Selling the cultural deal

The Charlotte Observer literally sent customers to local breweries


For newspapers in cities with a growing number of craft breweries, this idea capitalizes on the trend.

In 2014 The Charlotte Observer started what could be described as an extended brew pub crawl by selling cards that offered customers tastings at between 15 and 18 local breweries across the city. Phyllis Weber, who recently left Charlotte to become advertising director at The Roanoke Times in Virginia, recalls how well the promotion worked.

"This one totally surprised us," she said. The paper made $13,000 in incremental digital revenue, selling about 650 cards at $20 apiece.

She admits that she copied the idea from Charlotte's sister paper, The News & Observer in Raleigh. "The brewery would sign up for the card and it did not cost them anything in terms of cash out of pocket," she said.  "What they got for it was the opportunity for people to buy the Daily Deal either from our daily e-blast or from the promotion we were doing online and in print to pitch the brew card."

The brew card entitled the holder to a free tasting and mini tour of each location as well as a souvenir pint glass with the brewery's logo.

Once in the door, the card-holder was likely to do more than taste, and the breweries benefitted from additional food and beer sales. If the customer enjoyed the visit, came back and brought friends, all the better.

"For the consumers who made it around to all of the breweries, we then sent them a gift basket that included a pint glass with The Charlotte Observer Daily Deals branding on it," Weber said.

"So it was great for the consumer, and clearly the way the breweries benefitted was that they got the opportunity to have all this additional foot traffic for no money out of pocket. All it cost them, really, was a tasting and to make somebody available to give them kind of a micro-tour, and whatever they paid for the little pint glass."

The Observer used Second Street's platform. The platform provider received a small percentage of the proceeds.

The brew card promotion works best with an active micro-brewery culture in a city, a platform for offering digital deals and a large database of emails, Weber advised participants in a recent SNPA Publisher-to-Publisher video conference. At the time, The Observer was sending out 50,000 to 75,000 emails daily in various blasts.

Similar successful daily deals have involved golf courses, restaurants and travel packages, Weber said. She recalls one such success at The Mercury News.

"Golf is a high-ticket item. In San Jose, Calif., we made close to $30,000 on a golf deal. We got one of our beautiful golf resorts to put a deal out there. It was a semi-private course, and people wanted to play it. For whatever reason, we just hit a sweet spot.

"That was the most profitable deal I have ever run. It was just flat out amazing."

These days, with shrinking staffs and multiple sales options, such a promotion needs attention from someone willing to champion the concept, she said.

"You want to manage expectations from the advertiser, because they will always ask you, well how many sales am I going to get from this? Well, that depends on a lot of things. That depends on the popularity. It depends on the type of deal that you put on the platform. It depends on if you educate your staff to take care of them, and so on."

Although Weber has seen a decline in the daily deal concept among larger newspaper chains recently, but she still believes in it.

"It was a very profitable revenue stream for publishers, because it's digital. It's electronic. Your cost of goods is just not as significant as running promotions in your daily newspaper, where you're paying for newsprint. To send an email blast out doesn't cost you anything, just a little bit of labor."

For more information, reach Phyllis Weber at

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at

Charlotte, Weber, breweries
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