2011 February: Lets Celebrate

pizzeria wall of fame

A grand re-opening, an anniversary, winning a “Best of” award these are all milestones worth celebrating. After all that hard work, it might be tempting to kick back and quietly toast your success. But that would be a mistake. It’s not just time to toot your own horn; it’s time to blare it!

Edgar Falk, a New York City marketing consultant and author of 1,001 Ideas to Create Retail Excitement, says: “Celebrating milestones like anniversaries gives you a hook to gain on-site and media exposure. It offers the opportunity to demonstrate you are a financially successful business who customers trust.”

But, how do you get the most mileage from your milestones? “You really do not have to spend a great deal of money, but rather spend it wisely in ways that will attract attention and show customers appreciation for their patronage.” Falk recommends creating excitement through sales, giveaways, contests, new-product launches and charitable giving. When done right, marketing milestones provides the perfect opportunity to thank loyal customers, attract new customers and build profits. In fact, it can be vital to your business’s survival.
Take Detroit-based Niki’s Pizza. When Niki’s owner Dennis Kefallinos closed his Greektown location for remodeling, he inevitably lost customers. The loss was only temporary since the remodel was finished within six weeks; however, making sure the loss stayed temporary called for a strong marketing plan.

Wisely, Kefallinos chose to host a grand re-opening celebration to rival the competition. To let the community know Niki’s was back better than ever, Niki’s hosted two parties –– one for the media and one for the public. Neighbors, businesses and loyal customers received  “invitations” via e-mail, phone, street hand-outs and media. The public event offered patrons a buffet to sample new and old favorites. Local Greek sororities and fraternities participated in a lively “Chowdown for Charity” pizza-eating contest. Press members left with happy, full bellies and press kits.

As evidenced by Niki’s grand re-opening celebration, attracting media attention is important when marketing milestones. Press kits provide media with ready information and should include: event information, history (about owner and story of your pizzeria) and a fact sheet (contact info, specialties, “Best of” awards).  Having this information ahead of time makes it easier for the media to do their job, thus making it more likely your story will appear in the news.

Falk says another way to get media coverage is through government recognition. “An anniversary proclamation, the mayor cutting a ribbon for your new store, etc. gets you media coverage,” Falk says.

The advent of social media has presented even more creative ways to market milestones. Brandon Croke, a digital strategist with Hanson Inc., headquartered in Maumee, Ohio, believes sites like Facebook and Twitter can be strong marketing tools. Croke states the press release is not dead, but there’s a better way to communicate information. “You now have an opportunity to take your message directly to your fans … with a click of a button. You can write the most creative ad in the world, but if one of your friends recommends a product, it’s potentially the best endorsement you can get.

“Social media is best executed with an extremely creative strategy that engages a brand’s target audience and lets them in on the fun,” Croke adds. Niki’s Pizza creatively promoted its status as one of the “Top 25 Pizzas in America by GQ magazine” on  Facebook with an entry urging fans to invite 15 friends to “like” the post for a chance to win a pizza party. “Word of mouth is not new, but the increasing adoption of tools like Facebook and Twitter are like word of mouth on steroids,” he adds.

With so many marketing tools available, you might ask: “Can a mom-and-pop operation successfully market their milestones?” Absolutely. When Bill’s Pizza & Pub, a family-owned pizzeria in Mundelein, Illinois, celebrated its 50th anniversary, the owners relied on careful planning and innovative strategies. Owner Mary Ann Rouse wanted to host a celebration that reflected the peanut-tossing fun customer’s expect from the Northwoods-themed pizzeria. Being an independent operation, Rouse and her co-owner sister rallied their employees to help with photography, decorating and marketing.

“A former Bill’s employee had the idea to throw peanut bags at the town parade with party invitations attached,” Rouse said. The invitations stirred excitement and invited guests to step back to 1957 (their founding year) and enjoy an Elvis impersonator, prizes and 1957 prices. Bill’s served more than 1,000 sausage and cheese pizzas (carryout only) for $2 from 5 to 7 pm. Rouse’s cheese and sausage vendor gave them a 50-percent discount for the event. Bill’s even had a special anniversary event for kids. The local fire and police departments participated, bringing their trucks and teaching safety. Rouse said involving the community was an important part of the celebration.

After all, Rouse says, “People have been on first dates, celebrated anniversaries and birthdays with us. We just wanted to thank them for making us part of their lives and making us a success.”

Quick Tips for Milestone Events

  • Know your audience. Choose an event that will appeal to your customer’s tastes.
  • Plan ahead. Make sure nothing conflicts with your event.
  • Alert the Press. Assemble press kits and write news release.
  • Invitations. Decide who you will invite and how you will invite them. Be creative!
  • Decorations. Stick to a theme (ie recreating your founding year for an anniversary).
  • Educate and train your employees. They’re your greatest marketing team.
  • Budget Creatively. Ask vendors for donations. Utilize college interns or volunteers (if planning charity event).
  • Designate a Photographer. Make sure to get permission and names if you publish the photos.

Sarah MIller is a freelance writer living in Ohio.

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