Promotions drive business. They not only pull in regulars, but also cultivate new and loyal guests. Planning a promotion, however, is no easy task. It takes weeks of brainstorming and preparation before any implementation can happen.
For Helen Wood, director of marketing at Tavern Hospitality Group, which has nine locations and three bars and restaurants in the Denver area, it comes down to a clear-cut, by-the-numbers plan. It all starts after the team determines when and where they want to increase business; then they go into brainstorming mode. “If, for instance, we want to increase our happy hour business, then we’ll brainstorm creative, promotional ideas centered around happy hour. After we develop our promotion idea, we set our timeline with deadlines and start dates and create our marketing plan to execute the promotion,” she says.
In order to get started here we have broken down some of the initial factors needed before launching a new promotion.
Create a System
First and foremost, bar and nightclub owners need to have a reliable system to implement training.
“With our clients, people want to do promotions but don’t have the infrastructure in place to execute them properly,” explains Annie Akin, executive VP of Patrick Henry Creative Promotions. “The biggest indicator of a successful promotion is the people actually executing it.”
If you have the infrastructure to train properly and you have the operation nailed down, then you can think about promotions, she says. Therefore, it’s important to first look at your operation first and fix any problems that might inhibit your from successfully executing a new promotion.
Define Your Goals
Once owners establish a strong, coherent system, then they can begin to figure out what type of promotion works best for their establishment. Promotions, Akin says, are meant to build business, so owners need to “keep in mind what you want the promotion to do for you.”
The challenge becomes in trying to be exciting without going over the top; some owners can be sidetracked by doing what’s “cute or trendy or a fun idea,” Akin says. Stick to your brand; don’t execute a promotion based on a trend if it doesn’t fit your overall theme or brand.
However, promotions should be creative, Wood says. “You need to create a promotion that gives someone a reason to come to you versus your competition.” Additionally, owners should understand what the promotion is supposed to do: increase revenue, increase traffic, bring in new users, generate excitement and buzz, etc.
“A promotion can do multiple things, but you shouldn’t expect it do everything for you,” Akin says. “Focus on two or three things you want it to do and stay true to that.”
To start, owners should write their brand message on a board and then write down the goals of the promotion. “As you’re brainstorming, go back to that and test if the promo does that for you,” Akin says. It’s also important to include your staff in the brainstorming process. They are on the front lines and know what the customers want.
Akin advises owners to own one thing instead of spreading the business too thin with a promotion per day. “Don’t try to attack everything at once; being 100% invested is better,” she says.
Budgeting and Timeline
When planning, owners should consider a budget and a timeline. That’s where most owners make the mistake, Akin explains. “They don’t understand what it costs you against net return. They go into it spending money.”
The other thing is to work out a timeline. Owners need to work with artists on flyers, radio on copy, printers to produce items, ordering cups or T-shirts for the staff, all of which takes time. “Take a few hours up front and plan out a schedule for yourself and everyone involved,” she says. If you plan out a budget, critical path and timeline, then you’re setting yourself up for success from the start.”
For example - Pinstripes, with four locations in the Illinois and Minnesota, the bar and restaurant focuses on bocce and bowling, and it made sense to capitalize on that. Although smaller tournaments have been hosted, this September the bistro is promoting its larger bocce tournament to date, courting players from around the world to win a grand prize of $15,000.
Planning the promotion was no easy feat, says Sandie Montgomery, event director at the bistro. The most important thing for the team at Pinstripes was to determine the date. “That’s the first starting point,” she says. With planning any event organization is key, and “you have to have a strategy.”
In terms of budget, the $400 entry fee for the bocce tournament helps cover some costs, but working with sponsors, such as Pepsi, Sysco, Goose Island and San Pellegrino also helps to support the tournament fees. Vendors can help promotions reach another level. “We value our relationships with our vendors and therefore we’re in this together,” Montgomery says. It plays a definite role in the success and profitability of the event.
Owners who don’t give themselves enough lead time to plan a promotion run into many roadblocks, explains Wood. “Depending on the promotion, you ideally should start planning several months in advance in order to market effectively.” Even when problems inevitably arise, the working timeline will help smooth those out.
Akin also says working backward from the timeline will help pinpoint things people often neglect when planning a promotion.
Marketing the Promotion
There is no wrong way to market, sources said, as long as the owner is targeting the right demographic for each promotion.
“You can’t stop marketing the event,” Montgomery says. “You can’t just put it out there; it’s a continuous process.” You need to spread the word through as many channels as possible relevant to your target audience. Market through social media (Facebook and Twitter), email blasts and by communicating with your guests. Don’t forget about traditional forms of marketing in order to engage guests including, table tents, flyers and radio spots.
“Evaluation is critical,” Akin says. Measuring how much the promotion cost against what it did for the business helps gauge how successful everything was. If marketing and promo planning cost $40,000, but there was only a minimal bump in sales, “Was the promotion worth it?” asks Akin. From there, owners should label what worked and didn’t work in the promotion.
Wood says if an owner plans ahead, is unique and creative and knows how to market, a promotion should be successful. However, owners that have too many promotions that dilute the brand will fail to market effectively or fail to deliver.
“For us, it’s all about creativity, planning and execution,” she says. “If we successfully carry out those three things, then we feel our promotion will be successful.”