With Royal Ascot, Wimbledon, the Henley Royal Regatta, the British Grand Prix, Sundown at Sandown and further matches at Lord’s all looming, Britain’s sporting (and social) season is well and truly under way.
The sporting calendar offers great opportunities for corporate hospitality, with an exhilarating spectacle, fine dining and networking opportunities all available. But with so many companies and sponsors attending each fixture, it is important to ensure that your brand and guests do not get lost in the crowd, by making your visitors’ day there more memorable and your marketing effort more effective.
Venue operators are bending over backwards to increase their appeal to corporate customers, by erecting new lounges, pavilions and marquees, offering a broad range of hospitality packages and emphasising the glamour of their events.
Go with the logo
At Royal Ascot, for example, director of sales and marketing Gary England says: “We’ve seen a huge rise in corporate clients using Royal Ascot as the hook to guarantee acceptance of invitations; more and more companies request permission to print the Royal Ascot logo and the Royal Ascot campaign image (this year’s image was photographed by Philip Treacy) on the invitations they send to their clients and guests.
“Furthermore, the development of new marketing partnerships at Ascot since re-opening in 2006 with such leading names as Vivienne Westwood in the fashion show, Longines as the official timekeeper and London’s award-winning club Movida, guarantee our corporate audience association with multiple brands.”
A sporting chance
First, you need to establish that a sporting fixture is the right event to be attending. Do your key customers actually like that sport or might they find it a bit dull? Are you inviting partners, in which case you need to think about events with broader appeal?Sporting fixtures are also subject to the vagaries of the British weather and the potential disappointments of the knock-out process.
“When you are organising an event a long way beforehand, you may not get the team of your choice to be represented at the final (for example); do you know your audience well enough to know that this would not matter to them?” asks Charles Clarke, director at P&MM Events.
There can also be problems around certain fixtures, adds Clarke, such as last dates of test matches and some of the boat race meetings: “Guests may be turned off by the sheer exuberance displayed at some of the fixtures, especially when results are already known.”
However, he adds: “Our research also shows that most people enjoy sporting hospitality even when they are not a traditional ‘fan’ of the fixture they are being hosted at – it’s all about making your guests feel absolutely special.”
Another factor to consider is that sporting events generally take a whole day of your and your customers’ time, points out Anna Fenten, marketing director at catering management company Sodexo Prestige, and you may find that the people you invite are too busy to attend.
Not just a man’s world
Fenten has seen a rise in the number of female executives booking corporate events, which has expanded the industry beyond the traditional male preserves of rugby, football and cricket.
Andrew Hodgkins, director of the Premier Service at hospitality provider Keith Prowse, has also seen a change in the way events are booked, with many clients entertaining smaller numbers of guests at a greater variety of events. In this way, guests can be taken to the fixture that appeals to them, and they get more personal attention and can be entertained at a higher level so the day is more memorable.
Libby Christie, head of operations at hospitality provider Unmissable, says: “If possible try choosing an event with a clear synergy so that it helps reflect your brand personality. If the event has a high-profile celebrity or sponsor, ensure these personalities appeal to your brand’s target audience.
“Also consider the timing of the event and see if you can fit it in with a new product launch or current brand messaging.
“If you have the budget you can use sponsorship to link a sporting event to your brand or company to gain maximum impact, but sponsorship packages for the big sporting fixtures don’t come cheap.”
However, there are ways to be creative and personalise the event to stand out from those who have just gone along with a standard off-the-shelf entertainment package. “Create a talking point at the event,” Christie suggests. “If taking a box at an international rugby match where Argentina are playing, you could ensure all the wines and beef have been specially sourced and flown in from Argentina. Or have a rugby legend from one of the competing countries join your party for lunch.”
An expert who can explain the sport to laypeople is always helpful. Commentators, racing tipsters or celebrity players also give guests nuggets that they will later be able to drop into dinner-party conversations.
Hodgkins at Keith Prowse suggests segmenting visitors. The Captain’s Lounge at Lord’s Cricket Ground can be used to entertain smaller groups at exclusive parties with upgraded catering and hosted by Mike Gatting, for example. In other areas, bigger groups can enjoy a Q&A session with the day’s players after it’s all over.
Think, too, about the other guests you are inviting, advises Pippa Collett, managing director of Sponsorship Consulting: “Don’t just think about who you want to entertain, but think about who your guests will want to network with.”
There are also plenty of ways to leverage the hospitality before, during and after the event: “Start by choosing the style and quality of the invitation to reflect what you’re doing,” says Collett.
Corporations can use as much branding as they want, says Fenten at Sodexo: “You can put your logo on the invitations, the ticket wallet, the swing badges, the marquee.”
And you can differentiate your table in a big hospitality area by using flowers in the brand colours, say, or plasma screens showing corporate information.
Make the little count
“Little extras make a huge difference,” points out Collett, suggesting giving out paper field glasses at a horse-racing meet, or sunscreen at a cricket match.
“And don’t be stingy with the wine,” she advises, “but stay sober yourself”.
Your behaviour after the event is also very important. “A lot of people expect the guest to write a thank-you letter,” says Collett, “but you should thank them for coming too. Send them a memento of the day, perhaps a photograph in a sleeve, preferably something that will end up on their desk.”
Think, too, about whether you are going to include accommodation as part of the package or perhaps transport to the venue.
“We were asked by a leading telecoms company to arrange a number of events around international football matches,” says P&MM’s Clarke. “Our suggestion was to make the transportation as big a part of the event as the matches themselves.
“We actually hired a fantastic touring bus and had it ‘wrapped’ in corporate colours to take people to and from the matches. It went down well and won awards.”
So your guests have answered their invitations, turned up on the day, learned some tips, met some stars, watched a nail-biting finish, enjoyed a great meal, downed some beers and gone home with a memento.
How do you find out if all this will achieve any return on your significant investment? Collett at Sponsorship Consulting has identified a six-step process that she believes represents hospitality best practice and leads to measurable outcomes. First, she says, set objectives for each business to be entertained. Next, identify the key individuals in the organisation who are most likely to be able to deliver on those objectives.
Thirdly, select the appropriate entertainment opportunity, then choose appropriate hosts from your organisation.
You should also act to avoid cancellations (by being aware of issues that may affect attendance, reconfirming dates and providing regular updates in advance of the event).
Finally, measure and evaluate outcomes – which is a lot easier if you have set firm, clear objectives in the first place.
Collett points out that these objectives could be very broad-ranging and different for each guest, but should always be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound).
They might include: “Winning new business (for example, one new contract with a value of xx at no less than yy margin per unit within three months of entertainment), or maintaining current business under threat from competitors (for example, current business at 100k units per annum, representing 80% of all customer’s requirement for this type of item – ensure no erosion of this share within three months of entertainment).
“You might want to thank a customer for support,” adds Collett, “perhaps by conducting post-evaluation of the number of referrals generated by the entertained customer over six months following entertainment.
“You might want to provide a backdrop for introducing a new business initiative (for example, ensure the customer has agreed to a formal business meeting to discuss the initiative within 30 days).
“You might be rewarding desired behaviour (for example, post-evaluation of reduction in days outstanding for settlement of invoices).”
The key to success, says Collett, is to be systematic in entertainment decisions: “This includes how many hospitality places should be secured, who should be invited, what type and level of experience should be delivered and how outcomes will be measured.”