Putting the wow factor into hospitality

A successful summer of sport so far has been a boon for this year’s corporate hospitality fixtures, but cultural events are also upping their game to offer ‘money can’t buy’ experiences. 

“Corporate clients have always been discerning and demanding, but it’s even more true now that the requirement to deliver special, top quality experiences is there,” says Jasper Hope, chief operating officer at the Royal Albert Hall.

While brands are still spending on client entertaining, there is more pressure than ever to make experiences extra special and different – and meeting face to face is as important, if not more so, than before. In a recent survey by event company Keith Prowse, half the people surveyed say they meet with clients the same amount as they did last year and 20 per cent say they are doing so somewhat more’.

Hope says that in addition to the usual private boxes and upmarket dinners, the venue is now offering private backstage tours where clients can meet a cast member the performance they are there to see. 

Meanwhile, although this year’s Taste of London food festival has reduced the number of corporate entertaining places it offers, it has moved its VIP area from a traditional, secluded format into the heart of the action so that guests can get the most benefit from being at the event. 

It meant people could really take advantage of the culinary action taking place. The atmosphere, the music and the people added to their experience,” explains Shalina Miah, hospitality manager at Taste of London, which is also 10 years old this year.

The extra special features leave people with something really memorable that they talk about at work and with friends

The event provides corporate packages with bespoke touches, such as meetings with celebrity chefs, masterclasses and tastings, and although they can enjoy a private enclosure, attendees are not restricted to a corporate box for the duration of the event.

Many of our visitors will work within businesses that host high net worth customers and that’s where most of our [corporate] enquiries will come from,” says Miah.

It has been an epic summer for the UK so far. Both the glorious weather and a stream of sporting triumphs that include Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, the British and Irish Lions rugby team beating Australia to win their three-match series and England’s promising start to the Ashes, have led to a surge in spirits and outdoor activity.

Document technology and services provider Xerox partnered with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) for the first time this year. The brand uses the partnership to host chief executives and director level customers and clients, business partners and press contacts.

Xerox European head of marketing communications Darrell Minards explains: “One of the things we always try to provide at these events is an element of ‘money can’t buy’. Anyone can buy a ticket to go to a WTA event. What they can’t buy is the opportunity to meet with some of the tennis players or have a coaching session with a professional.”

He says that Xerox’s partnership not only enables the brand to network with important contacts but allows the contacts to see the brand in action, working at WTA tournaments.

Cultural events to entertain corporate clients have become popular in recent years

Delivering a business service to the companies we partner presents a great opportunity for us to tell our story in relation to the business environment. The [work we do for the] WTA replicates the business concerns that many organisations face today – mobility, security, tight deadlines. We can tell our story, but within an environment that offers great hospitality and entertainment,” he says.

Xerox tracks the relationship between the people that have attended events, such as this summer’s 40 Love anniversary celebration, which was held during Wimbledon to mark 40 years of the WTA and correlates this with business they get following the event. “We’re able to measure and see the impact, not just of the event on its own, because, clearly, a number of things contribute to that, but we can see that it’s contributory,” explains Minards.

He continues: “We do surveys both before and after the event, asking people about their perceptions of Xerox and what they think we have the potential to offer them as a business partner. We then ask the same questions after the event and see significant changes. There’s a very direct correlation between attending the event and getting a clearer understanding of what it is we’re offering them.”

Of the 350 managers Keith Prowse surveyed, almost half agree that using events can lead to better relationships and, in turn, interactivity among guests. Added to this, more than three quarters agree that if they are taken to an event, it confirms the value of their organisation to that company.

Taste of London provides bespoke corporate packages that include opportunities to meet the chefs and food masterclasses

However, Xerox’s corporate activity is not restricted to sport, which can be polarising for an audience. It has also partnered with Cirque du Soleil for the past three years, offering clients the opportunity to see the show, but also to meet some of the artists who perform or do a question and answer session with them. And it seems that using cultural events to entertain clients is becoming more popular. Mintel estimates that they made up between 5 and 20 per cent of the total market value of hospitality last year.  

Offering corporate clients a money cannot buy experience is vital in order to make a lasting impression. “It’s those extra special features that leave people with something really memorable that they share and talk about in the workplace, with their friends and online,” says Minards.

In a bid to ensure brands give their clients the ‘wow’ factor, more businesses are also turning to venues outside of the usual ‘season’ or regular schedule of sporting or cultural events (see box below).

Ensuring the entertainment fits the client is a vital consideration for brands. The Royal Albert Hall has more than 390 performances this year covering opera, jazz, classical, rock, blues and even tennis. 

Despite the number of performances, the venue is able to achieve that ‘wow’ factor through the variety and calibre of its acts.

Although there are a huge number of performances each year, there are usually only one or two for each artist. If you want to come and see Bob Dylan in London this year, there are only three shows and they’re all here,” says Hope.

It seems that corporate hospitality is diversifying, but wherever you are in the market, the ‘wow’ factor remains crucial.

Sport versus culture

  • Spectator sport is the largest sector within the corporate hospitality market, accounting for approximately 85 per cent of total expenditure on corporate events.
  • Compared with more traditional options, such as spectator sports, the uniqueness of these events helps to make a lasting impression on guests and offers greater opportunity for organisers to interact and form corporate bonds with existing and new clients. Specifically in light of the adverse economic conditions, companies are expected to intensify their search for imaginative event locations, so they can differentiate themselves from rivals and maintain sales.
  • Following last year’s London Olympics, the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games could have a positive influence on hospitality growth in 2014. If it was not for these specific events, forecasters believe that the sector would be sluggish given the economic conditions. 

Source: Mintel UK Corporate Hospitality Market Development Report 2012, Market & Customer Insight; National Corporate Hospitality Survey.

The Bribery Act 2010

Many in the corporate hospitality sector have expressed concern about the association between corporate hospitality and the Bribery Act, which was introduced in 2011. Yet Keith Prowse’s summer report 2013, based on responses from more than 350 directors and managers, says that the majority of companies that entertain are not doing so to influence a direct business decision, but to build relationships and reward clients and staff.

It was announced in May that part of the UK bribery law is to be reconsidered and potentially watered down by the government amid fears that red tape is placing a burden on small to medium sized businesses. 



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