In the many moving parts of club operations – from F&B and entertainment to maintenance and staff – marketing often finds itself a long way down the list.

In a small- to mid-size club, the marketing role may well fall to a junior staffer as part of a wider job. In some larger clubs, the marketing role may have evolved no further than the weekly digital newsletter and Facebook page set up a decade ago.

These days marketing must include a range of activities, from social media and digital newsletters to web design and web content. Then there is electric signage, plasmas, posters and press releases. Offering a professional-looking and strategic marketing approach will also open doors to new audiences, and what club manager wouldn’t like more people through their doors?

“I think good club operators realise that their competition is not just other clubs,” says Melissa McGroder of My Marketing Department who has helped several club clients navigate their way through the ever-changing role of promoting a venue. “Their competition is anywhere you can purchase (dine-in) food and beverage.”

But McGroder says that compared to the operation of a pub or restaurant, clubs often feel there is less pressure to create good club marketing content in a bid to attract an audience because they believe they have a captive market.

And while boards always have the best interests of the club and its members at heart, marketing proposals often get stuck by finances and hurdles get in the way of quick decision making which is not the case for pubs or pub groups that usually have the flexibility and ability to move quickly.

Ron Browne, from Extrapreneur Services says directors are charged, either by ownership, election or appointment to a board, to oversee the successful operation of their organisation, be it a profit-for-purpose (not-for-profit) club or an incorporated association.

“In order to do this, directors need to have a sound knowledge of many (not all) aspects of the organisation’s operations,” he says. “This means business owners and executive managers usually bring with them a raft of skills and experience in running an organisation, and so should understand what a successful operation looks like.”

But, he adds, the primary focus for directors should be strategic, not operational.

“They should focus on strategic direction, identifying opportunities for growth, potential threats to success, managing risk and setting key performance indicators (KPIs), or targets, for management and staff to achieve.”

“Noses in and hands out”, he says quoting respected Australian Institute of Company Directors facilitator and governance expert Julie Garland McLellan.

That includes the board delegating the authority to manage the operations of the organisation to the CEO, who can delegate various portions of the operational delivery to the management team and staff. That means letting the marketing team do their thing.

“It can either be a blessing or a curse,” says McGroder. “Some clubs, even though they might have quite progressive boards, they are dysfunctional.

“Progressive boards, with directors who have contemporary business experience and keep up to date with their own training and development in governance, are those that make an impact,” she says.

Adding to the marketing equation

Authorising a proper budget for your content, such as professional photography and social media posts, is imperative if you want cut-through because, as capable as your front desk receptionist may be, making them responsible for social media posts may not be the best solution.

“The thing is that people think of it as a cost, saying ‘I can’t afford that’,” says McGroder. “It’s an investment.”

Even those who do their own marketing just pump out posts without much thought or strategy or they hand it over to some new players in the market who offer cheap options which look, well, cheap.

“It’s not marketing, it just spitting out stuff. It’s not properly strategic marketing, in line with a strategic plan that has been developed,” she says.

Marketing needs to tie in with an overall strategic plan with a view to find new members and create a target market, plus create projects throughout the year that can help achieve that goal.

“It’s time-consuming and it’s laborious but it has to pay off,” McGroder says. “If it’s all care, no responsibility, it’s just activation.”

This is an extract from a feature originally published in the Spring issue of Club Management, which you can view below.

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