All eyes on the Irish

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Related tags: St patrick, Saint patrick, Saint patrick's day, Guinness

Always a big occasion for pubs, this year's St Patrick's Day falls on a Monday - so why not start the celebrations early? Noli Dinkovski reports

Always a big occasion for pubs, this year's St Patrick's Day falls on a Monday - so why not start the celebrations early? Noli Dinkovski reports

It is said everybody wants to be Irish on St Patrick's Day. Well, in recent years that expression could almost apply to every pub as well. Buoyed by the rise of Irish theme bars in the '90s, pubs the length and breadth of the UK now turn out in a sea of green on 17 March to celebrate the Emerald Isle's national holiday. And, of course, it's all part of the craic.

St Patrick's Day has become an important opportunity for the trade during what would usually be a quiet time of the year. But this time around, licensees will have to up their game a little more than usual to draw in the crowds - not only does the celebratory day fall on a Monday, it also falls on the Monday before the earliest Easter since 1913.

As you would expect, Guinness brand owner Diageo GB is keen to turn these potential negatives into positives. It believes there is a great opportunity to make the most of what is normally a quiet night for pubs. And, to increase sales further, its £3m spend this time around focuses on making the days leading up to it a celebration as well as the day itself.

It's clearly a sensible strategy, bearing in mind the Irish will be heading to Cheltenham in their droves on Friday 14 March to witness jump-racing's blue-riband event - the Gold Cup. Come the Saturday, it's rugby's turn, with the final round of Six Nations fixtures - and just to add to the occasion, England take on Ireland at Twickenham in what could be a Triple Crown decider.

Relishing the prospect of a run-in of sporting events before St Patrick's Day itself on the Monday, Diageo GB sales director David Smith says: "Guinness will be on hand once again to provide licensees with everything they need to draw rugby and racing fans into pubs."

In addition to Guinness promotional kits, included branded hats, banners and large posters, being supplied to 29,000 pubs, further PoS will be on offer to advertise in-pub viewing of the rugby and horse racing. Each pub also receive a CD containing music, recipes, quizzes and other entertainment ideas; and where Guinness Red is available in the Midlands, specific "Red" kits will include inflatable pints, hats, posters and balloons.

Help plan ahead

Diageo's big innovation this year is The Big Cheers - a mobile-phone site that will help people plan their St Patrick's Day weekend. The site includes a pub quiz where visitors can win prizes by answering as many questions as possible in 119.5 seconds - the time it takes to complete the two-part Guinness pour. After the day itself, pub-goers will be encouraged to load photos of their St Patrick's night out, which will eventually appear on beer mats, posters, press and online advertising.

Needless to say, Guinness isn't the only brand associated with St Patrick's Day. Magners also has a rugby theme within the 20,000 PoS kits it is making available through wholesalers. "Our promotional kits highlight the fact there's so much rugby going on the weekend before," says Magners brand manager Jules Macken. "As well as the Six Nations, don't forget the London Irish v Wasps game on the Sunday - always a big

occasion for those with Irish allegiance."

The cider brand is also planning "station domination" of Virgin radio for two days - where normal ads are replaced by "programmes brought to you by Magners" and listeners will have the chance to win St Patrick's Day kits. A secondary competition will be going out to 50 radio stations throughout the UK.

Baileys' boost

Back at Diageo, plans are also afoot for Baileys - part of its £1m marketing spend for February and March includes dedicated St Patrick's PoS in the form of blackboard strut-cards and cube-shaped tent-cards. There is also a drive to encourage licensees to sell the Irish cream liqueur in branded chocolate cups by claiming it to be a viable alternative to desserts after meals.

Expect some Diageo activity around Bushmills as well - all part of a year-long programme of celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the Irish whiskey.

Pernod Ricard is just about to kick off a series of live gigs promoting Jameson up to, and beyond, 17 March. In all, 16 gigs will take place in Slug & Lettuce pubs around the UK, with the highlight of the tour in Manchester and London on 16 and 17 March respectively. Scouse band The Coral will be headlining both nights, playing live to a 300-strong audience each time.

Licensees will do well to get their hands on one of 2,500 kits offering customers the chance to win tickets to the London and Manchester gigs, Ticketline music vouchers and free music downloads.

Over at Beverage Brands, the ever-inspired WKD team will be rolling out headgear in the shape of a shamrock. The head kits, which also contain five A2 posters, will be available to a limited number of UK outlets.

"St Patrick's Day is one of the major social occasions on the calendar - particularly for our consumers who like to go out and have a laugh with their mates," says Beverage Brands marketing director Karen Salters. "The shamrock head kits will help licensees create a fun occasion, generate additional sales and give customers a more memorable night out."

No matter how wacky the promotion, any brand activity that supports one of the most popular days in a pub's calendar is good news for hosts, and a cause for cheer in what is clearly a difficult time for the trade.

As Diageo's Smith says: "Driving pub visits has possibly never been this challenging. If licensees really get behind events such as St Patrick's Day, they can create the kind of atmosphere that will give people a reason to visit the pub rather than staying at home."

Competition: Win a Shamrock Head

To help licensees celebrate and show their WKD side on St Patrick's Day, Beverage Brands has 10 WKD prizes to give away. Each prize will include a WKD St Patrick's Day Shamrock Head and a case of WKD Red.

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is send your name, address and telephone number to:

MA/WKD Shamrock Giveaway

Global House

1 Ashley Avenue

Epson

Surrey

KT18 5AD

The first 10 entries drawn will win a prize. Closing date for entries is 28 February.

Pubco plans for 17 march

Mitchells & Butlers

Through its O'Neill's bars alone, Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) estimates it will sell upwards of 90,000 pints of Guinness during this year's St Patrick's Day celebrations.

As with many of the brands, the pubco anticipates trade will be busy during the weekend before, with the culmination of the Six Nations rugby.

O'Neill's activity:

l Much of the O'Neill's estate will have live music and many businesses have applied to extend opening by an hour or so on the Monday

l St Patrick's Day hats and shamrock faces will be in use, including O'Neill's own version, as well as traditional Guinness kits

l Food will include a Taste of Ireland menu - a selection of Irish meals, with some ingredients sourced directly from Ireland.

Greene King

Greene King says all its pub divisions will be taking advantage of the brand activity Guinness provides, with plenty of kits made available to its licensees and managers.

Further posters will be available online, from www.pubpartners.net, and party celebration kits can be bought through its Share and Save purchasing package.

In addition, managed houses are offering St Pat's pie - made with beef, mushroom and Guinness - with a pile of mash.

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