Deadlines for next year’s promotional plans seem like they come earlier and earlier every year.  I have a love hate relationship with the planning season.  I dread the difficult conversations to come and the sheer effort it takes to do it right.  But I love the opportunity to rethink and reset for the coming year.  Beyond just the promotions, I use this time to review our information gathering and communication processes; looking to find ways to make them better. 

These reviews are more than an internal matter; extending to how we interact with our distributors and retailers and most importantly how we engage with our sales team and brokers.  It is about setting up systems and building tools to quickly design and communicate hundreds of promotional plans nationally.  And, it is about leaving a trail of information that is easily accessed by all team members as the year progresses.

In the late nineties, I was the specialty, ethnic and natural food buyer for Ralphs Grocery Company.  I realized early on it would be impossible to manage over 20,000 items and review all our categories if we didn’t find a better way to handle our promotional calendar.  Managing the process monthly meant I was always chasing money and facing an ongoing time deficit.  My team and I, which included the account executives at A1 International, put together six-month planning sessions which greatly streamlined this effort.  It was an arduous three days of meetings, followed by a few intense weeks of paperwork, but the result was a full book of ads, negotiated price points, and many constructive conversations with manufacturers leading to increased sales.

I use this methodology with my clients now; developing twelve month promotional plans for each of our distributors and key retailers.  The process helps us communicate our commitment to customers, set a direction for brokers and distributors, and free up our time to work on new distribution, marketing and new item development.  It is probably the most important thing we do as brand managers all year.

That doesn’t mean it goes smoothly every time.  After all these years with clients, I can’t offer any magic formula.  Every company culture is different.  I can tell you that the best results and systems come from honest discussions about where there is pain in the process and working together to solve those issues.  As a brand manager leading several brands nationally, my biggest challenge is managing the insane amount of data and turning it into useful and transparently shared information.  Luckily for all of us, technology is offering an ever-improving array of solutions.

Below is link to some questions and guidelines to help you with your planning process. 

12 Month Planning Guidelines