CAMPAIGNS: Event PR - Ben’s has a (matzoh) ball

Client: Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers (Hicksville, NY)

Client: Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers (Hicksville, NY)

Client: Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers

(Hicksville, NY)

PR Team: WordHampton Public Relations (East Hampton, NY)

Campaign: Ben’s Third Annual Charity Matzoh Ball Eating Championship

Time Frame: November 1999 through Feb. 1, 2000

Budget: dollars 10,000

Consider the matzoh ball, a small round dumpling made with matzoh meal,

eggs and seasoning and usually served in chicken soup. Nice, but how do

you sell it?

If you’re Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers and its PR

agency of record, WordHampton, you hold an annual matzoh ball-eating

contest where the contestants eat as many as they can in five minutes

and 25 seconds.

(Important contest rule: participants cannot vomit within five minutes

after finishing or while on Ben’s premises.)

On Feb. 1, 2000, after regional competitions at five of its 10 New

York-area restaurants, Ben’s held its third-annual championship at its

Manhattan store, on 38th Street. The event was designed to differentiate

Ben’s from its competitors and to raise money (from entry fees) for the

Interfaith Nutrition Network, which runs soup kitchens in Queens and on

Long Island.

For Ben’s owner, Ronnie Dragoon, a man whose restaurants make deliveries

in a ’kosher ambulance,’ it’s also another way to have fun.


The goal of the campaign, of course, was to generate as much coverage as

possible. That meant trade, local and national media - both day-of

stories on the regionals and finals as well as long-range reports to

cover the soft news and food angles. WordHampton - Ben’s agency of

record - tried to ensure coverage by having as little interference as

possible from other events. For example, the date was moved from

Groundhog Day to Feb. 1 this year.


WordHampton president Steve Haweeli got to work early. He identified the

media he wanted to reach and, in November, sent out save-the-day


He followed up with press kits in December and another save-the-day

before the contest.

Early on, he lined up coverage with the Food Network’s show Extreme

Cuisine and new cable station Metro Guide’s Unblinking Eye, figuring

that even if news broke the day of the contest and media didn’t show up,

he’d still have coverage.

And while the novelty of the contest is worthy of the last two minutes

of a newscast, or a newspaper feature story, having a celebrity on hand

helps bring out reporters. In late 1999, Haweeli contacted New York

mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s scheduling secretary and asked if hizzoner

would show up to hand out the championship trophy.

’We had a feeling the mayor would do this because he’s hit up Ben’s for

sandwiches to feed the helpers when the Yankees have their World Series

parades,’ Haweeli says. They worked out the timing so that he’d come in,

present the award and stick around for a photo op.


Every New York City TV station covered the finals. Newsday followed the

entire contest, culminating with a lengthy story and photo. The Daily

News ran photos of the regionals and the finals. Many ethnic papers,

including Brooklyn Jewish Week, Long Island Jewish Week and The Jewish

Tribune in Rockland County, also did stories.

New York all-news radio station WINS covered the event live. NBC sent a

crew and offered the feed to its affiliate stations; it ran in Houston,

Dallas, Philadelphia, St. Louis and other markets, possibly generating

some name recognition among future New York tourists. Contest winner

Donald Lerman, who ate 12 matzoh balls, appeared on Roseanne’s daytime

talk show.

In all, WordHampton reports 80 placements potentially reaching 7.5

million people. Plus, the contest raised more than dollars 6,000 for


Did the contest increase restaurant sales? ’My gut, intuitive feeling

says to me that besides creating a branding awareness, it does have a

residual benefit over time,’ Dragoon says. ’But could I scientifically

tell you there was a greater increase in business as a result of that?

Social science would say yes. Science would say no.’


The fourth-annual contest will take place next February. ’The challenge

for us,’ Haweeli says, ’will be to look out for different media outlets

that have not picked up on it, and not fall into the trap of going to

the ones that have already done it before because they like us and know

us. Because it could become old news.’

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