Reporter's Notebook

Morton's: Ask and ye shall receive

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Plane-side steak delivery from Morton's is a big PR win for the chain

Shankman is surprised with a Morton's steak at Newark International Airport

Social-media and marketing circles have been abuzz the past two days over Morton's The Steakhouse's very special promotion on Twitter. I say "very special" because the free-porterhouse offer went to only one customer: social-media entrepreneur Peter Shankman, who had a steak waiting for him Wednesday night when he landed at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, simply because he asked for it in a tweet to the restaurant brand.

After a long day of meetings in Florida and before boarding his flight back to New York City, Shankman posted this tweet:

"Hey @Mortons, can you meet me at Newark Airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)"

Clearly, he was joking, but the marketing team at Morton's headquarters in Chicago took him seriously. Apparently, they saw the tweet, called their restaurant team in Hackensack, N.J., and arranged the delivery. Roger Drake, the chain's director of corporate communications, confirmed that the delivery went down.

"Exactly what you say," he wrote in an email to Nation's Restaurant News. "We do all social media internally with no third-party [monitoring partner]. Our Chicago Morton's social-media team reaching out to our Hackensack Morton's team."

Shankman was so floored by the customer service gesture that he tweeted about it all Wednesday night to his 108,381 Twitter followers and wrote an effusive blog post about it, accessible to his 51,631 Facebook fans. Because Shankman is widely known for founding the free publicity service Help a Reporter Out and running social-media agency The Geek Factory Inc., chances are that many of his followers are business-traveler consumers who occasionally put meals at Morton's on their expense accounts.

This is a major PR win for a chain that does not do broadcast advertising, but instead puts its marketing resources into managing its highly regarded reputation and word-of-mouth. The investment required the cost of the porterhouse and gas, and a little extra labor to get the steak to Shankman. Several tech-focused blogs have also picked up the story.

The tale comes down to Morton's understanding how best to market itself without a huge budget. A few weeks ago, I sat down with chief executive Chris Artinian for an upcoming "Having Words With" column in Nation's Restaurant News, and he addressed the potential of social-media marketing to spread the chain's reputation directly among its business traveler guests.

"Let's face it," Artinian told me, "the guys in business today who are living on their PDAs — which is virtually everybody — you come into a city and you know what's going on. We've had tweet-ups, and all of a sudden 60 people show up because of one person with a lot of followers. We continue to gain momentum with followers on not only Twitter but also Facebook."

"We're so well-known for being a business destination, but we can't forget about the fact that we're a strong special-occasion destination," he added. "With the onset of our bars being able to create this lighter environment and broaden the appeal with our guest base, we are going to see more social diners in our restaurants."

He's probably right, especially if they stay opportunistic like this when it comes to Twitter.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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