Economical with the truth

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags British pub awards Trading standards Promotion

Coulson: Take time planning promos
Coulson: Take time planning promos
MA legal guru Peter Coulson gives advice on running promotions.

It was a great morale-booster to attend the MA's Great British Pub Awards last week and to see those aspects of the trade that seem to have taken a back seat under this Government's legislative and tax onslaught.

Here were pub operators with vision, commitment and professional expertise, showing that marketing and promotion in the on-trade brings rewards — although high rents were still a major talking point around the trade stands at the London Hilton.

So it was with a wry smile that I read about the Slug & Lettuce offer of 20% off if it is raining — a guaranteed discount during this wettest of summers, honoured by barstaff, I am glad to see, even if it was a dubious claim at the time!

Promotional offers are a business element that the licensed trade sometimes gets horribly wrong. Instead of encouraging footfall (as I believe the term to be) offers create hostility and resentment, or lead to people taking advantage without the anticipated returns. They need to be handled with care.

And there is also the trading standards official waiting in the wings, who will inevitably pounce if there is a complaint that a published offer was not honoured by the pub concerned. Remember, most of the advertisements you read that offer discounts, reductions and once-in-a-lifetime chances have yards of "small print" that you don't notice at the time, but which exist in order to see off potential problems with dissatisfied customers.

So my advice is not to shoot from the hip, but to take time planning a special offer or discount, and discuss it with your staff or colleagues before you get too excited.

One of them may pour a useful amount of cold water on the scheme, or suggest a change that will help it to stay clear of trouble.

This is not to dampen initiative, but to save you wasting money. Getting things wrong can be very costly, especially if you are prosecuted by the council or sued by an angry customer.

It is always best to qualify an offer, usually by time, but also by availability. You may not be able to predict the success of a promotion, but the law says you must have sufficient numbers of the item in order to disprove the allegation that it was just a trick to attract more custom.

New regulations

The new legal regulations on trade promotions, introduced earlier this year, give far wider-ranging powers to trading standards officers to examine the nature of the offer and check whether it was genuine or not. If they draw the conclusion that you were trying to dupe the public, they can take you to court.

But more often than not, promotions become unravelled because they have not been constructed properly, or the wording was not carefully checked. You do not need a lawyer at your shoulder when you sit down to write the publicity material, but do at least go through the whole scenario — put yourself in the shoes of the customer and judge what their reaction will be and what they will ask for. Often, this will point to a flaw in the scheme or a loophole that needs to be corrected.

One of the most essential aspects is to brief staff properly on how the promotion works and — like Slug & Lettuce — what they should do if challenged. This is an area where the customer ought to be always right, simply for PR purposes. Do not allow staff to get you into trouble by being rude or aggressive, or refusing to listen. Remember that what they say or do ultimately comes back to you — and if they get it wrong, you have to face the music.

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