Marketing in a post-covid-19 world - Listen to our free podcast series with industry leading CMOs

Marketing Post-COVID: Adam Golomb, Chief Marketing Officer at Primanti Bros. Restaurant and Bar

Brian Erickson:
Thanks for joining the Cardwell Beach marketing podcast. My name is Brian Erickson, Chief Strategy Officer and partner at Cardwell Beach. In this series, we’re interviewing senior marketers across industries to develop perspective on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world. Today’s guest is Adam Golomb, chief marketing officer for Primanti Brothers restaurant and bar, a legendary Pittsburgh eatery famous for its one-of-a-kind sandwiches. Prior to joining Primanti, Adam worked with a supermarket chain, Giant Eagle and the restaurant group Eaton Park. Adam, thanks so much for joining us today.

Adam Golomb:
Thanks for having me.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome. So in terms of weathering the storm, hopefully we are through the worst of it here, but obviously still quite a few restrictions. And so shelter in place orders and other restrictions have made traditional sit-down restaurant dining almost impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic. How has Primanti Brothers adapted to this new reality? Were there any specific elements of this risk that you had planned for, or was it truly unprecedented?

Adam Golomb:
I think it’s unprecedented, but looking back on it, we made some major investments in the past 12 to 18 months in technology primarily focused around take-out delivery off-premise and then relaunched our loyalty program in the fall of last year. When you look at what’s helped us weather the storm, I would say it was our investment in takeout and all the technology behind it. We were able to be one day doing dine-in and the next day we were up and running as take-out only operations. Our loyalty program has driven a tremendous amount of our business, being able to market to those people on a one-to-one basis.

I think as we look back on it, there was some good efforts done in advance, but I’m not really sure that we knew this was coming or it was going to be this extreme, but we’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. We have six locations back open up in West Virginia, Indiana and Ohio. We have a location in Pennsylvania opening up on Friday for full service. So we’re starting to see more of our restaurants with the hope in the next couple of weeks we’ll be fully opened back up and then a modified eating situation.

Brian Erickson:
Congratulations on that. I’m sure that’s-

Adam Golomb:
Thanks.

Brian Erickson:
—a much bigger transition than even the shift to take out. And how many locations did you shift to take out instantaneously, what was that experience like?

Adam Golomb:
We have 41 locations. Three of them operate in stadiums. So those are the only three that are closed until the stadium business comes back, which is sports. So once the Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins and concerts come back, we’ll be back in business there. But the other ones we shifted overnight and we really only had one location stay open for dining. Initially we operate an airport location at Pittsburgh airport and we’ve kept that open the whole time. But as the crisis went, the airport did have a shift into different takes on how to operate that. Yeah, it really was instantaneous. Within 24 hours we had made major tweaks. We had changed promotional strategy and we had altered the menu to do a little bit of a smaller menu so that we could execute the menu at a higher level. We didn’t need to offer every single item, we knew we could get away with a smaller menu and our fans would be okay with that. They have been. Testament to the brand is the fact that people have continued to purchase us all through the crisis and worked with us throughout it.

Brian Erickson:
Absolutely. And you’ve been around for a long time and have a lot of positive equity, right? Been in Pittsburgh since 1933. Really the definition of a heritage brand there.

Adam Golomb:
Yep. 87 years, and been through recessions, and flus, and wars, and you name it, come out, still standing.

Brian Erickson:
So as a marketer, how does this long-term positive reputation and community support change the way you lead strategy and outreach? Are there any challenges that you see to having this long-standing reputation and having a long legacy in this situation?

Adam Golomb:
No. I think there’s a lot of benefits to it. It’s a whole lot easier to market with a great brand than market with a brand that’s not loved. Starting out of the gate, having a great brand, having a unique and differentiated product and experience, those two things really help a marketer. I think as we come out of this, it’s going to be the number one thing we have to instill with our fans is trust. They have to trust when they come to eat to us it’s going to be a safe experience. We’ve done a tremendous amount of training and change in procedures and operational changes to make sure that we operate at the highest level of safety, not only for our fans, but for our RMT members. And that was where that’s really important as we get out of this.

We’re still going to have fun. We’re still going to be a little quirky. We’ve been quirky throughout this. I think people are looking for a little bit of break, levity but I think the number one most important thing we have is people have to trust us when they come out to eat, to order take out, that it’s going to be a safe experience.

Brian Erickson:
Definitely have to instill that trust and it’s good to hear that you’ve held on to some of the quirkiness. I think it’s easy to just fall into what everybody else is saying in terms of safe together and just being conservative in your messaging. But I think you still have to differentiate, right? And you still have to stay true to who you are.

Adam Golomb:
Yeah, exactly. So we’ve done some fun things. We’ve done free beer day, where we gave free beer away in the state of Pennsylvania. We’ve done some fun stuff online. We’re doing a Friday night happy hour with a different musical act every Friday. We had like 40,000 people watch these live music acts. It’s been a really great thing that I think we’ll probably keep that going forward, this Friday night happy hour with live music on Facebook. Just unbelievable the reach this has, pretty easy to pull together. My team has done an amazing job pulling things off fast, being scrappy, getting things to market pretty fast.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah, there are definitely some silver linings that have come out of this for folks in unexpected ways. I would ask as we’re coming out of this and as you’re reopening, what will you take with you into your post-COVID-19 marketing strategy that you’ve learned during this crazy time?

Adam Golomb:
Beforehand being nimble, the whole idea of do it wrong quickly, fail fast, I think was important. The idea of you have limited resources so you’ve got to do things that you’re pretty sure are going to make a bank, all the things we had before, but now it’s a little bit heightened and we have a smaller team and we’ve really cranked the work out, which shows at times you can make it happen. So I think those are key. We’ve also had some of our key vendor partners step up and help us throughout this, and there will be people that we definitely remember when this is done. Some of our agencies, some of our printers have really stepped up and helped us make it through this.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah, it definitely brings out the best in certain people, let’s say to step up to the plate and come together and rally around a goal. How do you see marketing as a whole changing as a result of COVID-19 either, will you see a bigger shift to digital, will you see things going back to the way that they were previously? What are your thoughts there?

Adam Golomb:
I think it’s going to be a shift to digital. Think out of home is going to be interesting to watch. Are people going back to work? That’s the first question. There’s definitely going to be less people in the office. I think the idea, especially in the next 12 months, many people, especially retail, restaurants can be focused on stuff that you can measure the impact. There’s not going to be a lot of soft marketing in my mind. We’re not going to do a lot of things that we hope are going to work. It’s going to be a lot of things that we think are going to work and that we can track. So that’s my take. I think it will be interesting to watch the competitive landscape also. We’re trying to keep an eye on what restaurant chains might not be there and do we have an opportunity to build some shares? That’ll be interesting to watch that as that unfolds. You’re definitely seeing that on the big box retail side and how they’re doing.

Brian Erickson:
There basically is no industry that’s been hit much harder than yours. So that will definitely be mixing up the competitive landscape, I would have to imagine. On a tactical level, how have you adapted your original 2020 plan? It sounds like moving much more bottom funnel and moving away from brand campaigns.

Adam Golomb:
Yeah. Bottom funnel, accelerating loyalty, accelerating digital experience. We’ve rapidly made some tweaks to our online experience. We’re redesigning our website really fast. We’ve made some redesigns for our e-commerce platform. And those things are very important. Being aggressive with promotions, more aggressive than normal, get people off their couch. We had a big project that was ready to launch the week everything shut down so that’s on hold right now. I would say more of the localized marketing… We had a heavy local marketing presence before. We’re trying to execute campaigns across all the restaurants right now. As we reopen we’ll get back to more of a localized outreach marketing, localized effort.

Brian Erickson:
And I think a lot of people are seeing those similar sorts of shift to tactics that are more measurable to a greater emphasis on digital. So as we near 20% unemployment, what advice would you give marketers to find themselves as free agents right now? So how can they best position themselves and their skillsets for these sorts of changes that are going on, on a more macro level at marketing?

Adam Golomb:
I would say number one is, use your network. So I think that’s the most important thing before this, building a network and after using your network, there are people in your predicament, there are people that are hiring that aren’t posting about it. I would say second is, what are you? Are you a generalist? Are you a specialist? Some people are looking for somebody who has a little bit more skills right now. And if I was hiring somebody, I wouldn’t look for somebody who’s a specialist because I need somebody that’s a utility player. That’s really what I’m asking of my team at the moment is it’s all about people being able to do multiple jobs. And then the last thing, I think this is really important is being able to be self-motivated, self-sufficient, that’s really key in this environment and being able to show people that you have that ability because I think in the work from home model, you don’t have the management by walking around.

So you got to be able to give your team a goal, a strategy, and know that they can execute it and bring it to life on their own or as a team without you having to be involved in every step. As I think about the future of marketing, I think the ability to show your ability to be self-sufficient, self-motivated, be able to get up everyday for work and not have to be highly directed I think is going to be a key skill that’s looked for.

Brian Erickson:
And that ties back to what brands are looking for. As you talk about your strategy, moving to be more nimble, agile, you’ll be accountable for results that flows right down to the people that you’re going to hire and bring onto your team.

Adam Golomb:
Yeah, correct. Even my existing team, it’s been very much a focus around, we do our daily, I call it a daily scrum. Every morning we meet for a half hour. We go around, talk about what each other’s working on and then have a discussion about what are the three, four things we need to get done for the day and then let them go. I’m available throughout the day and team is available and we’re online, and we will regroup at the end of the day also just to check in if there’s anything that’s urgent. So that’s really the difference, meeting every day and that morning, it’s a 10:00 AM meeting, standing 10:00 AM meeting we’ve had since day one. We’ve love this thing. We literally meet every morning at 10:00AM and talk through and it’s becoming, I call it Groundhog Day, because it’s a lot of the same stuff, but they’re shorter and shorter meetings because we know what we need to execute.

We’re all aligned to the strategy and all drumming the same beat to achieve things, which right now is drive the existing business, start working on the restaurants that are reopening. Those really the two focuses that we have as a marketing team.

Brian Erickson:
That’s always important, clear priorities and just communicating those and making sure that everybody’s on the same page. How have your brand values come back into the picture in terms of acting as a guiding light and helping provide some direction for folks?

Adam Golomb:
The brand has always had a sense of quirkiness to it. And I think that’s come through. There’s always a tie to sports, having a good time, that’s come through, but there’s also a trust. People have trusted us for 87 years. We continue to instill that this product’s going to be the same. We’re going to offer the same great quality, the same great safety that you would’ve expected. And we’re seeing that, not only in our core markets where we’ve been for 87 years, but in markets where we’ve been in less than a year. People have embraced us as their local restaurant and those restaurants have done really well for us, it’s not like it’s in a new market, it’s doing horrible, they’re continuing to do well. And that’s really a testament to the team on the ground who’s built that relationship in the market.

Brian Erickson:
Important to stick by what’s worked, especially with such a long track record. So as we’ve mentioned, the restaurant industry has been hit very, very hard by this, I don’t think anybody will deny that. If you could give one piece of advice to mid-market and SMB marketers in your industry right now, what would you say?

Adam Golomb:
I think the idea of moving fast and learning fast is probably the most important thing. Don’t overthink things, try things really fast. With digital marketing and social media, you can try something and within an hour know if it’s resonating or not. So don’t overthink things. I think that’s the biggest thing I’m pushing on my team is like, it doesn’t have to be perfect. 80% is good enough at this point to getting things out the door.

Brian Erickson:
Learn fast, fail fast, improve fast. It seems like you’ve freely adopted an Agile approach. Word scrum came through, right? It sounds like you have really shifted the whole thing.

Adam Golomb:
Some of my e-commerce days, we’re taking some of those Agile tasks and some of that task management and brought it to life and it’s worked. We haven’t brought everything. We don’t have some other things, but we’ve got some of the good things. I think communication also, not being face to face has been really key. Text, calls, email, just making sure you’re communicating with the team, checking in and being accessible has been really key to our success.

Brian Erickson:
Yep. Everybody is dealing with things on an individual level as well as on a work level. So it’s important to stay in touch with folks. On that note, what’s been your favorite quarantine hobby that you’ve picked up over this time?

Adam Golomb:
I have three kids and my wife’s working from home, but we’ve done a tremendous amount of exercise. The level of exercise we’ve had has been unbelievable pretty much every day. We’ve been biking a lot, hiking, spending a lot of family time together. We also rented two chickens. There’s a thing called Rent The Chicken and I’m a city boy and we have two chickens now living with us for the next couple of months, which has been fun.

Brian Erickson:
That’s pretty cool.

Adam Golomb:
Yeah. All kinds of fun things that probably we didn’t think we would have done before, but I think that’s probably been the biggest benefit of this is the family time. Don’t need to wake up with the kids, not have to drive an hour and 45 minutes to work, be in meetings all day long, drive 45 minutes home. The ability to have multiple meals a day has really been a win.

Brian Erickson:
Definitely some silver linings on all fronts. And it’s important to stay focused on that as well in spite of all this craziness here.

Adam Golomb:
Yep.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome. Well, Adam, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

Adam Golomb:
Thanks for having me. Very excited. Hope to see you in one of our restaurants soon.

Brian Erickson:
Absolutely, and everyone, please make sure to look Adam up on LinkedIn and social media. He is a great resource and has some great content out there. This is Brian Erickson with Cardwell Beach. Thanks again for listening. And please make sure to check back for more senior marketers sharing their perspectives on what marketing will look like in a post COVID-19 world.

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