Promos with Pay-off

Sweepstakes and Contests Benefit Both Patrons and Proprietors

Everyone loves to be a winner, and enticing people into your bar or club with a chance to win fabulous prizes may seem like a no-brainer. Fill out a form and possibly win a trip to the Caribbean? Drop a card in the fishbowl for tickets to a championship sporting event? People will line up at the door and be five deep at the bar, eagerly awaiting announcement of the lucky winner’s name (at the end of the evening, of course). Even a chance to win comp bottle service at a club or a private happy hour party at the bar will appeal to patrons.

Operators have to give to get, however. Putting together a promotion that involves a sweepstakes, contest, raffle or other type of enter-to-win component takes some serious forethought and homework, while pulling it off with panache and in compliance with local regulations requires creativity and diligence. Here are some elements to consider when planning your next program.

The Point of It All
Dusk“Often, owners and operators view sweepstakes as a way to give something back to their customer base. While this is one aspect of the idea, it’s not a goal with your best interest at heart,” says Rob Salerno, president of Online Promotions Group, which operates “If you think about it as giving one person a great trip, it’s only benefiting that one person. He or she might never set foot in your establishment again and the rest of the people who entered forget about it moments later. So, ultimately, it doesn’t benefit you either.”

Creating programs that connect with the guest in a way that will entice them to come back to your place time and again is crucial; perhaps they return in hopes of collecting more booty or perhaps just because they feel a certain loyalty to the venue, especially if they enjoyed a windfall on a previous visit. To accomplish either, the program has to make a meaningful impact.

Services like Salerno’s exist to help bar and club promotions planners organize such events. “ was an idea I had after working at a marketing agency that was involved with sweepstakes,” explains Salerno. “We were doing a lot of e-mail marketing at the time, and I thought it would be cool to have a portal to develop a contest.”

His particular site allows people to enter a multitude of sweepstakes, but more importantly for bar owners, it’s also a one-stop-shop to set up a sweepstakes with the site as the host. Salerno and his team can help clients find sponsors, collect valuable data from entrants and network with third-party web masters that promote various sweepstakes on their pages.

At Patrick Henry Creative Promotions, the Stafford, Texas-based company with 25 years experience in helping bar and restaurant management run innovative promotions, Executive Vice President Annie Akin offers ways to help make promotions benefit everyone involved.

“A contest or sweepstakes, like any promotional, marketing or PR endeavor, should be built upon your brand strategy and strengths. [It should] enhance the brand image, play to the target consumer and have a target outcome or goal. So your entire promotion, including the prize, should be centered around enhancing your brand. For example, we ran a program for a casual dining/sports bar chain called ‘16 Sweet Ways to Win’ for March Madness.”

The program featured 16 different prizes, each relevant to the target consumer, which was primarily male with a middle to lower income, 21-40 years of age. Prizes ranged from large items like BBQ grills and flat screen televisions to smaller ones like coolers and free food.

“While not everyone could take home a brand new TV, they could get a pretty great deal on free food [items], which just happened to be new menu items we were generating trial with by offering as prizes,” she explains.

At the center of every successful contest or sweepstakes should be one focus, Salerno says: “to improve your customer base, your customer experience and/or to increase sales.”

Making the Most of It

Palm treesContests are a fantastic way to gather data about your customer base for a minimal price. It’s important to keep your advertising specific and local, unless you are in a major tourist market that pulls in customers from other cities.

“Don’t work on national buzz for a local promotion,” Salerno says. “You waste time and money, and the data gathered won’t apply since those people won’t be visiting regularly. Second, the reward should be worth someone’s private information. I would not give someone my address and my e-mail for a free entrée. Would your patrons?”

Trips and vacation packages work particularly well in enticing patrons to share their contact information, and there are companies devoted to offering bar/restaurant owners deals when they buy in bulk.

Located in South Carolina, Vacation Adventures is one such company. The 25-year-old wholesale broker of vacation packages offers airline and hotel combinations for travel in North America, the Caribbean and Mexico.

“We get odds and ends left from hotels and airlines, and that’s how we get a good deal and are able to pass it along to our customers,” explains promotional consultant for Vacation Adventures, Vito Finizio.

Purchasing 25 vacation packages, for example, will run a bar or club less than $100 per package. The packages are valued at $400 to $700 and allow the winner to tack on extras, which Finizio explains, most opt to do. During the last 25 years in the business, he’s seen a wealth of successful giveaways.

“I like to remind people hosting these events that you have to put some effort into them to get good results,” he admits. “The reason you are in this business is to sell food and beverages. Don’t just host a raffle that doesn’t increase your bar sales. Tie in the liquor with the destination, because you aren’t doing this to send your patrons away from your bar to one in Jamaica. You want to tie in Red Stripe and increase beer sales among your entire customer base.”

If your venue is located in a major market city and can benefit from national advertising, consider posting your sweepstakes or contest on one of the publishing sites on the web. Craig McDaniel publishes sweepstakes on his site,, for large companies such as the History Channel, NBC, Time Warner Cable and General Motors. His site’s more than 151,000 members love to enter contests on a regular basis, choosing from upwards of 29,000 sweepstakes programs.

Surfboards“There is no real set formula on how these relationships get started,” McDaniel says of sponsors, clients and sweepstakes websites similar to his own. “What is important is to find out what works best for your establishment. It could be a one-time entry or a monthly giveaway. Once you host a few of them, benefits like tracking customer information and advertising your prizes become much easier.”

McDaniel offers one caution. “However, I strongly advise hiring a sweepstakes administrator if you are a large company. They are a third party responsible for picking winners, checking the eligibility of contestants, completing all paper work, etc.,” he explains, adding, “The biggest worry with hosting a sweepstakes is liability and legal issues.”

Cover Your Bases
McDaniel is right. Nowhere is the print finer, the font smaller, the rules more regulatory than on a sweepstakes or contest contract. While there are entire companies devoted to handling the hassles of hosting contests and sweepstakes, you should be very aware of potential hazards, so having a lawyer with your own interests at the forefront is a wise idea.

“Even for those companies that have legal teams, I highly recommend getting a lawyer who specializes in alcohol beverage laws,” advises Elizabeth DeConti, shareholder with Florida law firm GrayRobinson in Tampa, Fla.; the firm includes national alcohol and beverage practices.

“Where contests are concerned, there are laws about what prizes may be awarded, who may pay for them and the mechanics of the contest. But for establishments serving alcohol, the rules can be different,” she explains. “For example, almost every state prohibits any drinking contest where drinking is a feature. You also need to ascertain if it is a game of chance or a game of skill. A game of chance in some states may be considered gambling. There are restrictions on how contestants can enter, how the contest can be advertised and how prizes are awarded.”

Ensuring compliance with such a maze of regulations and rules is enough to make your head spin, for sure. But when properly planned and executed, promotions involving contests and sweepstakes can make you dizzy, instead, with the dollars they generate. NCB


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