“Rochelle is a very nice lady. If she is representing a restaurant I always give it a fantastic review — even if it’s absolutely crap.”
In his own way, top food critic Giles Coren has commended Rochelle Cohen, a driven public relations entrepreneur who has run her PR company for restaurants, for more than 20 years.
Cohen boasts a high-quality book of clients — counting three Michelin star restaurants and the Giraffe chain founded by Jewish business figures Andrew Jacobs and Russel and Juliette Joffe — among her 30 clients, who have 300 food and drink branches between them.
But for Cohen, business wasn’t always so good. Though she now employs over 25 people, Cohen started her Roche Communication company alone, working for free in exchange for a spare desk in a London office.
“After a typical year of figuring out what I wanted to do after graduating, I started in a food and drink agency,” says the former Manchester University student.
“Then someone offered me some space in their office, to go at it alone,” recalls the dynamic entrepreneur.
“I was 26, fearless and naïve. I moved in rent free and did a bit of their PR in return. I didn’t have any clients so I started to write to people and my first client happened to be a restaurant.”
However, a game-changing deal with Italian eaterie Carluccio’s, led by Jewish chief executive Simon Kossoff, boosted her fortune.
“Simon came to see me to say he was ‘opening a little café and would I help him? Now they are on 78 [branches]. The company has grown organically with our clients.”
But boosting her client’s business involves more than schmoozing journalists.
“It’s not just about going out for lunch and air kissing,” she says. “Hard work makes it work, you have to put the hours in, and roll up your sleeves and deliver the results, and now it is even more competitive to make sure your restaurants and bars are getting written about.”
Being able to secure top press coverage for clients has led to a 20 per cent increase in revenue on last year.
“I’ve done it through honesty, creativity and well rounded campaigns — it’s not about glory hunting.
“Restaurants are good for different reasons, it is about being honest so a journalist knows what to expect,” she adds.
“You have to manage expectations, pitch at the right time and be careful not to over hype things to journalists.”
Last year her staff size almost doubled to keep up with industry changes and business growth.
“Restaurants are constantly under the spotlight because of blogs and social media but it wasn’t like that seven years ago.
“That is the big challenge for all PR agencies; you have to keep up with all the developments.
“In the old days if you got a bad review you could say ‘don’t worry it will be fish and chip paper tomorrow.’
“But today everything is permanently online and every customer has a voice and they can interact with you.
“Keeping on top of the constant communications is so important; you have print press, online, Twitter, and Instagram. It makes your life as a PR much harder, because it is 24/7.”
And the St John’s Wood-based Jewish mother, to four-year-old Alfie, says the community has boosted her passion for food.
“I’ve always been interested in food and drink, it is an eating culture, and every celebration is around food so I suppose it is kind of in my blood.
“My son Alfie may well end up being a restaurant critic the way he is going, although he will have to find more constructive adjectives other than ‘pooey’ to describe dishes that aren’t up to scratch.”