Michelin Guide solidifies its identity through anonymity

For years, Michelin's anonymous reviewers have been its brand signature.

Company: Michelin
Agency Mix: Cliff Freeman & Partners; Susan Magrino Agency (both in New York); Allison & Partners (San Francisco)
In-house team: Tonya Polydoroff, PR manager; Alice Searcy, marketing director
Lead agency: Cliff Freeman & Partners
Campaign: Famously Anonymous

For years, Michelin's anonymous reviewers have been its brand signature. But intensified competition in the restaurant review space, social media, and the recession compelled the company to give the public a refresher, while also stretching its boundaries into the digital sphere.

"We wanted to make sure people understood the process the inspectors go through to not only award a star, but also to include a restaurant in the Michelin Guide," says Tonya Polydoroff, PR manager, Michelin North America.

The team held events to celebrate the 2010 release dates: October 6 for New York and October 20 for San Francisco. Michelin launched a Web site, "Famously Anonymous," about the inspectors' jobs. It also created Twitter profiles for them, while retaining their anonymity.

This anonymity, and the fact that Michelin reviewers are local pros, are key messages. The internal team handled Twitter postings, which include critiques of New York and Bay Area restaurants. The ad agency led the print campaign, which runs through the holiday season in magazines and on the Web site. The PR firms organized media events.

"It was divide and conquer," Polydoroff notes. "We had a PR team in each market to make sure the teams were really in touch with the local scenes."

In the first week in October, the new Michelin Guide ad campaign appeared on a New York City storefront as part of a "pop-up" effort to generate pre-launch buzz. The team also hosted an October 5 event near New York's Rockefeller Center that catered to top-tier media from culinary, lifestyle, and business titles, as well a panel about restaurant reviewing at a Borders bookstore.

In San Francisco, Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide, conducted press tours focusing on food and tech blogs, in addition to promoting the guide's iPhone app, says Aimee Grove, VP at Allison & Partners. The team will also host a contest surrounding the Bib Gourmand, a list of inspector favorites that are less expensive.

The San Francisco team is planning upcoming outreach to cities with a large portion of business travelers to the Bay Area, like Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York, Grove adds.

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