Why events could wipe the floor with traditional media

Forget the 30-second ITV slot, the radio ad and the leaflets, wised-up brands know that if it’s engaging and interactive communications they want, they need look no further than the events industry – and the art of conversation, says Trevor Foley

I have never really understood the marketing concept known as “the line”/ who’s above it, who’s below it and why. I suspect it only matters to those who consider themselves to be among the above-the-line “elite”. But with the media landscape changing too quickly for this “elite” to cope with, it is they who have the bloody noses, as the effectiveness of television, radio, direct marketing and other mainstream media formats comes into question.

There is every chance that these bloody noses could, in the second half of the decade, turn into massive haemorrhages as companies gradually cotton on to the difficulty traditional agencies are experiencing in reaching the right consumer groups for brands. Advertisers seem to be backing a rise in non-traditional media, such as outdoor, sponsorship, e-mail and event marketing. There’s a single reason for this – they are giving brands what they want.

The best brand strategists know what works. Take my household, for example. I’m a x30 [speed of fast-forwarding] Sky Plus viewer, and I’ll wait for the same technology on my radio before I will listen to commercial stations. My wife was one of the first to register us with the Telephone Preference Service, and we’re firm believers that pop-ups should be consigned to online history.

But consider sponsorship – my six-year-old son reviews Arsenal’s history according to when different brands appeared on the team’s shirts: “Did Ian Wright play for Arsenal when they were JVC?”, for instance. Other brave brands are putting their faith in online marketing, while the boldest are prepared to go face to face with their customers and prospects. Brands are telling the event industry that they want engagement, interactivity, connection and the ultimate marketing communication – conversation.

While consumers take control by doing their level best to avoid brand messages on television, through the post, pop-ups and over the telephone, events offer controllable permission marketing in an environment where the consumer is giving their most precious commodity – time. Events also allow communities to be expanded or cemented, and it is the only medium that allows the use of all five senses to communicate relevant messages.

Independent, ongoing research conducted for the Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO) shows that business-to-business product/ service providers cannot reach a third of their intended targets unless they exhibit at, sponsor, or are involved in events in some way. When you also consider that event marketing allows the simultaneous delivery of a number of sales and marketing objectives, from direct sales through database building, to account management, PR, entertaining, market research, recruiting, brand building, demonstration, there is a compelling case for events to be considered as mainstream in the eyes of the marketers.

Integrated campaigns employing online marketing and events are proving rewarding for brands, and sponsors of sporting occasions are now successfully turning their attention to event sponsorship.

The best cross-media synergies today exclude above-the-line media. The trickle of big brands turning their backs on traditional media – Heinz, Superdrug and Heineken were all reported to be axing television budgets in the latter part of 2005 – coincides with a wave of media personnel jumping over the line, where they see better career prospects in event management and sponsorship, rather than TV and radio. For example, Lee Roberts, the recently appointed commercial director of The O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome) has joined ex-Virgin employee David Campbell at Greenwich because: “There is &£3.5bn of broadcast ad revenue up for grabs and I’ve made a career move to take advantage of it.”

The exhibition and events industry is launching the Events Industry Alliance (EIA) to equip it to deal with this shifting landscape. It will stand toe to toe with the likes of Thinkbox, the RAB and NMA. The industry believes in, and practises, integrated marketing, but it will increasingly take market share from broadcast and other mainstream media.

An economic impact study conducted by KPMG in the autumn showed the exhibition industry to be worth &£9.3bn, and responsible for 0.5 per cent of the UK workforce. On so many media indices, including the Advertising Association’s, exhibitions and events have always been listed under “other”. Well, watch and listen to these “other'”people because the exhibition sector alone annually affords the UK 1,800 events and 17 million visitors, who are openly giving their permission to begin a conversation.

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