Courting moviegoers: Regal's marketing relies on loyalty and differentiation
“Regal is focused on our guests and wants to make their experience more and more enjoyable.” Ken Thewes, chief marketing officer of Regal Entertainment Group, summarizes the mission of the world’s largest cinema circuit (www.regmovies.com) and his responsibilities in accomplishing the same. First and foremost, Thewes says, marketing is about “helping Regal Entertainment Group grow, primarily by driving attendance, box office and concession sales at our theatres.”
Thewes, who graciously agreed to provide exclusive insight to the readers of Film Journal International, sees the marketing team’s role “as making sure our guests understand the value of our products and services and are compelled to visit our theatres more often. It’s a simple metric that everyone is focused on with all they do.”
The metric might be simple, and the focus astute, but achieving that goal is complex. “There are a lot of components.” Thewes says, including strategic planning (“looking for new opportunities”), innovation (“developing new, unique ways of promoting our brand”) and consumer insights (“understanding what our guests and other consumers want and giving it to them”).
“We have four main divisions in our marketing department, each headed by a vice president: Misty Cunningham oversees loyalty, promotions and digital marketing. Ken Foreman leads our film marketing. Russ Nunley supervises public relations, public service and regional marketing support. Rich Given heads up consumer insights and advertising design. All of them are seasoned experts leading strong teams.”
While “there are many stakeholders, partners and interests involved in theatre marketing,” including distributors and vendors, advertisers and other business clients, as well as investor-shareholders, Thewes reiterates that moviegoers are at the center of them all. “We’ve renewed our commitment at Regal to listen and respond to our guests. And recognizing the guest point of view is the responsibility of marketing in every business discussion. Through our ‘Regal Crown Club’ loyalty program, we also have the best conduit for staying in touch with American moviegoers. We can quickly survey millions of patrons and watch their habits to adjust our business accordingly.” (For more details, see our “Rewarding the Audience” story.)
“Beyond that,” Thewes continues, “we are looking for new and better ways to partner with studios—that’s where the majority of our ‘product’ comes from and we want to help each of them be more successful as we drive our business as well… Studios are focused on delivering better and more entertaining content—they did a tremendous job of this in 2012. Exhibitors need to take care of each and every guest and make sure to show they are appreciated. We need to continually give consumers a reason to want to go to the movies. They have a lot of choices when they want to be entertained. Marketing can help by reminding them of the value of the theatre-going experience with the incredible picture, sound and ambience that can’t be duplicated. Plus, we must reward them to come back more often.”
Not surprisingly, Thewes is in favor of a nationwide reminder. “I think there could be a lot of value in that by developing our industry’s version of the ‘Got Milk’ campaign. At Regal, we would support this, but we’re not waiting. We have created our own campaign called ‘Go Big or Go Home’ and are constantly reminding consumers about the value of seeing their favorite films on the big screen.” In addition to its corporate spot which launched on all of its screens last summer, under Thewes’ leadership Regal has partnered with distribution on films and current releases like A Good Day to Die Hard and Jack the Giant Slayer.
“The pace of our industry has the added benefit of keeping every day interesting. With the schedule of movies being released, every week is something new in this job. The energy, interest and excitement generated by Hollywood are powerful forces propelling our work in movie theatre marketing and it keeps me energized.”
Thewes energized and managed brands for Proctor & Gamble, Darden and Brinker International restaurant groups, Yum!Brands and the grocery retailer and wholesaler Spartan Stores over the past 20 years before joining Regal in June 2012. “I love marketing and the challenge of helping an organization succeed. I initially thought I would be an engineer,” Thewes reveals, pointing to his degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering. “But when I discovered marketing and the balance of art and science needed, I was hooked. I am an absolute fanatic about movies and I’ve always loved watching them on the big screen, so to be able to work in this business at Regal is a ‘dream come true.’”
For proof, we need go no further than his favorites. “I can’t get enough of a big bucket of buttered popcorn with lots of cheddar cheese salt sprinkled on it,” Thewes readily admits. “And, of course, a large Diet Coke to wash it down.” The best place to do so? “Without a doubt, the Regal Pinnacle in Knoxville, Tennessee, is my favorite theatre. I have really fond memories of seeing movies in my hometown of Lakewood, Ohio, at the Detroit Theatre. That’s where I saw Grease six times with my sister growing up.” It even joined his all-time best list with The Omega Man and The Matrix.
“It’s rare for me to see a movie that I don’t enjoy. I have a ton of favorites and my taste is pretty eclectic. In 2012, my top personal favorites were The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Zero Dark Thirty, Pitch Perfect, Cloud Atlas, The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. I can relate to all things fanboy.” Not surprisingly, the first film he remembers is 10,000 Years B.C. “Taking my son, Taylor, to his first movie when he was about three,” is his favorite moviegoing moment. “We saw Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and he sat, enthralled, on my lap the entire time. He was hooked on the business and is now studying film at Vassar College.”
As for his career choices, it would seem like a rather “Bold” move from laundry detergent to chilies and red lobsters to popcorn and moving pictures. “I do benefit from my experience in marketing many different types of businesses,” Thewes contends. “I believe there are many lessons learned that translate well to moviegoing. I’m bringing my diverse experience to help Regal. In the meantime, there is a ton that I need to learn and I am lucky…at Regal with a great executive team, led by [president and chief operating officer] Greg Dunn and [chief executive officer] Amy Miles, as well as a strong marketing team who are teaching me as much as I am teaching them.” It’s all about being “part of a winning brand, an industry leader,” he acknowledges. “There are lots of similarities between different companies and industries as we all seek growth and success.”
Another striking similarity is that Regal’s founder and current chairman of the board of directors originally hailed from the grocery business too. Among his many accomplishments, Mike Campbell has been credited with applying operational efficiencies and other chain-store strategies to the cinema business. “Mike is an incredible success story,” Thewes agrees. “And I can only hope to have a fraction of his success… There are many lessons to share between the two industries. The grocery business has fully embraced loyalty programs and has built marketing programs around those databases which have become the main driver for incremental sales growth in that industry.”
What about the restaurant/casual-dining business? “Theatre exhibition definitely has an important foodservice component. But in a greater sense, I believe restaurants are also in the business of creating memorable experiences. There’s more to a restaurant than just good food. It’s the guest’s memory of the whole night out and the experience that will create a desire to come back for more. For theatres we need an interesting movie to grab people’s attention. And then theatre exhibitors must deliver a superior guest experience to convince our patrons to want to visit even more often.”
And therein lie the challenges, Thewes admits. “There is very little differentiation between theatre chains today. It is a mature industry, so new growth is limited and our challenge is to grow our market share. One way to do that is by rewarding Regal guests when they visit our theatres and hopefully have them say, ‘Regal is my favorite cinema’ when they have a choice. Regal is also aggressively rolling out premium amenities,” he adds. “In 2013, we anticipate opening more than two dozen RPX auditoriums. With the ‘Regal Premium Experience’ we guarantee that guests will agree it delivers a superior experience or their next movie is on us.” (More on Regal’s 2012 openings here, and click for details about the premium format)
And as “Go Big or Go Home” intends to clearly demonstrate, the other differentiating factor lies in that experience. “While there is definitely competition from home entertainment, I don’t see it as a zero-sum game. People can become excited about a new videogame, but also still have a strong desire to see a movie at their local theatre.”
In closing, Thewes refers again to his restaurant background. “People can stay home for dinner, but they choose to go out because of a perceived high value from that experience. Regal offers an entertainment experience that you can’t match at home and that’s why people come out to the movies. That desire to go out and enjoy yourself won’t diminish no matter how many home-entertainment options you have. Our challenge at Regal is to make sure that we’re delivering value to every one of our guests.”