• Bill Petrie

Marketing Lessons from a Tailgate

Three takeaways from a memorable event

There’s something extraordinary and unique about Saturdays down South in the second half of every year. In some areas of the country, basketball is king, while in other places, it might be baseball, soccer, lacrosse, or even hockey. In countless other parts of the United States, sports are little more than a hobby. However, in the South, football is a way of life right up there with moonshine, good manners, the greatness of Duke’s mayonnaise, and constantly sweating from May until October.

In other words, football has a higher priority in the South than anywhere in the country. This fact only intensifies when you put the initials SEC (Southeastern Conference) in front of the word football as the sport might just eclipse religion itself. For the record, this isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is a southern thing.

In any event, both of my twin sons attend SEC schools – Mitch is currently enrolled at the University of Alabama, while his brother, Drew, attends classes 90 miles away at Mississippi State. Growing up in Texas, I thought I had seen the pinnacle of football zealotry during “Friday Night Lights.” However, nothing could prepare me for the size, scope, passion, and sheer pageantry of Saturdays down South.

So, when I was asked by one of my twin boys – in this case, Drew – to smoke some meat for his fraternity’s tailgate before their game against my alma mater, Texas A&M, I jumped at the opportunity. While it was challenging to feed 100+ hungry college kids, I honestly had the time of my life. Of course, there were challenges and missteps, but the overall event was a success as evidenced by the consumption of 45 pounds of beef in two hours.

On the drive home the following day, I had a chance to reflect on the event: what worked, what didn’t, things I would do differently, etc. Honestly, the more I thought about the day, the more it reminded me of some essential marketing and business lessons:

Visualize and Plan Details Far in Advance – While making roast beef sandwiches for college kids desperate for a home-cooked meal may seem simple, it requires a ton of planning. For example, to ensure a consistent cook, I purchased seven identically sized roasts so they would each take approximately 100 minutes to get to medium rare. I also staggered cooking each roast by placing them in the smoker at 15-minute intervals, as that would guarantee a continual flow of meat during the event. Had I put all the beef in at once, I would have had seven fully cooked roasts that needed slicing simultaneously. Doing so would require not only an intense amount of effort and activity in a severely compressed time, but the meat would be cold to boot. However, because I planned every aspect of the cook a week in advance, I could not only remain calm but enjoy the moment.

The same lesson applies to marketing. For instance, if you’re planning on running an influencer campaign, it’s worth the time and effort to plan everything – communications, list of influencers, detailed instructions, tracking, and follow-up – in advance and commit to it. The more precise the planning is, the better. I’ve seen campaigns fail time and again, not because the idea was flawed but for the simple fact that timelines were missed and vital details omitted. So plan ahead down to every minute detail, and you’ll give yourself the gift of calm in a busy marketing storm.

Limited Choice – When planning the cook, it would’ve been very easy to get bogged down with options for roast beef sandwiches. Things like toppings, bun size, the doneness of meat, sides, etc. I knew that I wouldn’t please everyone regardless of choices – that’s just life. So instead, they were served standard-sized buns, all the meat was medium rare, sliced onions for the topping, and their choice of Duke’s mayonnaise, creamy horseradish, or hot horseradish for the condiment along with their selection of the finest salty snack treats from a Costco-procured giant box. Sure, a few people asked if we had pickles or a piece of medium-well meat, but 95% of the famished fraternity fellows didn’t have any issue with the limited choices. By not offering diverse toppings, condiments, and doneness of meat, we simplified the entire day, which, in turn, enhanced everyone’s experience as there was no waiting for food.

The marketing lesson here is simple: too many choices will bog down your client. Many people in the promotional products industry think they are doing right by their clients because they have them peruse a physical or virtual catalog containing thousands of items they may want to slap their logo on for an event. Remember, they pay YOU to be the expert, so stop asking them to do your work for you. Instead, offer a client no more than two good, better, or best options and ask for feedback. More often than not, they will select merchandise from your initial limited choice offerings that you provided - and they will thank you for making their lives easier.

Improvise While Laughing in the Face of Doom – Here’s the thing: regardless of the amount of planning, not everything will always go the way you predicted. For example, despite my staggered approach to the cook, there was a much larger pause between roasts four and five finishing which led to a fairly long (30 minutes) break where people were waiting for food. At this point, I had several options:

  • Pull a roast from the smoker before it was entirely done.

  • Slice a roast without it resting.

  • Just tell folks I didn’t time it out as well as I had thought.

I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone that I chose the latter and used my association with Texas A&M to mock myself with good humor. Of course, the college kids laughed along with me, and it bought enough time to get the cook back on track.

There is a marketing and overall business lesson here: no matter how much you plan, something will always go wrong. When you’re at that nexus, you have a choice: panic and make things worse or laugh, act quickly, and make the best of it. Most people will allow you the grace to not be perfect because, as we all know, no one is perfect. When things go wrong, quickly assess your options and choose the one that creates the best outcome for both your client and the overall organization.

I could share a few more lessons I learned during the weekend – like the fact my body doesn’t recover from a college tailgate like it used to – but this blog is already almost 1200 words. The bottom line is that it was a fantastic experience that will give me and my family memories that will last a lifetime. When the same lessons are applied to marketing, you’ll find that clients will clamor for you to come back for their next project. As for me, I’ve already been told I’m cooking for one tailgate every year, which means I need to start planning now.

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