How Independent Publisher Food52 Used Email to Handle Thanksgiving and Cyber Weekend

And everything in-between.

The brand received additional marketing support from Agency Within. Food52
Headshot of Sami Main

Food52, a site known for its recipes, community and carefully selected products, wants people to eat thoughtfully and live joyfully. In order to accomplish that, the content and the commerce halves of the company must work together.

Black Friday, Cyber Weekend and other holiday sales represent about 35 percent to 40 percent of the company’s total revenue for the entire year, according to brand president and co-founder Merrill Stubbs.

“We all love this time of year because it’s so buzzy and fun,” Stubbs said, “but there’s a fair amount of pressure. It’s our moment to shine and to be creative and helpful. We don’t want to let anything fall through the cracks.”

The brand redesigned their Shop pages the week before Thanksgiving and invested in back-up servers that could handle any wild traffic increases; with lessons learned from previous years (on Black Friday 2016, the site’s sales tax calculator broke down, making it a “tax free weekend” for shoppers) and additional marketing support from Agency Within, the many teams of Food52 were as prepared as they could be.

Most emails, especially those including marketing messaging, had backup plans in case sales weren’t hitting their goals; editorial franchises and creative imagery shoots had been planned in advance to provide both fresh content and much-needed advice; and, with the help of online services like Google Drive’s products and Slack’s messaging service, the company was ready to enjoy the holiday, be there for its readers and direct them to its hundreds of unique products.

“We’re not a discount company,” said CEO and co-founder Amanda Hesser. “While there’s a focus for us on Black Friday and the whole weekend, we know we’re a trusted resource for our readers. It’s important for us to stay true to ourselves as a company.”

Adweek spent several hours over multiple days with the team, including in their Slack channels, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Wednesday — The Plan Before The Storm

7 a.m. — A minor hiccup: a promo code was scheduled ahead of time and advertised on the site but not activated on the back end, meaning 38 customers didn’t get the discount they were promised and had problems checking out. The customer care team at Food52 reached out to those affected, explained that the code should now be working, and everyone hoped for the best. That particular promo would run through Sunday, so the marketing team believed those customers would return or those sales would be made up.

12 p.m. — The issue from that morning was addressed during the last in-office holiday planning meeting, where representatives from each department attended either in person or via Google hangout; a majority of Food52 staffers had already begun traveling home for the holidays.

The biggest solution to come out of that meeting was yet another Google sheet, a list of the marketing messages, promotional emails, site-wide banners and promos, the upcoming holiday menu maker (which will be released on Tuesday with over 200 possible recipes), and anything else that needed to be double-checked before going live. Each item was assigned an “owner” and a backup quality assurance checker.

Stubbs jokingly noted that it would almost take more time to build this document than it would to do everything on the list; everyone agreed before eagerly continuing to itemize the next five days of messaging. It was decided that each day, they would review the following day’s emails.

With changes to be made as needed, a look at the busy weekend's email boards.

The meeting also gave each team the opportunity to update everyone else on the progress they had made and were expecting to make; one social video alone got 2,000 more views since the meeting had started.

The creative, buying, marketing and social teams were still working out exact images for posts and promotions across the site and on their distributed platforms. Every link on every scheduled post and email has to be double-checked in addition to seeing if Food52’s merchant/vendor partners would have enough stock for some of these high performing items.

Some vendors make each item to order and would not have the capacity to fulfill all of them if a tsunami of shoppers placed orders within a small timeframe; one porcelain butter keeper artisan sold about 1,000 units through Food52 the weekend previous, and therefore would have to be swapped out in any promotional emails.

1:30 p.m. — Suzanne D’Amato, editor in chief, took the early shift this morning to work The Hotline, a Food52 year-long feature that gets extra attention during the holiday season. She answered “burning” questions submitted by readers from 8 to 10 a.m. before passing the baton to another member of her team; they were on a two-hour rotation through Thanksgiving evening. A few folks had questions about dry-brining their turkeys, while a few brave home cooks wanted opinions on serving food past its expiration date during their family’s Thanksgiving meal.

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.