Inside Track by Mark Stretton
If you have a spare two minutes this week take a look at Pret A Manger’s current Christmas campaign: www.pret.com/christmas. It speaks of why the business founded by Julian Metcalfe is just so good. Every year the sandwich chain does its bit for charity by donating 5p for every sandwich it sells from its seasonal Christmas limited-period line. Last year this raised £60k, which through the Pret Foundation Trust, went to support homeless projects across the UK. Pretty impressive, but this year the group, led day-to-day by Clive Schlee, is going one step further, donating 5p from all sandwich sales. That means for two months – November and December – every single purchaser of a sandwich or a bloomer at Pret can munch away happily in the knowledge that a bit of cash has gone to someone who needs it. As of Sunday evening, Pret had raised about £70k, surpassing last year’s total, which means by the end of December it should have given the thick end of £300k to good causes. Unlike the comments of Lord Young last week, the campaign chimes particularly well with the current climate. Yes my mortgage costs are lower (quite a bit lower, thank you very much), but if I decide to drop £5-6 on my lunch, which can feel a bit frivolous in these uncertain times, knowing that a bit of my cash is going to help the homeless does something to assuage my Catholic guilt over such obvious extravagance. As a marketing campaign, it is brilliant. I’m sure there are lots of other examples of this sort of giving, but this campaign just happened to catch my eye last week. What helps is that it is plastered all over Pret’s shop windows, and its website. As well as engaging with consumers on a one-to-one level with incentives and added-value offers, this sort of social responsibility activity is also effective in building loyalty. It gives consumers added permission to use the brand, and it in part helps build that relationship that all brands are seeking with their customers. If consumer-facing companies want to receive then it probably helps to give. In addition to its place as one of the sector's stand-out operators, a quick trawl on the Pret website reveals a company that has given time to thinking through and communicating various CSR issues, be it good causes, sustainability and supply chain, or its relationship with its own people. Its festive campaign is the latest example. The question for other businesses and brand owners is this: have you been good this year, and what are you doing to be good this Christmas? The November chill The usual cyclical softening of trade that pub and restaurant business leaders speak of at this time of year has seemingly visited the sector once more. It normally occurs between the end of the autumn school half-term and the beginning of December, and it seems this year is no different. On the plus side, pub operators making a play of showing sporting events via Sky speak of buoyant trading on big game nights in the past few weeks. As well as a sporting schedule boosting some big football matches, the autumn rugby internationals and the Haye-Harrison boxing spectacle, operators that have stuck with the Sky subscription speak of the benefit of reduced penetration as many others have decided that paying the price does not stack up any more. But in the round, while trade is by no means dire, it feels like it’s business as usual this November. Although it should only be normal that consumers keep their heads down as the festive season approaches, this time round people are nervous. Given the uncertainty that remains over 2011, the well-documented public sector cuts, and VAT going up, it fingers-crossed time that this isn’t the start of a more cautious approach to discretionary spending by the consumer.