Photo: Maren Caruso
When I was talking with the folks from Campari America about the scope of this Spirited Pride series of interviews with LGBTQ professionals in the cocktail and spirits world, I proposed expanding beyond bartenders to people working in other aspects of the industry. My friend Ryan Robles, a highly imaginative PR powerhouse who's based in San Francisco, and who's worked on Negroni Week there for the past 4 years immediately came to mind. I met Ryan Robles through our mutual friend Virginia Miller, who described his unbridled creativity around his PR projects to me: "Ryan always goes above and beyond, being both personal and creative with his PR. He's been known to hand deliver artful baskets, Campari-filled donuts from one of the top bakeries around (baked fresh that morning), and other beautiful, standout packages that represent a very personal side with his clients like Campari.” It's these creative flourishes that really make his PR and marketing initiatives stand out, and he runs his very Willy Wonka creative agency out of his delightfully eclectic house in Bernal Heights. His clients include Octavia, Frances, 1760, Loló, Onsen –- a new bathhouse concept launching in the Tenderloin this fall -- and a handful of other lifestyle brands. I thought I'd let Ryan take the wheel for his own intro—PR likes to handle its own spin, of course.
JR: So give me the elevator pitch: who's Ryan Robles?
RR: I'm Ryan Robles, I run a boutique creative agency out of San Francisco, focused on publicity, events, creative campaigns, social media and influencer marketing for lifestyle concepts, restaurants, bars, and spirit brands.
JR: So talk me about the journey that got you into the PR side of things.
RR: Well, in early 2000s I was throwing late night underground discos in San Francisco with my best friend Marcia Gagliardi (aka Tablehopper.com). These were much bigger ideas than typical club nights. We really tried to create conceptual nightlife environments with overarching themes with everything we did together. One night in The Tenderloin we rented the penthouse of an old apartment building that was almost derelict, and recreated the vibe of David Mancuso's legendary Loft parties from the 70s. We also threw a series of pool parties at the Phoenix Hotel called Feather – that were an homage to mid 70s disco bohemian Malibu culture, very LA disco. We also hosted a monthly disco brunch called Rehab which was insanely popular. We had hosts dressed as nurses that would check you in when you arrived and doctors pushing through medical carts filled with Tylenol, Tums, test tube shots and other recovery remedies. I really connected with the creative freedom I had when throwing these parties. I loved curated the soundtrack of the night and creating a lighting concept or installations. Back then I lived in a big warehouse in South of Market – which became my staging area and workshop for building out installations. When we threw these parties, we also did the PR for them as well. And back then San Francisco was more of a nightlife city-- everyone went out dancing, so there were a ton of event listing sites, and more outlets willing to cover crazy club nights or happenings. This is around the time I decided I wanted to become a publicist, even though I don't think I quite knew what a publicist did.
Back in the day...
Somehow I was able to convince a few up and coming designers to let me represent them, and my rate was so ridiculously low, looking back I don't even know how I did that. I had 2 designers hire me to set up media tours for them in NY which I somehow pulled off, and then I started getting hired to do local boutique launches, so I'd organize the parties, and press around each opening. I was so scrappy back then – I'd come in with photographers, DJs, set up the food that was served on vinyl. We literally had no budget for any of this, but somehow made it all work. I really connected with the creative freedom I had when throwing these parties. I loved curating the soundtrack of the night and creating a lighting concept or installations.
After a while I was ready for a change. I wanted to do something new, but didn’t know what that was. At the time I had a friend that had recently moved to Sydney, and suggested I move there – and pretty much on the spur of the moment I did. It was 2007.
Shortly after arriving I met a woman named Jackie Milliash. She was a well-known restaurateur with a wild and notorious local profile. She had owned a hot restaurant destination called Jackie's that was located on Bondi Beach. The restaurant had closed just before I arrived, and when I had met Jackie – she was in the process of opening her next restaurant, called Jackie's Café – which was located in Paddington. It was an unusual concept where you had this cozy restaurant concept with really lovely café-style food inside, but directly across from it, on the other side of the patio area, there was a long omakase-style sushi bar with some of the top sushi chefs in Sydney. Even with the little experience that I had in hospitality, I knew that this was very innovative at the time.
Jackie and I got along like a house on fire. She was a little crazy (which I loved), but had huge heart and was a lot of fun. She taught me so much about the restaurant industry. At one point, I was basically running Jackie's Café. Its where I learned the nuts and bolts of running a restaurant. I went through the process of opening this spot with her, so I knew how much food cost, how to price dishes, and how to be a host and server. I also helped her with a little bit of marketing and PR. I remember us getting a lot of press. It was the only place where you could go to get this traditional Australian lunch or get sushi in a totally chic setting. Working with Jackie is when I fell in love with the hospitality industry.
Ryan's home office in Bernal Heights.
When it was time to move back to San Francisco, I knew that I wanted to continue working in this industry, but really didn’t know how to go about doing that. I was a terrible server, and didn’t have a ton of experience, but knew that this is where I belonged. I loved how passionate people were in this industry, and how insane they could be at the same time. I wanted to be a part of the community.
After moving back to San Francisco, I was introduced to Christopher Losa, the owner of an incredible Italian restaurant in the Mission, called Bar Bambino. It was like this gorgeous oasis located in a dicey part of the neighborhood, and in the middle of all this urban mayhem. Christopher took a chance on me, and hired me to help develop an events program for the restaurant. It was a perfect fit for me at the time. My role eventually evolved into curating off-site events for the restaurant, where I got to exercise the creativity that I loved when I was throwing late night parties, but there was also this elevated food and wine component to them as well.
One of the events we did was for a new dance theatre that was being built just next to the restaurant, called the ODC Theater. We produced this stylish four-course dinner essentially in the middle of a construction zone. We created these big pendant light installations out of construction string lights, built tables, and brought in a working kitchen and chefs to create the dinner experience – which was so much fun. After that I started getting hired to do weddings, and other VIP-style events.
Soon after I was hired by a local agency to do publicity for restaurants. That is when I learned the actual process of doing PR. I caught on quickly, but realized I wasn’t really an agency kind of guy. That’s when I decided to start my own business. Soon after, I met Campari America, and then started working on Negroni Week. It all pretty much snowballed from there.
Ryan's Bernal Heights home office.
PRO PR TIPS FOR BARTENDERS:
TALKING TO PRESS:
When talking to a journalist about your cocktail, bar or program – it’s important to have a easy-to-understand concept statement or elevator pitch that's concise to transmit. I like to work with clients on practicing the top three main talking points to communicate for each opportunity that we are creating or that comes our way. These are tailored to the story that is being written or they are being interviewed for. I always recommend that these three talking points are communicated first in any interview or discussion. This way, if you have a tendency to ramble or get side tracked talking about a specific cocktail or a story – you’ve already given the writer what they need up front. It’s all about being efficient with the information you are giving. I also think it’s important to read the last couple of stories the journalist who is interviewing your has written to understand their writing style, and what they are most likely to cover. This can save you some time with the info you are giving. you’ve given.
If the question is about your concept – your response should be able to be given in one sentence. If the question is about your cocktail style – this should be one sentence as well. Also, in this day and age and in most metropolitan cities, it’s usually a given that you are using seasonal and local ingredients, so find a way another way to describe what you are doing. I think it’s important to let the writer know your cocktails are being made with integrity, but don’t hang your hat on soley that. Find a way deeper way to describe what you are creating.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Also, if a writer or editor gets in touch with you about using one of your drinks in a story or featuring your bar in some way, prioritize that return email. Get back to them as soon as possible, and don't delay on getting them recipes of answering follow up questions—this can easily make the difference between making it into a story or not. Writers can be disorganized and can be fighting tight deadlines, too—helping them out by responding swiftly can make a big difference in this whole equation. And if you're consistently highly responsive to writers' and editors' queries and requests you will start to be on their shortlist of who o contact when they need something to flesh out a piece in a hurry. This can mean much more coverage for your and your bar in the long run.JR.
PHOTO READY: It's super important to have professional photos available if they are being asked about cocktails, as well as be responsive on email. Most of your opportunities will come through that way.
This is a great tool to use as a portfolio of your work. My biggest piece of advice is be thoughtful about the images you are posting. Photos of cocktails or food in dim lighting don’t look appetizing or appealing. You want your image to stand out and represent you. Be distinctive. If you love to share what you are creating behind the bar, photograph it during the day with good natural lighting. You’ll get a lot more engagement. Also, research the best hashtags to use as well. This will increase the amount of views of your post.
Also, make sure your profile is not set to private. Again, think of your Instagram almost like a digital portfolio of you work. We’ve received quite a few media opportunities based solely on the content we are curating for our clients on Instagram. Lastly, make sure you are following all the top spirit writers and outlets in your market and nationally. It’s an easy way to get in front of editors that you may never have the opportunity to actually meet.
A COUPLE COOL NEGRONI WEEK PROJECTS RYAN DEVELOPED
Jen Macias of the Portland design form Fine-Counsel and her boyfriend Alejandro de la Parra of Teardrop Lounge have been collaborating on a series of posters called Cocktail Propaganda. When Ryan found out about the posters he wound us using this Negroni focused one as part of his Negroni Week projects in San Francisco. And quite a rich line-up of contributors to this poster--Julie Reiner of Clover Club and Leyenda, Scott Baird & Josh Harris of the Bon Vivants, Jeff Morgenthaler of Clyde Common and Pepe le Moko and Pamela Wiznitzer of Seamstress and USBG NY. (Posters are available through Bull in China.)
Ryan put together a special screening of La Dolce Vita at Alamo Drafthouse SF during Negroni Week.
Ryan in the kitchen at client restaurant, Octavia.
PHOTO: Wes Rowe
Ryan has shared the recipe for one of his recent favorite cocktails with us, from Christopher Longoria, who's Bar Manager at Ryan's client restaurant, 1760, on San Francisco's Polk Street.
In a cocktail tin
ADD: .75oz Sage infused Campari
3 sage leaves.
ADD: 2oz dry gin
.5oz dry vermouth
1oz Carpano Antica Formula
2 dash orange bitters
Stir for 20seconds.
Strain through a Hawthrone strainer and sieve into a Nick and Nora cocktail glass.
Sage Infused Campari Solution
For 1 cup of Campari (or 226.8ml)
ADD: 15.1 grams of sage
Leave sealed for two days.