Secrets behind a long-life event

For live events to fulfil their potential, serious consideration must be given to how their reach can be extended through the use of online, video and interactive tools. Ian Whiteling reports

It was once feared that online technology would mean the end of live events, yet today both media represent the biggest growth areas in marketing. According to Trevor Foley, group chief executive of the Events Industry Alliance, one reason for this is that “face-to-face is the only marketing medium that cannot be replicated online”. Another reason is that, rather than competing, the two complement each other, with online helping organisers to fulfil the demand placed on them to get more value from their events by extending their reach.

“In an ideal world an event should never exist in isolation – events are very powerful means of communication that have the potential to reach far beyond two or three days of exposure,” says Julian Pullen, managing director of Jack Morton Worldwide. “An effective event can whip up enthusiasm among its audience and stimulate the will to act on what has been learned and connections that have been made.

“However, this can soon dissipate once attendees are back at their desks and their normal everyday lives. The key is to create the means to continue the dialogue in engaging and relevant ways.”

For example, if it would be beneficial to continue to develop colleague dialogue established at an event, then an online networking site where staff can exchange thoughts and ideas (while at the same time promoting the organisation’s key messages) may be the answer.

“Most events use online registration for delegates and as a site which all delegates use, there is an opportunity here to develop its scope and make it work harder,” says Pullen. “At Jack Morton we operate a bespoke system which can function as a pre and post-event activation tool. Pre-event, it can be used to seek opinion from the audience and thus inform content generation for the event – helping create a relevant and engaging programme. In terms of post-event, the tool can be used for sharing information from the event, for discussing points raised and for sharing thoughts and ideas on moving forward – in effect a social networking site.”

Experience marketing agency George P Johnson used these techniques in a campaign for Toyota, promoting its FJ Cruiser in North America to a hard-to-reach community of off-road enthusiasts, sceptical of car manufacturers’ performance claims.

Made up of a number of satellite events, the FJ Trail Team campaign gave off-road enthusiasts the chance to physically test the vehicle under intense conditions, while celebrating the outdoor lifestyle. Hundreds of rugged locations, ranging from New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Mojave Desert, were visited, hosting thousands of people, who came to share their experiences and opinions of the FJ with each other on site, as well as through blog postings, online video and photo downloads, which were rolled into the FJ microsite www.toyota.com/fjtrailteams.

brand advocatesThis inspired the online community it had generated to create its own event, the FJ Summit 2007, fulfilling the original goal of making brand advocates of sceptics and creating a community from awareness.

The FJ Summit, held in Ouray, Colorado, brought together 426 Toyota enthusiasts/owners from 33 states and two provinces, bringing with them 186 FJ Cruiser vehicles. Overall, the event-generated microsite resulted in more than 1 million hits, 4,000 photos shared online, coverage in 20 press outlets, 3.6 million impressions, 550 videos on YouTube, and more than 14,000 views on Yahoo! video.

engage and educateVideo is also a great way to cascade messages delivered in a conference to a wider audience. Event management company Line Up offers a video service for the events it organises, editing them on site and presenting delegates with a professionally produced version on exit. “This ensures none of the impetus created by the event is lost,” says managing director Duncan Beale. “But this isn’t simply a video of the event, it is a carefully edited and highly watchable programme, with additional interviews built in to more effectively engage and educate the target audience.

“By posting such videos over an intranet, it is also possible to measure and monitor how much interest they have generated, or where that interest lies.”

However, technology is not the only way to extend the life of an event – it is possible to continue the engagement with face-to-face interaction. For example, Jack Morton worked with Philips to create the annual Summit for its top 200 staff. The 2007 event focused on exploring the meaning and value of brands and examined branding as a growth strategy. This included those attending the Philips event visiting key companies and organisations to gain insight into how other businesses bring their © brand’s promise to life for both employees and customers, and effectively use their brand to drive growth. Since then, the concept has been used at further staff meetings and brand workshops.

Philips has also used real stories from the Summit to inspire employees, with delegates speaking at subsequent staff meetings, sharing their experience and effectively acting as advocates for the cause. “This word-of-mouth advocacy is one of the most effective ways to deliver a message and the stimulation of such is really what experiential marketing is all about,” says Pullen.

Extending the reach of an event before it starts can be just as useful as prolonging its life. In event technology company Crystal Interactive’s report Inside the Mind of the Delegate, a key request among the thousands of attendees of the 50 events that were studied was to have more time to prepare before attending an event.

Managing director Chris Elmit explains: “This was particularly the case for internal staff events, where there was going to be a large element of work completed during the conference. Indeed, 24% of people said they needed the chance to prepare more for such events.

“There is, therefore, a real argument for extending such events ahead of time, offering online booking tools, an online match-making service, appointment setting and so forth – giving delegates the chance to plan their itineraries at the event, pre-book meetings, swot up on the discussion topics or network with attendees ahead of time.”

Meeting planners
This certainly worked well at global meetings and incentive travel industry show EIBTM, held in Barcelona in November, where, through a hosted buyer programme, meetings planners arranged more than 40,000 appointments with exhibitors before the event started.

It is also possible to deepen the experience for visitors during an event. As part of the test stage of event software company Ricnor’s Cre8 System, visitors to a car enthusiasts meeting were kept informed of what was going on through text messaging while they were there. “Many had brought their cars to race, and the system was able to keep them informed of when it was their turn and what the fastest times were,” says the company’s marketing director, Andrew Pound.

Video alerts
“It is even possible to send a video of activities taking place or which have taken place, and which can also be accessed after the event, either online or via mobile phone video alerts.”

Ricnor also specialises in the manipulation of event data, which Pound says is the key to understanding the best way to extend the reach of an event.

“Many event organisers accumulate a lot of data through the visitor or delegate registration process, and it is this information that is key to extending the lives of and adding important value to events,” he says. “The problem is that many companies don’t use this data to the full.”

The key is to think strategically about your existing data and how it can be used, which can also help you to decide what additional information would be helpful. This could be to raise the awareness of any event, to attract more visitors, to build closer relationships with the target audience or to enhance the offering of the event.

The technology to allow companies to extend the reach of their events is now widely available, whether it’s online, video, interactive or a combination of all three. Using it significantly increases the return on investment generated. However, it’s important to understand what the target audience wants and what techniques it will be most receptive to. After all, although they may be the latest trends, not everyone likes Facebook-style social networks or wants to be part of an online community. Nevertheless, no event should be planned without seriously consideration of how its reach can be broadened. 

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