Remaining stagnant is the kiss of the death in the bar and nightclub industry. Some loyal customers likely will stick around, but generating interest from new clientele presents challenges, which is why promotions are lucrative for owners, especially if done right. However, no matter the ease and simplicity of the promotion, they often are fraught with challenges that ultimately may lead to a failed evening. Most owners hit some roadblocks when executing and planning a promotion. The following 10 dubious missteps can hinder any promotion, but once they’re assuaged and modified, an owner can rewrite the promotional narrative, turning it into bottom-line success:
1) Losing sight of the agenda. “Owners become obsessed with their own brand and, because of their passion, they can lose sight of what the agenda should be,” explains Brian Taylor, director of nightlife for Zee Bar Private Social Club in Philadelphia. Taylor reminds owners not to lose perspective of the goal and notes owners should rely on their marketing team for insights and expertise. A marketing manager and marketing team “should be responsible for solely promotions, especially in the planning process,” because owners tend to “micromanage and expedite this process, and it either ends in the marketing manager becoming frustrated or the team not being led correctly, and the owner is left at square one,” he says.
Christopher Mullins Jr., manager of McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Philadelphia, agrees. The Philadelphia bar has been holding promotions for more than 150 years, and Mullins says although return-on-investment opportunities such as increased attendance and exposure are important, “you don’t want the promotion planning to distract you from the daily operations. You have to think about who is going to manage it, and make sure it’s not too complicated for your staff to execute,” he adds.
RMD Group, which manages San Diego's FLUXX, requires each of the club's employees to be involved with promotion planning, such as creating taglines.
2) Playing it too safe. A safe bet is not always a sure bet. If an owner is consumed by self-doubt, the promotion will never find its own legs. “Owners make these mistakes,” Taylor says, “because they become anxious and somewhat nervous that they will fail, and they think they know best.”
Take risks, says Shane Brennan, managing partner of Stingaree in San Diego. “For us, we’ve done a promotion where the music format wasn’t right or what we weren’t looking to do, and it didn’t work,” he added. “But we let it breathe” and reworked the promotion, he says.
3) Forgetting the consumer. “The No. 1 thing people have a problem with is that they forget they’re trying to talk to the consumer,” says Ted Wright, founder and chief executive officer of Fizz Corp., an Atlanta-based marketing firm. An owner can get caught up in the idea and fail to execute it properly.
Mullins says operators can remedy this problem by making customers feel as though they’re part of the process. “We engage them by asking for their opinions and ideas,” he says. “Everything we do is all about our customers, so we like to get their feedback. It makes it that much more fun for them.”
4) Putting the concept before the customer. No matter the time, effort and brainstorming an owner puts into a promotion, the promotion won’t work if it’s not consistent with the establishment’s audience. “I think one of the big mistakes that most club owners and operators make, or we have made in the past, is not really knowing what is a good fit for your brand,” Brennan explains.
“[Promotions] don’t work because they don’t resonate,” Wright says. “They don’t resonate because they’re uninteresting. They’re uninteresting because you’re thinking about you and not the consumer. You’ve got to always think about the consumer.”
5) There’s no chatter. Conversation, Wright says, is the ultimate driver of traffic to your bar. With each promotion you host, part of its appeal comes from gaining new clients. Promos fail, he adds, because your customers don’t talk about it.
Some of this fault lies with owners who are unwilling to put in the pre-planning work. Vinny Di Nino, director of sales and marketing for RMD Group, which manages San Diego hotspots FLUXX, Side Bar and F6ix, says his team uses focus groups before launching a first-time promotion. By reaching out to 10-15 people, Di Nino can gauge a promotion’s success. “Sometimes we’re way off,” he says. “We’ve missed the boat, or they don’t understand what we’re trying to sell.”
6) Falling too in love with a promotion. All owners want to believe in the promotion they’re hosting, but that can be detrimental to the outcome if the details become all consuming. “I think [owners] get too enamored with the creative,” Wright explains. “I just think they can fall in love with worrying about all the details.” Spending too much time on the minutia can be destructive to a promotion. Wright says little things, such as the size of a logo, can prevent a promotion’s forward momentum. “No one has ever chosen to go into a nightclub or bar because of the size of the sign,” he says.
RMD Group, which manages San Diego hotspot Side Bar, uses focus groups before launching a first-time promotion.
7) Choosing the lowest prices over value. Owners can get caught up in discounting prices, especially during major holidays, such as Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day. Although discounting may draw crowds initially, they aren’t the types of crowds most owners want. “Promotions are a loss leader if you only offer the lower price,” explains Tim Kirkland, CEO of Renegade Hospitality Group in Denver.
Discounts might drive people through the door, but they won’t keep people there for long, Kirkland says. He suggests doing something special so people will come to your establishment but also pay full price for drinks. You want high-value customers. “If price is a differentiator, then it’s a race to the whorehouse. They’re not high-value customers,” he says. “They will come back if you continue to offer lower prices, and you’ll go bankrupt doing that.”
8) Only planning for the short term. Hyping a great first-time promotion can only get you so far, but a long-term plan can breathe new life into a flailing event. “There’s a fine line between trying to force something that isn’t going to work,” Di Nino explains.
Di Nino says owners often focus all of their attention on the launch of a promotion without seeing its longevity. “I think having a long-term plan beyond the first event … You should tailor it to what you’re going to do in four to six weeks; plan for every single night so that you have some longevity,” he explains. “One good night doesn’t mean anything. You need to follow up.”
9) Not getting the staff involved. “You got to get them fired up,” Di Nino says. In fact, RMD Group requires staff input. From bartenders to bussers, each person helps come up with “a name or a tagline,” he says. “It excites them and gets them engaged; they feel more ownership of it, which is great.”
10) Quitting too soon. A promotion may fail its first time out, but that doesn’t mean it should be left for dead. “Give it time,” Di Nino says. “Promotions over time have improved. They didn’t go from being a total dog to a homerun,” he says, but they can go from being mediocre to a success. You don’t want to force something, but every promotion has potential, and if there’s a well-established foundation, then “it’s worth trying to fix it,” he explains. Brennan agrees: ”You need to let the promotion breathe a little bit and let it play out. You need [at least] a month.”
A one-night flop doesn’t doom a business, but owners also can fall victim to the mere idea of what promotions can provide. Blunders may seem fatal initially, but they also provide tools for owners and operators to transform a promotion that bombed into one that can have potential long-term benefits.