The hospitality industry is lagging behind when it comes to using the latest multimedia promotion tools. Daniel Thomas looks at how to use technology to get your message across.
The concept of using video and audio on websites is not new by any stretch of the imagination, but hospitality operators have, on the whole, been slow to pick up on the benefits of using multimedia for promotion.
That is the view of Chandos Elletson, the food writer and film-maker who has worked on multimedia campaigns with the likes of the Ivy and Le Caprice, butcher Aubrey Allan and the Roux Scholarship (http://www.caterersearch.com/technology" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">www.chandoselletson.com](http://www.chandoselletson.com)).
"There is more interest but it's a very specialist market at the moment; very few can do it," he says. "Everyone in hospitality is missing out - consumers don't want dry websites any more."
While it is "very easy" to produce a website based purely on photography, it gets more difficult when you are targeting the message to a specific market segment, according to Elletson.
"You have got to know in advance who you're going to target," he says. "With films, you need to be short and specific, you can't aim generally. That's a common mistake; I've heard a lot of horror stories about people spending loads of money commissioning films without any real idea of who they are aiming at."
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By producing their own media, operators can get their message out in the way they want, according to Elletson.
This is something that the contract caterer CH&Co (formerly known as Charlton House) did to highlight its recent rebranding. The move saw the company split itself into five specialist brands: Charlton House (staff catering at business and industry sites), Lusso (fine dining and bespoke staff catering in the City of London), Chester Boyd (livery halls and private venues), It's the Agency (event solutions) and Ampersand (public catering in iconic venues), all launched on 10 May.
Mark Blacker, marketing manager at CH&Co, says: "The use of eâ'mail enabled us to precisely target audiences at specific times to manage the process of delivering our message. These messages drove customers to our new websites to help emphasise our new branding."
For Blacker, the major benefit of multimedia is the ability to deliver a content-rich message quickly in an engaging and easy-to-digest format for the target audience.
"Your audience is much more likely to watch a short video than they are to read an article," he says. "On the other hand, graphical eâ'mail can deliver your written words in a visual way that gets your message across."
There are, of course, a number of challenges to ensuring any multimedia campaign is successful, admits Blacker. "The technical side of delivering video is not quite as easy as writing an article," he says. "The first issue is ensuring that the content is presented in a professional way and at a good enough quality to do your product justice. A short home movie on YouTube is not really going to give the right impression."
Eâ'mail marketing is a complex subject though, warns Blacker. "There are many systems out there that claim to be quick and easy to use," he explains. "But once you start to consider opt-in database marketing, spam filters, unsubscribe requests and firewall blocking, the job gets a lot more complicated."
According to David Binney, IT manager at CH&Co, the major technical challenges on any multimedia campaign surround equipment and application standards, both for internal and external work,
"Internally, there are the requirements for the kit to produce a multimedia campaign: image editing facilities, software functions, and hardware performance are all typical considerations for producing the required material," he says.
"This generally means that the capital investment to produce large campaigns in-house is too expensive for most small companies, and outsourcing to specialists is the most common route. Only when the cost case alters because of the number of campaigns undertaken - or if the outsourcing costs are exorbitant - does production tend to be brought back in-house."
The next challenge is keeping all the applications and hardware up to date for the latest production values, Binney says.
"At CH&Co we have split multimedia production roughly along software lines: if Adobe will produce it, we generally build our campaigns in-house. If the material requires professional imaging or code-cutting then we outsource. Most bulk material production, such as supporting brochures or give-away services on USB sticks, is produced for us by commercial suppliers."
Externally, the delivery of a multimedia campaign needs to be carefully planned whether it is at an event or via online channels, warns Binney.
"If it is being delivered by company employees at exhibitions and conferences, then the equipment they use needs to present the material in the best light," he says. "If the campaign is being dispersed via the internet or eâ'mail, then there's always the concern that the latest media presentations are not compatible with the target audience's software or hardware standards.
"For example, many of our clients restrict video content from running on their internal networks, so any Quicktime or Flash presentations may run incorrectly or not at all," he adds. "So we try to match our technical media to the likely capabilities of our target audience."
Working closely with external suppliers is vital when campaigns are outsourced, advises Binney.
"It's crucial that there's a close understanding about the requirements - particularly the technical ones - for the end result," he says. "In technical terms, the specification and planning is done at an early stage in the project cycle. The technical stuff then takes a back seat while the content is developed. Then, during the testing and deployment, we tend to live in our external suppliers' pockets!"
Blacker's advice for hospitality operators investigating the use of multimedia is "planning, planning, planning".
"You can waste so much money if you don't get your message delivered to your audience correctly," he says. "You need to clearly define your objectives and then discuss with professionals exactly how to achieve your target. Finally, set a budget and stick to it. Agencies really know how to spend your money."
While the CH&Co project highlights how multimedia campaigns can be used to highlight "anything new", they should not just be limited to marketing, stresses Elletson.
"There is no limit. We're not just talking about marketing," he says. "Just as much can be done on attracting and keeping staff. I have been working with the RAC Club, which wanted to attract chefs by showing that it's actually a very exciting place to work and not just a boring old members' club."
Attracting staff to the hospitality industry was the aim of a successful multimedia campaign launched by Sector Skills Council People 1st in 2008. The UK-wide initiative, backed by companies like McDonald's, Compass Group and Merlin Entertainments, aimed to persuade young people to rethink a career in hospitality, leisure, travel or tourism.
A television advert drove people to a microsite (www.greatplaces2work.co.uk)) which had a YouTube-style repository of videos showing real people with great jobs.
Brian Wisdom, chief executive of People 1st, believes the campaign was a positive step towards fixing some of the major issues facing employers. "Every day we read negative stories about careers in bars, hotels, restaurants and tourism businesses," he says. "We were able to pull together some of the biggest names in our sector to attempt to reverse this trend."
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