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From a Recent Ad: Fire Your Agency (If You Have One)

Four P's MarketingA recent ad popped up on social media telling me to fire my agency. Well, if I have one. Having been in the food business for more than I care to admit, I’ve seen some changes in how restaurant operators advertise their businesses. And it isn’t working. In fact, it’s failing miserably. A USFoods representative in the Chicago area mentioned that she thought about 80% of the restaurants in her market were looking to sell. Is this proof that their marketing isn’t working? I would say yes, it is. 

Most recently, many independent restaurant operators are turning towards platform based advertising programs to ‘save money’. But what’s really happening is, they are missing some of the most important concepts in advertising. So, should they fire their agency? Or should they be hiring a restaurant focused firm that can represent them properly?

Here are seven reasons not to fire your agency (and to hire one if you don’t have one). 

First, there is expert advice.

I had a recent conversation with a potential client (actually, this restaurant operator was once a client years ago), and when I suggested that the advice they were looking for would require a payment, they went silent. I was reminded of a moment in the TV show The Good Wife when the character Alicia Florrick told a potential client what she might do, and then said: “Before we go any further, am I hired?” 

The advice I was about to give was very important to the continued success of this restaurant operator’s business. At the moment, the business is slowly drifting downward, and that will continue unless they take some drastic steps to change courses.

Second, there is focus.

It’s amazing to me how few restaurant operators seem to remember what business they’re in. They fire their agency (or skip hiring one) thinking they will just do it themselves. But then they lose focus on the marketing they thought they were going to do.  Agencies are paid to stay focused. It’s how they get paid. If the business is successful, the restaurant operator flourishes, and everybody is happy. Well, at least you would think.  What sometimes happens is, the restaurant operator takes credit for all the successful marketing and decides to do it themselves (continuing the cycle).

Third, a good agency is an expert in advertising.

At least they should be. I mean, that’s why you hire them in the first place. If they aren’t experts in restaurant advertising, yes, fire your agency (but then hire an expert). A good restaurant agency will be experts in placing ads, writing copy, design, photography, scripting, menu design and development, and menu engineering, etc. All important skills most restaurant operators are not experts in.

Fourth, navigating the complexities of restaurant marketing.

Restaurant marketing is not easy. Hell, if it were, everybody would do it. It’s also why so many restaurant operators go out of business. Most restaurant operators open from an emotional state of mind and with a passionate goal. But once they get into the business, they discover just how complicated it can be. A good agency partner can help navigate those complexities.

I was on a call with a client just the other day and he was complaining about an employee. At the end of the call he thanked me for listening. Then he said: “You know, as a business owner, I can’t complain ‘down’, only ‘up’. And because I own the business, there’s no ‘up’ for me to complain to.” What he meant is, he can’t complain to a subordinate, and for him, there isn’t a partner he can trust to turn to for advice.

Fifth, butts in seats is only half of the problem.

Here’s the thing, getting a customer in the door is only half the problem. The other half of the problem is getting them to order the right delicious food. You know, meals you can be proud of, feel good about selling, and that make you a little extra money. Hey, let’s face it, if a guest comes into the restaurant and wants to know what’s good to eat, I’m not going to tell them soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. I’m going to sell them something that offers a nice return on investment. Maybe a steak, or some seafood.

Sixth, you can’t discount your way to success.

Most marketing platforms are based on offering coupons. These SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) programs are all mostly coupon machines. Sadly, most operators don’t make enough money to afford coupons.

There are only a couple of times to offer coupons, and that is to introduce a new customer to your business, when they join a club or when they win a prize in a contest. If your agency is offering a lot of coupons, maybe you should fire your agency (and redirect your platform).

Seventh, a great agency will help you get local.

The restaurant business is a saturated market. Drive down any frontage road and it’s filled with chain after chain. And the single advantage you have is being local. You can connect with people and build relationships. In fact, you must get local, or you will eventually go out of business.

If your agency isn’t offering a local approach, yes, fire your agency. But if they are working with you to connect locally (sports teams, clubs, events, opera houses, non profits, et al), keep them on. And do me a favor, recognize their contribution to your success.

One more thing.

I wrote a deck that you can look over that outlines the ins and outs of working with an advertising agency and platforms. If you would like a free copy, just shoot me an email and I’ll hook you up. 

And thanks for coming to work today!