It’s the little things that count

Event organisers don’t have to come up with totally new ideas to make an impression. By paying attention to detail and tailoring the content they can entertain and engage. By Richenda Wilson

One event swept the board at the Incentive Travel & Meetings Association (ITMA) Awards in January – the international press launch of the new Jeep Cherokee from DaimlerChrysler. It picked up the evening’s top prize – the platinum award – as well as others for best automotive, best product launch and best long-haul overseas event.

The lavish trip, taking in Namibia, Zambia and Botswana, involved a route designed by 4×4 specialists to demonstrate the Jeep’s off-road and urban driving prowess. The expedition was intended to be a total African experience; the route was plotted around the migration patterns of big game animals and took in the Victoria Falls, it also included charity deliveries for communities along the way.

The event, which took agency Thomas Hannah and Associates two years to plan, earned favourable press coverage for the destinations as well as the vehicle. People’s perceptions of the brand improved significantly and many participants described it as the best event they had ever attended.

Know your audience

But corporate entertainment need not be lavish to be entertaining. Indeed, some of the best feedback often springs from the smallest – and cheapest – events. The secret is to know your target audience and understand their interests. A Tolkien fan will be thoroughly delighted by a private viewing of Lord of the Rings while a thrill-seeking car-lover will prefer a day’s rally driving.

Different nationalities respond differently too, believes Dominic Titchener Barrett, managing director of entertainment company DTB International. The British tend to be more conservative, while some American and Russian clients prefer an ostentatious occasion with a big wow factor.

But you don’t just have to focus on the top end, says Andrew Cook, sales director of events planner Unmissable. You can turn an excursion into an event by adding a special component to make it more memorable. A West End theatre trip can be enhanced by including a backstage pass, suggests Cook, or a day at the races improved by providing a celebrity tipster or jockey to chat to the clients about the horses’ form. World Cup trips can be made all the more exciting by offering the opportunity to meet past or present England players.

It is also possible to make clients feel special without taking them on extravagant outings, believes Jennifer Paynter, marketing manager at City law firm KSB Law. “We entertain clients in-house,” she says. “We had an Italian wine tasting, when we flew in experts to talk about the food and wines, which were not available in the UK.” Paynter does also take clients out: she has arranged theatre trips, Champagne picnics at Lord’s and sailing events at Cowes. Further afield, KSB Law attends MIPIM, the big property show in Cannes, and this year is hosting the third annual “Boules Fight” there.

It is important to know what the object of the get-together is, whether it is to generate purchase, trial, advocacy or loyalty. If it is an internal meeting, is it intended to change behaviour, boost productivity or increase morale?

Garnering feedback is always important so that future events can be improved. Microsoft is one company that requires full feedback from staff after any gathering, such as its company party organised by Sledge last summer, when 1,800 guests travelled to the Duke of Wellington’s country house, Stratfield Saye, to watch bands such as Madness and Basement Jaxx.

Parties are all very well – their purpose is to entertain. But what happens when the mission is to instill a better understanding of the company into its staff? If you don’t want your delegates to suffer death by PowerPoint or spend the day playing frivolous games, the best option is to involve them in debating company strategy and finding their own ways to drive the business forward, believes Jeremy Starling, managing director of The Eventworks. “Corporate events have to be a high-energy experience to make sure every minute is delivering,” he says.

For T-Mobile, for example, The Eventworks got call-centre staff to create characters based on the various types of customers that they might come across. Staff then assessed how they would behave in various scenarios, how they would respond to questions and what sort of products they might be interested in. This brought the faceless customer base to life and ensured staff returned to work armed with the tools to deal with callers more effectively.

Deliver a brand experience

The key to success is gaining the emotional involvement of the delegates. The aim of many gatherings is not simply to show people a good time (though that helps) but to deliver brand experience.

Experiential agency Jack Morton created an unusual way to launch an Adidas clothing range to buyers. Rather than the usual presentation and a catwalk show, it devised a house-share complete with six housemates modelling the clothes. Buyers were sent house keys and an invitation to visit. The rooms of the house reflected the elements of the product range.

Taking the time to make your event a little different will engage and inspire the audience and that is the key to success in the world of corporate hospitality.


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