media activity coverage in real time, as well as any follow up coverage. In addition, Largemouth ensured to attain headshots of each chef and high-quality images of their dishes, as these would be the dishes up for award consideration in the final round.
For the final event, Largemouth first put out a statewide notice to announce ticket sales as well as the list of chefs participating, sponsors and judges. To gather media and public interest, specific pitch platforms were created based on where the chef or mixologist competing was located.
Ahead of the event, Largemouth pre-pitched priority broadcast outlets in each major DMA and secured interviews with the tentative winners. During the event, Largemouth was on-site to facilitate interviews with media before doors were opened to the public and helped ensure the event ran smoothly.
After the winners were revealed, Largemouth created a press release with the final announcements and gathered images from the event to distribute first thing in the morning. Media opportunities continued to trickle in for months after the event, farther advancing the impact of the event across the state of North Carolina.
The 2019 NCRLA Chef Showdown media relations campaign proved as satisfying as the competition. Largemouth secured coverage in six media markets across North Carolina including 66 media stories and 60 social media posts, totaling in 35,484,825 media impressions.
Notable coverage was secured with outlets including:
- WRAL-TV, WALTER Magazine, Triangle Business Journal, and Indy Week in Raleigh
- Carolina Epicurean and Mountain Xpress in Asheville
- The Charlotte Post, WCNC-TV, and WBTV in Charlotte
- News & Record and Winston Salem Journal in Greensboro
- WCTI-TV & WINT-TV in Morehead City
- The Daily Tarheel in Chapel Hill
Multiple chefs were interviewed as local thought leaders and shared key messaging around the annual competition. Since the winners were crowned, they have continued to be called by their titles in the media, further showing the importance and impact of the NCRLA Chef Showdown event.