Secret Ingredient for Next-Level Foodservice Marketing

It may sound like a good thing: foodservice marketing plans so detailed that they account for the smallest details and associated costs. And yet, the best plans are those that leave some things TBD. It’s hard, I know. It takes confidence, vision, and vigilance. But, in my experience, less really is more when it comes to planning.

In a dynamic industry like foodservice, change is a constant. The best foodservice marketers continuously monitor trends and data, and seek new partnerships and opportunities of various kinds to leverage for their clients. To capitalize on emerging opportunities, the best foodservice marketing plans incorporate one often-overlooked ingredient: flexibility.

In AdAge’s recent Is Reactive the New Proactive?, Mike Popowski offers a similar supposition for advertising, citing Coca Cola’s 70/20/10 rule—dedicating 70% of its budget to “now” (bread-and-butter), 20% to “new” (innovation on elements that were once in the 70%), and 10% to “next” (untested) ideas or initiatives. He addresses the importance of placing people you trust in pivotal positions to make key strategic decisions on the fly.

Today, the ability to act quickly to capitalize on emerging opportunities may be more important than the proverbial “crossing the ‘t’s’ and dotting the i’s” of marketing plans past.

Sometimes agencies narrowly define client programs aiming to manage scope of work and ultimately profit, but at what cost? During my career, I have seen executives at leading agencies decline invitations to client meetings because “it is not in the budget.” Imagine the tangible and intangible opportunities missed! After all, how better to get to know and understand your client?

I have watched agency teams plow ahead with well-defined programs, eschewing any new information or key learnings that might alter their carefully plotted course. Once again, not allowing for program shifts often means a failure to see – and seize – opportunities.

Sometimes in attempts to be good stewards of programs and budgets, clients insist on extremely detailed plans in advance of the program year. However, they might be better served to afford agency partners a degree of flexibility to seize new opportunities as they arise. This can be done by having a plan that outlines broad stroke initiatives with room for refinement as the year progresses. Of course, it takes vision on the part of the client and confidence in their agency partner, but it is likely worth that initial leap of faith.

I consider myself fortunate to have a forward-thinking, flexibility-tolerant client in the National Honey Board, whom we’ve served on the foodservice PR side for the past seven years. Each year, we develop programming with just the right degree of flexibility, allowing us to say “yes” to key emerging opportunities.

Menuing and marketing partnerships have proven particularly dynamic, so that’s an area for which we build in the most flexibility. Our client does not expect us to identify every partnership opportunity prior to a program year. Instead, we outline general parameters, targets, and deliverables in collaboration with the NHB. Then, during the program year, we develop more detailed recommendations as new information, prospective partnerships, and other opportunities unfold.

By building flexibility into our marketing plans, we have been able to maximize our success on behalf of our NHB client. Highlights follow:

Omni “One Sweet Summer” Honey Promotion – 2015-16

On the heels of our 2014 Honey Beverage Summit, Omni Hotels VP of Food & Beverage, David Morgan, approached us about a 2015 partnership. The details were TBD, but we knew that this was a partnership we wanted to undertake. With our client’s blessing, we included a loosely defined “Omni Partnership” and ballpark budget in our 2015 plan (under Menuing & Marketing Partnerships), and subsequently worked with Omni early in 2015 to determine the partnership parameters and execution.

Fluidity and creativity were key. Results were a win-win for Omni and NHB: tremendous exposure for honey on pool menus at 56 Omni properties nationwide, a 20% increase in pool cocktail sales, 42 media placements, and 8.1 million website impressions. Plus, Omni won the 2016 VIBE Vista Award for “Best Special Event Program” among hotels, cruise lines and casinos.


Omni Hotels teamed with the NHB to create a special pool menu and promotion highlighting honey as the 2015 “Flavor of the Year,” in place for three months at 56 Omni properties nationwide.

(Image Source: Omni Hotels & Resorts)

Honey Summit – 2015

Deliberately moving into 2015 without a confirmed site for our Foodservice Editors “Honey Summit,” it became apparent during our Omni Hotels partnership that their Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Florida was a great fit. The property boasts a honey-savvy regional executive chef, onsite beehives, and access to all the elements to deliver the perfect honey immersion event.

Chef Daven Wardynski generously timed his fall harvest with our event and indulged us in a 12-course honey-inspired meal in his Chefs Kitchen, in addition to informative and inspiring honey sessions hosted by the NHB.

Chef Daven - Honey harvest at Omni Amelia Island

Chef Wardynski shows editors honey frames during the National Honey Board’s Foodservice Editors “Honey Summit” at Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort.

Penn State Honey Promotion – Fall 2015

Penn State approached us to support its fall Honey Day event. Not only did we provide the requested honey and collateral materials, we worked with Penn State to adjust the timing of the event so that we could tie into existing client travel and staff the event on-site. As a result, we engaged students at honey tasting and information stations at several of Penn State’s largest dining halls. We arranged for a local photographer, a Honey Bear mascot, giveaways, and more to maximize the event’s success.

All of this was captured under the purposely ambiguous “Strategic Marketing Partnerships” program element of the marketing plan.

AZ Cocktail Week + NM Cocktails & Culture – Feb, June 2016

We planned for participation in Arizona Cocktail Week 2016 and created a real buzz with our Honey Spirit Pairings session, honey cocktail materials, and networking. When subsequently approached about an opportunity with New Mexico Cocktails & Culture for June of that same year, we agreed, and we could execute essentially the same program with nominal overhead.

We leveraged industry partners and the same basic framework as the AZ Cocktail Week participation, resulting in a further extension into regional mixology communities.

The benefits of “less-is-more” planning are clear in an industry like foodservice marketing, where change is the norm. The only caution: flexible programming requires a team that is committed to continuously mining new information, connections, and opportunities to uncover the next big thing. And when you find it, the good news is, you likely won’t have to say no, because you have created space for opportunity.

In our business, you never know where the opportunity may lie, but as dedicated and nimble foodservice marketers, we are ready to seize it.

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Andrea Schepke PR Director EvansHardy+Young
Andrea Schepke, PR Director

After serving as Managing Director in the Los Angeles and Chicago offices of Hill & Knowlton and supervising accounts like the Almond Board and Network For A Healthy California (5-A-Day) for Porter Novelli, Andrea joined us to take the reins of the National Honey Board foodservice account. Her strategically directed combination of events, media relations and advertising have helped create significant buzz in a very important market for our client.