The restaurant marketing team of the future

Goodbye, agencies. Some operators are choosing to bring digital marketing efforts in-house, with multidisciplinary teams creating a true focus on the brand while picking up the pace at which they can roll out marketable content.

Earlier this year, Jon Gordon—VP of creative services for McAlister’s Deli and Moe’s Southwest Grill parent Focus Brandshelped create Content Kitchen, an in-house expansion of the creative team that brings content to life, from videos to GIFs to stop-motion animation. The team came out of a need for marketing content made at a quicker clip, a charge outside resources weren’t meeting.

Shifting the focus inward

Focus Brands looked internally to create the full-time Content Kitchen team, seeking out the “thinkers, doers, and curious people” already in the company. The group of fewer than 10 turned an underutilized test kitchen at the company’s Atlanta headquarters into a studio and workspace. Initial costs to purchase lighting, software and other equipment to outfit the space were minimal, Gordon says. Now, corporate staff for any of Focus’ brands can walk products over to the Content Kitchen for lifestyle shots and video content for sharing on social media. The Content Kitchen team has also executed larger shoots, even dropping a microwave hooked up to a video camera out of a helicopter. The team’s output has been of such high quality that it has shot full commercials using the internal group.

From shortening the amount of time it takes to concept and execute an idea to using equipment and staff that are readily available at minimal or no extra cost, Gordon sees the Content Kitchen team as an affordable way to streamline the creative process. “I really can’t see any negatives working in an in-house creative shop,” he says. “We’re so connected to everybody, being able to get an idea from an art director to a VP of marketing in a typical client-agency relationship is challenging and sometimes almost impossible. Here, we go up to somebody, tap them on the shoulder, and you can get ideas from inside your head to execution in literally eight hours, and that may have not been the case if you were an agency working with a client.”

The Content Kitchen team is not only creating marketable material on the fly, but also looking outside the industry. “I think the team of the future has to be innovative and understand how to use technology, segmentation and content for personalized engagement. I see there being more tech-savvy roles in the creative industry to keep up with this innovation,” Gordon says. “You’ve got to keep thinking ahead and having an understanding of what is coming next, what are some things that others are doing and how do you incorporate those things into your own. You can’t get insulated in your industry.”

An eye on what’s emerging

At fast-casual concept Cava, the companywide mission includes digital innovation that improves the overall customer experience. “We are of the belief that we want to use technology to enhance the human and customer experience and not replace it,” says Meg Schiffman, director of marketing at Cava, which focuses on customizable Mediterranean dishes. “Because there is a constant shift in change with a custom experience, it’s so important to have that direct communication on the digital marketing side.”

Cava’s creative team consists of a variety of roles—with videographers, graphic designers and content strategy positions—and also utilizes an in-house data science team and data warehouse when creating brand content. The setup saves time and makes communication easier, as a team member doesn’t have to set up a conference call or meeting. Instead, the “head of digital marketing can walk over to a product team and ask how something is working, and how it can be used,” Schiffman says.

Schiffman stresses the importance in finding people who are not just able to do the job they are hired for, but are interested in what their role looks like two or three years down the road. “I heard a quote not too long ago: ‘Anybody that isn’t disrupting themselves is running a huge risk of getting disrupted.’ We have to consistently be asking ourselves, what do customers want two, three, even five years down the line, before they even know they want it.”

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