Event organisers are always looking for the next big thing to offer clients, but creative planning and packaging, and an awareness of popular concerns, can be just as important. By Martin Croft
Pity the poor marketer when faced with the awesome challenge of finding something different in the way of corporate hospitality. They may well end up lamenting that, in the words of the Book of Ecclesiastes: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done, and there is no new thing under the sun.”
One industry insider, when asked to suggest something fresh, thought for a few seconds and then said, simply: “Outer space.”
But you don’t have to blast off into orbit to find something new. Marketers will find that most corporate events companies will be able to help – not always with new things or new places, but very definitely with different ways of putting venues, food and entertainment together to create tailormade experiences.
Sarah Webster, director of communications for Eventia, the newly-launched trade association for the corporate events and meetings industry, says: “It is not so much new events as a new, more scientific approach to event planning. It is no longer a matter of just where to go and what to do. It is about creating something that is going to convey relevant brand messages, get positive responses out of the people who have been invited and deliver a return on investment.”
Carol Kaye, managing director of event management specialist Kaye Stewart Associates, which has worked for clients such as JWT and National Grid, says: “What you have to do is offer something that is exclusive, and that means you have to tailor the programme to the people who are coming.” That point is backed up by Catherine Gresty, events and visitor services manager at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. Marketers can book meeting rooms during the day, but it is in the evening that the museum really comes into its own as a corporate entertainment venue. The main atrium and the cinema can both host drinks and dining parties, while corporate guests can also have the run of the galleries and special exhibitions, such as the Blitz Experience, the Trenches Experience, Lawrence of Arabia or Great Escapes.
Gresty says such packages are popular, and are often spiced up with the addition of one of the IWM’s corps of trained re-enactors – perhaps a First World War sergeant-major, a Second World War ARP warden or a 1940s housewife.
She says/ “Not everyone who comes here for corporate entertainment will use those facilities, but probably around a third of the companies we have dealt with have [done so].”
The IWM offers similar services at its other sites – the air museum at Buford, the Imperial War Museum North, the Cabinet War Rooms and HMS Belfast.
Another corporate entertainment venue which has not been over-used is the Eden Project. While it is still enormously popular with tourists and gardening fanatics, the eco-friendly project is very definitely looking to increase revenue from other areas, including corporate hospitality.
Finding a venue that excites people is a constant battle for event organisers. Kaye says that her company is constantly looking for new venues: “The best source is often word of mouth. We are always talking to people outside the industry – for example, a photographer who might have just come back from a shoot at a country house which isn’t on the corporate hospitality map yet.”
There is also a need to improve the quality and the variety of food which is served at events. According to Sally Wilton, managing director of venue owner Etc.Venues: “The most recent UK Conference Market Survey suggests that one of the main bugbears for bookers is the food and beverage offering. Food is one of the top three factors that need improving at venues.”
Her company is developing healthier menus to cater to the demand for healthier and better quality food – Jamie Oliver’s campaign to improve school dinners is having a knock-on effect in the corporate entertainment market.
Wilton adds: “The bottom line is that delegates are likely to retain less information in the longer term without sound nutrition,” and suggests that giving guests a belt-straining blow-out meal is not the best way to win hearts and minds at a time of growing concerns over obesity and heart disease. Corporate hospitality should no longer be synonymous with corpulent hospitality, it seems.
To that end, Etc.Venues has designed a new menu option which focuses on “brain food” – foods which help keep guests and delegates mentally alert – so event organisers can now offer healthy â¢options featuring Omega-3 fatty acids and fish oils, and fruit “super foods”, such as pomegranates and blueberries.
Food is rightly seen as being vitally important to the success of any hospitality event, but it can also become part of the entertainment on offer. Several marketers have successfully used the “chef’s tables” offered by top-rank restaurants, and famous chefs are also offering cookery classes for the corporate market – including Rick Stein’s various operations and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.
Learning how to cook
Rick Stein’s restaurant in Padstow was recently used by Mazda for the press launch of its new MX5. Over a two-week period, journalists participated in “Ready Steady Cook”-style competitions, enjoyed dinners at the restaurant and were issued with “Padstow Passports” – documents which entitled the bearer to free drinks in any of the town’s pubs – in addition to test driving the new car. The restaurant also offers fishing trips, when clients can catch their own mackerel, and then learn how to clean, cook and eat them.
Developments in the corporate events industry reflect changes in the marketing industry as a whole, where it is increasingly recognised that people no longer want to be “mass-marketed” to. They want to be involved and they want to be entertained – but organisers should realise the entertainment needs to take new forms.
Andy Harvey, director of events entertainment company The Edge, says that a popular offering from his company is “Spanner in the Works”, with actors disguised as waiters or workmen who appear to disrupt the smooth running of an event. He adds/ “Of course, at the end, you have to have the reveal so people realise it was all set up.”
EventPlan, another entertainment-based company, organises re-enactments of battles for film and television, but also caters to event organisers. Managing director Howard Giles, previously head of events for English Heritage, says: “Watching armoured knights bash each other over the head is a lot more fun than watching cars race round a track,” and adds that guests can get involved in activities – archery lessons, for example.
But whatever the venue, whatever food and drink is on offer and whatever entertainment is provided, corporate entertainment has to be planned, in the same way that any effective marketing activity is planned. As Eventia’s Webster says: “It is the application of fundamental marketing principles to corporate events and entertainment.”