In this article
  1. Marketing is misunderstood.

Guest blog from James Sandrini. Director at 48.1 – a creative agency for food and drinks brands.

Marketing is misunderstood.

Here’s one crack at it

And another 

Third time lucky

There’s 72 more of these

Are they right? It doesn’t matter. The point is, you don’t know. And if you’re an operator, chances are you don’t know how to lead that department either.

It’s cool. You’re probably wildly talented and brilliant at a thousand other things. And you’re almost certainly getting paid more than your Marketing Manager anyway, so there’s that.

Marketing image 1

As a restaurant group scales, so does the operation. Over time, this process becomes more and more efficient (in theory, at least).

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with other departments. HR & Recruitment rarely scale; sometimes due to a lack of investment, and always because each site brings with it a new team and, therefore, new challenges.

Even more sensitive to scale, is marketing.

Marketing positions are rare in single venues. New sites are better set investing their time and energy into providing a fantastic guest experience, driving advocacy and converting loyalty from early adopters into word of mouth.

Fast forward a year or two and you’re now rolling out your concept at a daring pace and across a range of new locations.

And then you go and hire a Marketing Manager.

Marketing Image 3

There are a lot of hard working, capable Marketing Managers out there. And yet, no senior role seems subject to such great churn.

Marketing is not misunderstood due to a glut of definitions. Marketing is misunderstood because it can’t be measured by hours spent, or conversations had, or spreadsheets completed.

Operations will and should always take precedence in restaurants and bars. The ‘all-hands-on deck’ mentality defines the industry, but it also defies the efforts of many marketers, intent on bringing creativity and strategy to an environment that, on occasion, outright scorns it.

I don’t know a restaurant that expects its Sous Chef to cook, cocktail and host. I know many restaurant groups that expect their marketer – their only marketer in many cases – to do all or most of the following:

  • Research
  • Strategise
  • Build campaigns
  • Design
  • Distribute
  • Report
  • Fill in for sales when they’re not about

If the focus in your business is on operations, recruit people whose default is operational. And outsource everything else.

Marketing Image 2

Marketing. Takes. Time. And, if you’re an operator, I bet even reading that sentence was painful.

Let’s dispel a couple of myths here:

“Marketers don’t want to do the hard work.”

  • No, marketers don’t need to run to the kitchen to make a GANT chart. Nor do they have to mop the floor after a 12-hour shift full of competitor reviews and design briefs. This doesn’t mean that the job is easy, that you could do it, or that cognitive and physical exhaustion are the same thing. Grow up.

“It’s just posting on social media.”

  • I mean it’s not, but at least you helped me make my point about not knowing WTF marketing is. Thanks. Point is, there are not many operators that are versatile enough to manage strategic roles. There are even fewer organisational structures in food & drink that support functions best suited to long-term review.

Marketing, irrespective of the definition, has changed rapidly in the last 20 years. Here are a few words that didn’t exist in 1998: Blog, Facebook, Twitter, omnichannel, Google, PPC, VR, Instagram.

Today, a marketer only needs a mobile phone to launch a campaign, monitor reviews and interact with an audience. More importantly, a consumer only needs a mobile phone to communicate directly with a business.

No longer do restaurants and bars need to solely rely on marketers to create content; they can amplify the stories their guests create.

Customers can and will take pictures of your food. Now, share that content. Customers will say nice things about you to their friends. Go on, share that content. Occasionally, customers might question or challenge you. Answer those questions. And share that content!

You might not need someone to strategise and plan quite as much as you think; a more operational, reactive mindset, focused on promoting user generated content, can cover a bulk of your daily content.

Marketing Image 4

Marketing Ops isn’t entirely new. Born from tech, housed in analytics, and related to process far more than creative, the ‘MO’ is tasked with aligning Marketing with Operations, Sales, IT and Finance.

Why? Because tech businesses rely on data for insight and feed that information straight back into product design. Reporting is transparent and shared across the business, enabling team members to react in real time.

The food & drink industry has started to smarten up to the role of data. Even small restaurant groups now maintain a pretty hefty tech stack, with integrations passing information from one hub to another.

But – and this is a helluva but – what are businesses doing with that data?

Who’s in charge of recording it? How is it being reported?

And what is being drawn each month from the interpretation of operational data, reputational data, social data, website data and analogue information gathered by GMs?

How is data being used in your business to aid customer acquisition and retention on a day-to-day basis?

I work for an agency. There are portions of our work that our clients could not complete themselves, irrespective of the time they contributed to it (web development isn’t easy. Yes, 3D motion is as hard as it sounds).

But there are plenty of roles we fill that our clients could. And this has everything to do with time, just not in the way you’re imagining it.

Don’t work with an agency so that they can carry out jobs you don’t have time for. Work with an agency because they structure their time differently.

Here’s a sample of a Marketing Managers day: Emails > Photography > Social > Ops Meeting > Sales Meeting > Emails > Site Visit > Social > Emails > Social > Lunch…

If you expect this person to undertake broad, strategic, slow work, you’re crazy.

This is not – I repeat, not – a reason to remove the Marketing Manager and work solely with an agency. You shouldn’t. That potent pre-lunch list still needs doing and paying an agency to fill those gaps is neither cost-effective nor sustainable.

Here’s what a Marketing Ops team member could be doing:

  • Aggregating and reporting on all forms of data (if you don’t already, use Tenzo, trust me)
  • Preparing briefs for and maintaining communication with third party agencies
  • Project managing the execution of marketing activations
  • Share user generated content and reply to queries on social channels
  • And yes, they can fill in for sales on their day off

Keep the marketer; change the role.

James Sandrini is a director at 48.1 – a creative agency for food and drinks brands. For more, read the blog at