Gone are the days when London was the only place where an event of any size or stature could be hosted. Many large cities throughout the UK now provide conference and event facilities that meet most needs.
Duncan Beale is managing director of production company Line Up and has been in the events business for 25 years. He says one of the most significant changes has been that new facilities such as sports stadia are being designed with non-sporting event revenue potential in mind.
“The Ricoh Arena in Coventry was built with conferences in mind as was Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium and Wembley. The owners recognise the stream of revenue that comes from other events,” he says.
Real estate value
Iris Experience business development director Cameron Day agrees. “People have cottoned on to the value of the real estate they own and manage. There is a lot of talk about the development of the Olympics, but also how those buildings will be used after 2012. In a strange way the Millennium Dome is a good example of a building started as a poorly planned and badly executed idea to what it is now with O2 running it and showing everyone how a venue should be marketed.”
The increased range of venues brings with it the refining of marketing strategies that links the character of the brand to that of the venue.
Creative director at events organiser Top Banana, Richard Bridge, says: “The brand of the venue must match the brand of the client. We work with the Gucci Group and we wouldn’t choose a three-star hotel for any event.
“There is tremendous variety in the UK and the northern cities especially are building very good new hotels. At the moment, we are looking at ballet and theatre rehearsal studios as environments that are completely different.”
Although there are more and more venues springing up outside London, Beale says that apart from a few exceptions – most notably the Birmingham Metropole – there is a shortage of very large hotels outside the M25.
When deciding on a location, Kate Sheridan-Hayes, deputy head of logistics at Jack Morton Worldwide, has some advice for event planners.”The importance of understanding what the audience needs is not only necessary for delivering a corporate message at a bespoke event, but also for using existing events to market related products and services,” she says. “Understanding the character of an event, for example a festival aimed at 16to 24-year-olds, is as important as knowing the audience demographic, and this could include the venue’s nature and location.”
Director at Sense, Bruce Gardner, says: “For any national campaign, it is critical to understand event demographics and consumer ‘need states’. A festival like Download will attract an audience from all areas of the UK, whereas events like the GoldCoast Ocean Fest in Croyde is dominated by visitors from the South-west.
“It all comes down to brand objectives – reach versus experience. Mass brands use mass events to reach mass audiences with one piece of activity, but many could be missing a trick by not targeting regional events and tailoring experiences that are relevant and engaging to the local audience.”
This may seem obvious, but when you are faced with a wide choice of options it is easy to make mistakes. Sheridan-Hayes at Jack Morton Worldwide comments: “The right venue and location can set the mood of your event and can be a key selling point to your audience. We regularly use Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedford for car launches for our automotive clients. The site has strong conference and exhibition space and a variety of private test tracks, which means the audience can experience the product first hand.”
Greater variety also leads to greater expectations, both from the organisers and their audience. Iris Experience’s Day says: “The location, setting and environment of the event is just as important as its content. Location needs to support the overall activity objectives and, if possible, reflect the tone of the brand itself.”
Day adds that the spread of venues on offer is helped by the fact local councils, notably Bournemouth and Manchester, have events divisions that deal solely with generating events business.
However, he continues: “Because many sports facilities cannot allow advertising or sponsorship from alcohol brands, we will probably see more brand building associated directly with the event – in the way that O2 has done with the Dome.”
Whatever the future for venues in the UK, their availability and variety has enabled event organisers to become more imaginative and increase the possibilities for clients in a way not imagined even 15 years ago.