Economic Series Article Six
by Dr. William D. Ivers
The Emergence of Private Club Marketing
The first five articles in our economic series discussed ways to increase member awareness of club activities and services – increased member awareness leads to greater participation and, in turn, to increases in the “three R’s”: Revenue, Retention and Recruitment. We covered:
1. Increasing website traffic ten-fold by offering online reservations.
2. Optimizing staff time spent on website upkeep.
3. Cross-Marketing – the conversion of website and email traffic to member awareness through placement of teaser paragraphs and calls to action.
4. Advanced Cross-Marketing – making use of the valuable real estate on reservation confirmation, statement availability, and other automatic emails to convert traffic to member awareness. Also, increasing recruitment by Cross-Marketing to guests through confirmation emails.
5. The Other Dimension To Website ROI – We noticed that some clubs were ranking websites based simply on the basis of raw costs, so we created a comparison that takes into account benefits as well as costs.
For this article we decided to examine the type of club staff and organization that result in effective electronic communication. We found, of course, that there are many kinds of clubs and that no rule of thumb works in all cases. Nevertheless, our study did uncover some important trends. We began by creating a measure of website quality and applying this to our entire customer base of over 900 clubs. The results show that the great bulk of our clients achieved a reasonable score on this measure, but that 5% achieved eight times higher scores than the average, ranking them as “Spectacular Communicators.” We naturally asked the question: how did this small group of clubs achieve so much better results?
We were not surprised to see that Spectacular Communicators almost invariably had moved beyond having merely a website and instead had a “web application” with some kind of member interaction, such as Online Member Payments or various types of embedded online reservations. They also tended to have recently designed websites, making use of the latest artistic displays. But we also discovered other clubs with advanced web applications and recently designed websites that were not so successful. So, looking further, we discovered one factor that correlated very well with Spectacular Communicators: the existence of a highly skilled person in a position of power who took seriously the management of communications with members and prospective members. This person’s title might be: “General Manager,” “Clubhouse Manager,” “Membership Manager,” “Website Administrator,” “Director of Communications,” “Director of Membership and Communications,” or “Director of Marketing.” For the purpose of this discussion, we will use the title “Director of Marketing.”
Our study indicates that for the 95% of clubs that do not fall into the “Spectacular Communicators” category, one of the most cost effective actions a General Manager could take to increase member engagement, decrease membership attrition and improve membership recruitment, in other words, to improve the health of the club, may be to reshape the club’s organization to ensure that the role of Director of Marketing is performed, even if the work is to be done by the General Manager.
Director of Marketing – Carving Out the Role
A job description for the Director of Marketing role might include responsibility for:
Organizing communications with members and prospective members.
Controlling club branding and how it is used for communication.
Controlling the marketing budget including shifting funds from one area to another.
Managing the club website and all email campaigns.
Responsibility for marketing plans for each event, including website announcements and email campaigns.
Establishing the processes for taking reservations for events and announcing events.
Establishing the policy that the website serves as the main source of information about all the events and services offered by the club and ensuring its accuracy, style, timeliness and completeness.
Overseeing mailed communication to members, which may include a life-style magazine (typically 3 times per year) and news brief (delivered electronically, or by mail, weekly).
In short, The Director of Marketing is the “Heart and Soul” of the club, capturing the essence of its culture and traditions, turning this essence into communication policies and actions. However, the Director of Marketing cannot be Superman, especially if that person’s time is divided across other roles. An important part of the General Manager’s organizational management involves reducing the items on the Director of Marketing’s plate so that the primary communications job can be performed. Many Director’s of Marketing we have spoken with, especially the most successful ones, are at their wits’ end trying to get their jobs done, often working far too many hours – and hard hours, too, because they are expected to be at so many events late into the evening. The General Manager who hires sufficient help to bring the Director of Marketing’s hours under control is spending wisely, as would become evident the day the “Heart and Soul” of the club walked out to find a more reasonable job. Turnover in this position is extremely costly for a club, yet all too frequent.
The Qualities of a Great Director of Marketing
These are some of the qualities we have noticed in the very best Directors of Marketing:
They are known and well liked by nearly all the members.
They are creative. We at Clubessential never cease to be amazed at the breadth of ideas that bubble up at our regional seminars – and those ideas are usually coming from someone we would classify as a “Director of Marketing” no matter their actual title.
They understand the importance of member awareness and engagement and know how to use marketing tools to make progress in these areas.
They can write pleasing articles and have a flair for artistic quality, or they successfully partner with another staff member with these skills.
They usually are comfortable with computers and can update the website and send sophisticated emails with ease.
They must be very organized and disciplined and they must be able to meet deadlines.
Most Directors of Marketing are nearly unflappable, because they must deal with a wide variety of staff and members, including some difficult characters.
Finally, the Director of Marketing must be able to make convincing presentations to the Board and the General Manager, because without their support, the work can’t be done.
Empowering the Director of Marketing
Suppose a General Manager is lucky enough to hire an ideal Director of Marketing – what are some key steps a General Manager can take to most effectively utilize this new resource?
The General Manager should keep in mind that a great Director of Marketing attracts non-essential or off-target projects like a magnet in a junk pile. It is necessary to review, frequently, the jobs assigned to the Director of Marketing, reassigning all but essential communications issues to other staff members.
Give the Director of Marketing opportunities for education. Most clubs do not compete directly, so sharing of ideas, documents and approaches is a great “win-win” for all involved. Industry groups such as the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) or the Professional Club Marketing Association (PCMA) can also provide education, depending on the actual title of the person. Take advantage of Clubessential’s online “CoffeeBreaks,” a whole range of video education and free regional marketing seminars.
Provide the Director of Marketing with visibility to the Board. This is particularly important in an economic crisis, as a modest expenditure on communications could result in significant savings or new revenue. Without a marketing voice at the table, the marketing budget is likely to be cut, saving a penny but losing a dollar. The General Manager can be this voice, but only by applying discipline to make sure marketing is not crowded out by all the other issues.
The clubs that are “Spectacular Communicators” are not in financial difficulty despite the economy. It is worth thinking about how your organization could be modified to make your club one of the “lucky” 5%. Usually some extra focus on Marketing will be well worth the effort.