The sobering truth behind Scotland’s new drink drive limits for the licensed trade
Monday, March 30th, 2015
Pubs, restaurants and hotels need their own positive PR campaign to help win back custom
We’ve all seen examples of good PR and bad PR. But what if a public relations campaign is SO good that it leaves one of Scotland’s main business sectors in turmoil?
That’s the predicament faced by the licensed trade, as a direct result of the hugely successful PR and media messaging around new drink-drive limits.
It’s a particularly prickly issue, leaving hospitality business owners on the horns of dilemma. Morally none of them has even the remotest complaint with making our roads safer – but in cold, pragmatic terms they are seeing their livelihoods decimated.
For me, the issue came into sharp focus at the recent East Lothian Tourism Conference, where I had been asked to run a PR workshop on How To Get Noticed.
Business after business spoke in grave terms about the impact the law change was having on their sales and ultimately their longer term chances of survival. This at a time when the showpiece Year of Food and Drink in Scotland is being heralded across the nation.
One of the most fascinating aspects was that it was clear each of these business owners were facing a personal dilemma as they spoke out.
On one hand, the new drink-drive limit is clearly driving business away as worried drivers avoid having a quick drink at lunch or after work, meeting up with pals or even risk a glass of wine with a meal.
But on the other hand, these are owners who undoubtedly would be horrified if a driver was involved in serious road accident because they had chanced their luck by edging over the limit before getting behind the wheel.
In fairness, no one was advocating that reducing the drink-drive limit was wrong and all totally agreed that even if one life was saved it would be a success.
Instead the East Lothian businesses were sharing the concerns made by publicans, hotels and restaurateurs across Scotland that the PR campaign was so effective that it has literally frightened people away from drinking – without any regard to the impact it would have on the trade.
The evaluation of the PR campaign does seem overwhelming. Ordinary drivers have heeded the stern warnings and simply taken the decision not to chance even a single drink if driving. As a PR win that’s very impressive.
However, in rural communities, such as in East Lothian the effect of this PR success story is far less positive.
Across Scotland, the Bank of Scotland’s last quarterly business monitor shows that 33% of more than 400 licensed businesses suffered a fall in turnover since the new legislation, with only 34% reporting no change.
Ouch. It doesn’t matter what sector you operate in, it’s not difficult to see how a one third drop off in business is going to smart a bit.
Yet it needn’t all be doom and gloom. Now is the right time for smart thinkers in the licensed trade to take forward their own PR campaigns, to evolve and move on from the new legislation.
It was only a few short years ago that the sector was wresting with the immediate impact of the smoking ban. While there was a defined drop in business at first, it is now accepted that pubs, in particular, are much better places to visit.
That’s how the trade needs to react to the new drink-drive limit.
People in Scotland still want to visit pubs and go out for meal. So if there is a concern about drink-drive limits, then business owners should take away that pain point, by look for smart and creative ways reinvent a night in the pub or dining out.
The licensed trade should look to mount its own PR offensive encouraging the Government and local authorities to promote designated driver schemes and to improve public transport.
Pleasingly for businesses in East Lothian, there was a council commitment to look at introducing a coastal bus route so that people in local areas can get to and from their homes without need of a car.
There is also scope for innovative businesses to seize the PR opportunity to highlight their own creative measures to bring in customers. This should be extended to businesses outwith the licensed trade, such as those offering drive-me-home services or transport options.
The How To Get Noticed workshop attracted a large number of businesses who were eager to get tips, tricks and advice our Scottish public relations agency, Holyrood PR in Edinburgh.
We wanted to show how thinking about the simple and engaging ways to tell the story of a business can make such a difference.
Celebrating examples of success, demonstrating innovation, explaining real life impact of products and services, piggybacking on popular culture, sharing interesting statistics or advice and providing great images can all help a business to tell a compelling story.
More than that, these are also great ways to help secure PR success in newspapers, magazines, blogs and news sites. And these same kind of stories can make your website and social media channels richer and more powerful tools for winning new custom.
Licensed trade businesses will never win any argument that appears to pubs vs lives – nor do they want to.
But while many feel dazed and confused from seeing so much custom drain away, instead, they need to get thinking of the PR opportunities to make their businesses stand out; to encourage support to bring in more customers and to connect with the public.
For the savviest of those East Lothian businesses, I could see my suggestions were getting through and helping shine a light on how positive PR of their own could offset some of the problems caused by the drop off in trade.
As one delegate said to me after the PR workshop: “You have really got me thinking.”
Find out how our Edinburgh public relations agency could help your business
That was great to hear – but I’m just one member of our experienced and enthusiastic PR team at our award winning Scottish PR agency.
We are always willing to meet and speak with businesses on how they can find the best stories that are going to improve their bottom line.
Most of these tips we have already featured in our previous blogs and guides on our website and specifically our business guide on fitting together the pieces of the PR puzzle
If you’d like to speak with us about unlocking the power of your business stories phone us at any time on 0131 561 2244 or fill in the simple form below and we’ll get straight back to you.
Raymond Notarangelo, co-founded Scottish PR agency, Holyrood Partnership after spotting a gap for colourful and innovative public relations in Edinburgh. He now leads a team providing media relations, social media, video, photography, brand newsrooms, crisis communication and media relations.View Raymond's Profile
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