The Gray Cat Blog

A comprehensive collection of blogs designed to assist small business owners and multiunit operators.

Creating An Advertising Plan

Feb 06, 2023

As you have probably gathered from reading my other articles, I am a firm believer in planning for success. Whether it is operational excellence, de-branding a store or outlining your procedures and policies, prudent planning creates stronger execution and efficiency. While planning may come second nature to me, I am surprised at how many operators leave their success to chance.

I have the opportunity to speak to a number of audiences on advertising/marketing, and one of the questions I ask is whether or not the audience has created an annual advertising/marketing plan. Invariably, the operators that have an annual plan are in the minority. It is odd that most operators are fairly regimented in their routines, until it comes to investing dollars back into the business in the form of advertising.

My guess is that most operators may be intimidated to a certain extent regarding advertising and thus, avoid the process of planning their investments. While it is true that there are some buzzwords in advertising, it is nothing more than having a cohesive communication plan for your trade area. With that in mind, here are some key items to include on developing an annual plan:

Outline Goals: What do you want to accomplish? This may seem like an elementary question, but depending upon what your goals are, will determine what type of ad plan you will create and follow. If your goal is to increase customer traffic to existing and new customers, then a plan that addresses marketing activities throughout your 3-mile trade area is critical. If, on the other hand, your goal is to sell more to existing customers, implementing loyalty programs and combo deals, for instance, are both designed to raise your average ticket. Throughout the year, you may find that you weave in both of these strategies.

Determine Budget: Once your goals are determined, it is time to earmark investment dollars for your plan. The budget will help determine how “meaty” your annual ad plan will be throughout the year. Most operators determine their ad investment dollars as a percentage of their sales. That way, as sales grow, more dollars as a percentage, can be re-invested back into the business. While this may alter some of your plans over the course of the year as sales projections fluctuate, it is much easier to adjust from an annual foundation as opposed to month-to-month planning.

Set To A Timeline: Which leaves us to the whole notion of creating an annual ad plan so that it can be executed throughout the year in a cohesive way. Most operators miss this part of the planning. Operators will say “we have a plan”, but a collection of one month ads that fail to work together is not a long-term cohesive strategy. Rather, the scattered approach lends itself to “chasing the next shiny object” and at the end of the year, the goals are not achieved.

Vertically Integrate The Message: Once the key dates are determined, identifying the vehicles to be used – i.e., electronic, print, social, POP, etc. – is next. Regardless of the sequence, it is imperative that each of the vehicles communicate a theme or what is commonly known as “vertically integrating” the message. Limited ad investment funds can stretch considerably longer if each of the vehicles reinforces the same message. If it is “burger of the month”, then all ads during that month should promote that burger.

Communicate To Team: Your staff is the critical link to a well-executed advertising plan. Failure to communicate when the vehicle will be in reaching customers or the content of the message will blindside your staff when a customer reacts to an ad. There is nothing more frustrating to a customer that comes into a store then an ill-informed staff member. All of the time to plan and investment to bring in that customer is for naught.

Post Analysis: Lastly, in order to make your dollars work stronger in the future, it is essential to judge and measure the success of dollars that have already been spent. If something works – repeat it! If the investment underperformed, go to plan B and modify your annual plan. While your annual plan should create a cohesive strategic foundation, it is not etched in granite – it can be modified as vehicles are analyzed. Create a plan for success and fine-tune throughout the year.

Want more ideas?  For more information on Gray Cat Learning Series, visit:

John Matthews, President & CEO, Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc.

John Matthews is the Founder and President of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc. a Raleigh, NC-based management consulting company. Gray Cat specializes in strategic project management and consulting for multi-unit operations; interim executive management; and strategic planning. Mr. Matthews has over 30 years of senior-level executive experience in the retail industry, involving three dynamic multi-unit companies. Mr. Matthews experience includes President of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches; Vice President of Marketing, Merchandising, Corporate Communications, Facilities and Real Estate for Clark Retail Enterprises/White Hen Pantry; and National Marketing Director at Little Caesar's Pizza! Pizza!