Live events are arguably the ultimate brand experience. Indoor shows lend themselves to television or magazine extensions, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in their favourite media brands, while trade shows are expert in getting deals done between visitors and those selling their wares.
But as the recession has affected industries that indoor events promote, so the nature of the shows has changed. In some cases, shows have dramatically reduced in size.
Few sectors have been hit as hard as the overseas property market. As a result, the A Place in the Sun live show, an extension of the Channel 4 programme, has become smaller.
But Andy Bridge, A Place in the Sun managing director, claims that a smaller live event means a better exhibitor and visitor experience. “An enormous show is fantastic for the media owner because it is very profitable,” he says. “But it’s not great for the exhibitors because there is just too much competition, and it’s not great for the visitors because they are a bit overwhelmed.” About four years ago, shows might have been seven or eight times bigger than they are now, Bridge adds.
The show’s content has also changed, becoming more informative as consumers have become choosier about what they want to buy.
“Buyers are naturally more sceptical and want to be more informed,” says Bridge. “Three or four years ago, there were more lifestyle elements, but now it’s all pretty much hard information about buying and owning abroad.”
If you can engage people face to face, then it will be much more powerful than them hearing about it on the radio or other media
For trade show the Toy Fair, which ran for three days at London’s Olympia last month, keeping things simple also makes it a more straightforward experience for visitors, says Natasha Crookes, communications director at the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA), which runs the show. The event is about buyers and sellers meeting each other, so add-ons such as seminars are not needed, she says.
“We do have a pretty condensed show,” says Crookes. “Three days is fairly short to get around. Buyers are dedicated to looking around the fair and just don’t have extra time.”
More recently-launched trade shows, such as Packaging Innovations, which runs at the NEC next week (16 to 17 February), also focus on making the visitor experience simple, with positive results for both big and small businesses. Matt Benyon, UK managing director of easyFairs, which runs the event, says the company will give only a set amount of space to each exhibitor, so no brand or business can dominate the floor.
“For start-up companies to be positioned next to a global giant with the same stand size means everyone has equal competition,” says Benyon. “While some exhibitors would like larger stands, limiting size actually improves the retention rate at our shows. The better their return on investment is, [the more likely they are to rebook] and we can grow the show.”
EasyFairs was launched six years ago and now runs 90 shows a year across Europe in sectors such as catering, construction and retail, with most events starting regionally. Benyon says Packaging Innovations began when the founders saw an opportunity for a niche show, in a market where the tradition was “big is beautiful”. He adds: “We felt this [packaging] market is something the world is obsessed with – such as in the sense of recycling or it selling a product such as Marmite [with its iconic jar]. So we launched a regional show based purely on the packaging innovation side.”
The company now runs 21 annual packaging-related shows across Europe.
Although the recession has resulted in some live shows getting smaller, other branded properties are looking to extend what they do. The BBC’s popular Doctor Who programme will launch the Doctor Who Experience next week at London’s Olympia Two, where people can walk through a set that feels like being in the show.
Doctor Who has been on television on and off since 1963, but this is the first time the brand has launched a live event on this scale. Fiona Eastwood, commercial director for the brand at BBC Worldwide, says this is in response to research with viewers, who wanted more from the brand.
“We did research a year or so ago among our consumers, who asked us to deliver certain products,” she says. “One of them was a museum-type experience that would scare the pants off them. The Doctor Who Experience does that and then some. People will come across a variety of monsters and will help the Doctor.”
This will be followed by more of a museum-style exhibition and, of course, a shop – a first for the Doctor Who brand. Agency Brandnew created the idea for the shop, which looks like the inside of the Tardis, and will be in charge of providing mobile money-off coupons and encouraging people to sign into a special website while they are at the event.
Eastwood adds: “We will provide a mobile wi-fi service to the show for the fans who will come to it. And the shop will hold some exclusive merchandise, such as Character Build Tardis, mini Daleks, and the Doctor.”
While BBC Worldwide is running the Doctor Who exhibition via its own events team, other shows are run by licensees. So Sky One’s Got to Dance will run a live show this year and Britain’s Next Top Model will also hold a three-day event in 2011. Both are organised by publisher and events company Media 10 (see Q&A); and for group marketing director Rob Nathan, the transition to the live show must go unnoticed by visitors. “The visitors don’t know it is a Media 10 event – they think it is run by that particular brand,” he says. “So they think, for example, that Britain’s Next Top Model Live is run by [presenter] Elle Macpherson.”
Although these shows are likely to attract younger viewers, who are mobile-media savvy, Nathan is less keen on using apps during the event. He feels the live experience is one of the most important, but least prioritised, parts of the marketing mix.
“Visitors don’t want to be standing looking at their phone with an interactive floor plan,” says Nathan. “The reason we are in this [business] is that we believe passionately in face to face. We want people to come and shake hands with [exhibitors and say] tell me your product, and that is a dying art. If you can engage people face to face, then it will be much more powerful than them hearing about it on the radio or other media.”
Marketing Week is running its own live event from 29 to 30 June at Olympia. www.marketingweeklive.co.uk
Rob Nathan, group marketing director, Media 10
Marketing Week (MW) How important can live events be to a TV brand?
Rob Nathan (RN) Broadcasters want to take these brands much further than just on the TV screens for a live audience. We are partnering with Sky on Britain’s Next Top Model and Sky sees live events as crucial to extending its TV brands.
MW How can you make sure the transition is seamless?
RN We have to be very careful in translating the TV programme into a live event. We have to make sure we make money, but also that we are adhering to brand guidelines. That is not just making sure logos are used correctly, it is almost educating the audience.
So Britain’s Next Top Model Live is not a show looking for the next top model – we attract 300 exhibitors, from the fashion, beauty, hair and make-up industries.
We have to research the market, look at pricing models, and the market out there in terms of who we are going to attract. With TV brands we have to look at how many people watch that show, when it is on, assess how much support we get on air, look at how much marketing support we have and decide where to put that show on.
MW How do you pick the right brands to translate into a live show?
RN We are looking at markets where there are brands that have this almost cult level
of interest – but it has to be right. We get approached a lot by brands, but we will turn the idea down if we cannot see that extension there.
MW What other mistakes can happen?
RN Events over the past 10 years have evolved around certain genres, such as homes, cars, cookery and gardening. It can’t be too broad.
So, for example, Living TV approached us wanting to do a live event based on the channel. It has these great programmes, such as Most Haunted, and Dating in the Dark. It wanted to do a show called Living It Up. But people have tried these [generic types of show] in the past and they don’t work because you are not tapping into one particular subculture or passion or hobby.
So we have to look at the general subject matter to identify routes to market.
The recession has meant some trade events have shrunk, so visitors have fewer stands to navigate and exhibitors can spend more quality time with potential customers.
Extra seminars must be appropriate to the audience. If a show is centred on doing deals, seminars may work less well.
Big TV brands are looking to capitalise through live events such as Got To Dance Live and the Doctor Who Experience.
Collaborations with commercial partners are becoming more common and free event tickets may be offered to visitors.
Top trends – 2011 predictions
Natasha Crookes, communications director, The British Toy and Hobby Association
Making the experience for visitors as simple as you can is important. Ensuring that visitor time is maximised is important, so apps for phones are a good idea. People have everything to hand then and can book in appointments.
Andy Bridge, managing director, A Place in the Sun
Getting people to pay to come to a show is a lot harder than it used to be. We are now in a more collaborative world, where you work with people you might not have done in the past. For example, we have a partnership with [website] Right Move whereby if someone has done an overseas property search, they get invited to come to our event with a free ticket. We are about to sign a similar deal with Prime Location.
Matt Benyon, UK managing director, easyFairs
Having free-to-attend seminars at shows such as Packaging Innovations gives visitors a second reason to attend. It’s about understanding local markets [now] and we get very close to the visitors, more so than other companies I have worked for. So our sales people start by, say, calling a visitor to understand what is going on in their world, and what would drive them to a show.
Rob Nathan, group marketing director , Media 10
The likes of Sky, Channel 4, Virgin and ITV are all moving towards live event brand extensions. It’s important as it is about engagement and retaining customers. You can do that via apps or social networking, but there is nothing better than getting in front of someone and being able to feel and touch all the things you can have at a live.