Success with less money in the pot

Budgets are being squeezed and procurement departments are demanding evidence of ROI, but live marketing agencies are rising to the challenge to make the impact clients desire. By Jo-Anne Flack

P31_potnoodleIs it possible to cut marketing costs without affecting the quality of the output? If not, then the quality of the work being produced now must be bad because costs are being forced down like never before. It is usually fairly obvious when an agency has been asked to produce work on a shoestring; however the evidence seems to show that good campaigns, in whatever medium, can be produced with budgets that are being squeezed.

Finding the best deals and comparing the market can be difficult with live marketing because in many ways it is a relatively new discipline, encompassing more than field marketing and events and including the latest hot ticket – experiential marketing. How can marketers ensure they get value for money in a discipline that is quite new to many of them and can involve several different elements?

Live event providers
Mark Wallace, managing director of WRG, an integrated live events agency, says the industry remains highly competitive and is roughly divided into two areas: hardware providers – those companies that provide lighting, sound, staging, etc – and bigger, more integrated companies that consider themselves guardians of the brand they are working with.

“In the past five years, the hardware companies, or box shifters, have found it harder getting margins from just renting out gear. As a result, some of them have developed creative teams and are providing a one-stop shop for clients. That may be the right approach for some clients: if you have a clear idea of what you want to do for an event, using a small supplier is fine. But the difference between a good event and a bad event is based around the communications, not the staging. We consider ourselves communication conceivers,” says Wallace.P34_Andrew_Davey

Wallace says some clients have been lured down the cheaper, smaller road but maintains they have returned pretty quickly. More significantly, the live events industry is being affected by increasingly powerful client procurement departments that have already made an impact on more traditional agencies.

He adds: “In the past month we have had nine request for information (RFIs), which is unheard of.”

These RFIs are electronically delivered documents that demand information on everything from financial status to green credentials. It means that smaller suppliers which cannot meet the benchmark set by the bigger clients won’t even get a look in. Wallace adds: “Organisations that are serious about communications are filtering out companies by using these RFIs.”


Start of bidding wars
In response to critics who say RFIs also filter out nimbler, more creative agencies, Wallace says: “RFIs are not necessarily about size. They are also about process and knowledge. Later you still have to go through the normal pitch process.” He does admit, however, that some clients are starting to introduce a bidding process whereby a creative brief is distributed and agencies are invited to bid for the work – the lowest bid presumably winning the work. Wallace says WRG refuses to get involved in bids. “All clients want premium, but there is a balance between cost, premium and delivery,” he says.

The live events sector is also under great pressure to perform because, as Alison Berkani, head of production experiential at live events agency Exposure, notes: “Experiential marketing is often taking money out of a pot that was earmarked for advertising which would be reaching millions of people. Internally, the client has to go back to their people and make sure any experiential work provides a similar return on investment (ROI). As agencies, we have to provide that ROI any way we can get it, for example through data capture.”

Berkani also believes that larger, more integrated agencies offer clients much better value for money, even if it does mean they are spending more. “The live event landscape has changed a lot and you must have a three-dimensional perspective including design, planning and strategy. We look at every brief in the same way an ad agency would, including brand values. Even if the brief is for a one-off event, we see it as a long-campaign.” Berkani refers to the work Exposure has done for cigarette paper brand Rizla for the past five years, which began as a one-off event that aimed to make the best of the restrictions around tobacco-related advertising.

“Clients are not only asking that we be more cost-effective. They are much smarter now – many clients have come from the agency side. It is no longer just about cost, but also reliability and the ability to deliver on time. Deadlines are much shorter now than they used to be,” says Berkani.

But it can still be difficult for clients, especially those new to live events, to know how best to get the most for their money. Andrew Davey, business development director at The Liquid Way, says: “For the past couple of years there has been a buzz around experiential marketing, which has had a number of effects. Many new entrants can talk the talk but can’t necessarily deliver. Also, what really constitutes experiential has become diluted as each agency presents ‘experiential’ as they want to deliver it rather than looking at what the client needs and working back from that. Experiential marketing is an increasingly flabby term with agencies describing themselves as experiential ranging from PR or field marketing to pure experiential.

“Experiential marketing is an emerging and increasingly important part of the marketing mix and as a result there are increasing expectations on the medium as people expect to get as much bang from their buck as they would out of any other medium.P34_Mark_Wallace

Detecting bias
“Clients need to understand what an agency offers and why. An agency rooted in field marketing will always tend to offer a brand ambassador-based solution. The key to sourcing an agency is not based on its size but more on its ability to deal with the issue of reach – how do you ensure that the people who are engaged have a sufficiently profound experience that they act on it and also talk to their friends about it?”It does seem that if clients want to get the most from a tight budget, the solution is far from obvious. The more integrated, and often the larger, the agency, the better. Advertising agencies, under pressure from clients, paved the way in the Nineties by proving that size didn’t necessarily mean extortionate mark-ups and Berkani notes that transparency is one of the elements that marketers are already demanding from their live event suppliers.

Going in house
Lucy Pearce, experiential director at Wax Live, says: “It is often more cost-effective to go for an agency with an in-house production and staffing resource as the client is not having to pay mark-up on mark-up from outsourced suppliers and facilities.

“More importantly, clients retain much more control when working with an agency that has an in-house production facility where both the production workers and the account handlers build up a deep knowledge of a client’s needs. Ultimately it means quality, control and cost efficiencies, which are anything but cheap.

“Many agencies that are jumping on the experiential bandwagon think it’s just a case of getting on the web, sourcing a few suppliers and it’s all done and dusted. But experiential specialists who were there at the start have a deep understanding of the discipline and know there’s a lot more to the discipline than that.” 

What to look for in an agency
Sally Durcan is director of Hotcow Experiential Marketing Agency, which has worked with brands including Silentnight Beds, Nurofen, Thomson, Calvin Klein and Paramount Home Entertainment. Here she provides a guide to what clients should look for in an agency.


  • Look at and understand creativity ability and project flexibility. You want a team that can be flexible and can be adaptable 
  • Look at the work ethic – response times, client approval methodology, reporting and key performance indicators. You hire a company to be an extension of your team and it is important that they follow a time schedule and keep you in the loop 
  • Find out who will be your main contact and how much experience they have. While juniors work on projects you don’t necessarily want them being your main point of contact 
  • Examine logistical details – how would the company handle and manage this? 
  • Look at event/promotional staff. Why have these people been chosen, do they reflect the essence of your brand? 
  • Ask if the account management team will be on the ground managing the project 
  • Find out what potential legal issues could happen on the ground that you may be liable for v Be honest and upfront with the suppliers you have chosen to work with or pitch for your work
  •  Provide a clear and concise brief highlighting all the important facts and details Arrange a brainstorming meeting with the company you intend to work with – helps both parties to work together and saves on time wasting.


  • Expect full campaign details before you agree to work with a company. Get a feel from the information provided and use this as the starting point 
  • Get a company to spend hours working on your information and then never get back to them. Respect is important for sustaining a long-term relationship 
  •  Give half the facts, and hold back on what you like and don’t like and expect to get a perfect response 
  • Look at a response and blow it out of the water before you have spoken with the agency and understand why they have presented these ideas.What to look for in an agency Pot Noodle has been on the road this summer with some experiential activity with a small difference.

Case study
The Pot Noodle Food Fight, created by Closer, the experiential agency within the Billington Cartmell Group, gave consumers the chance to take on a Pot Noodle stunt dwarf in a Gladiators-style duel while balancing on giant Pot Noodles. Consumers were challenged to try to defeat the super-strength dwarf and knock him off his Pot Noodle within 30 seconds.

The activity consisted of two upside Pot Noodle pots acting as duelling platforms for contenders. To make it more of a fair contest, the contenders fighting the dwarves were handicapped by a swivelling Pot Noodle pot. Surrounding the platforms was a giant inflatable ring covered by a branded canopy to make the event stand out as well as protect against bad weather.

The campaign, which included sampling, took place between May and August and appeared at events that would maximise its reach and hit the target market of 16- to 25-year-old males. Key events included Southend Airshow, Street Life, Ultimate Street Car, Sunderland Air Show and the Climax at the Rip Curl Boardmasters surfing contest in Newquay.

In conjunction with the Billington Cartmell data team, Closer builds tailored ROI models for all its campaigns. The Pot Noodle activity was designed around a strategic plan developed to maximise the effect of the campaign – and the ROI for owner Unilever UK.
This included: 

  • Filming all the brand experiences and uploading them onto the website. Those who took part received an email containing mpeg video footage of their food fight immediately after taking to the ring. This helped broaden the scope of the activity from those people that were exposed to it on the day, enabling the brand to extend its reach as participants could email the clips to friends. There was also a specifically developed online viral campaign 
  • Closer chose events that would maximise PR opportunities. This meant that the activity gained exposure in Nuts magazine and other target market publications 
  • Closer is now using the research tools it has in place to evaluate the success of the campaign and to learn valuable lessons for future activity. These tools include live research groups to aid understanding of consumers’ perceptions about the brand and the impact of the activity.

Closer director Liz Richardson explains: “By using experiential in this way, campaigns become more measurable, ensuring they deliver ROI. With consumers becoming increasingly difficult to engage and clients demanding more cost-effective, measurable activity, it is essential that experiential activity works harder than a one-off activity.” Case Study


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