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November 25, 2008
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Sainsbury’s annual conference makes the difference




Innovative ideas and activities, including an 'S' Night talent show and a surprise appearance by Lenny Henry, helped make Sainsbury’s recent annual conference a success, despite the tough economic conditions the retailer and its staff are facing currently.
 
The two-day conference had the theme You Make the Difference, aligned with Sainsbury’s Tast the Difference premium food brand, and was staged at the NEC in Birmingham. Presentation and communication agency DRP Group returned as organisers of the event, facing the challenge that the audience was increased from the previous year’s 1,200 to 3,000.

Sainsbury’s attendees on the first day included representatives from each of the company’s 880 stores and business locations. The communication idea was that they would work as pathfinders to take the message back to their colleagues in stores.
 
Building on 2008
DRP’s creative and technical challenge was to move on from the previous year’s award-winning format. Last year’s Sainsbury’s Managers conference had won a gold award for Best Event at the International Visual Communications Association awards and gold for Best Conference at The Event Awards.
 
The solution was an entirely different style of event that placed more emphasis on how Sainsbury’s values all its employees and how each one could make a difference to the business.

DRP launched the conference with the opening high-impact video You Make the Difference, which included photographs of Sainsbury’s teams that delegates had submitted as part of the registration process. The opening video gave chief executive Justin King the ideal platform to highlight the impact of the economic climate and outline the challenges that Sainsbury’s faced.
 
Experiential approach
Conference highlights included an interactive Know Your Stuff exhibition, including food sampling, beauty, health care and Halloween. This allowed new and existing products to be showcased.

There was also a food theatre, lunch and dinner, which focused on own-brand products. Managers enjoyed the Apprentice-style challenge to develop, design and sell Christmas hampers, to emphasise the value of working with the Sainsbury’s supply chain to meet demand.

The experiential approach meant that delegates experienced firsthand a selection of new products that Sainsbury’s had on offer and enjoyed working in teams with other managers to solve challenges.
 
Entertainment included The ‘S’ Night talent show, mentioned earlier, which featured eight finalists whittled down from 200 colleagues who auditioned. This raised £6,000 for Comic Relief through delegates purchasing ping pong balls with which to vote. The compere for the whole conference was also selected from the auditions, along with a comedian and close-up magician providing after dinner entertainment.
 
Comic relief

Comedian, actor and writer Lenny Henry made a surprise appearance to deliver a stand-up comedy act and emphasise the value of Sainsbury’s stores, teams and individual staff in generating funds for Comic Relief.
 
The conference also featured the promotion of Sainsbury’s own-brand Christmas offering, by creating a ‘winter wonderland’. Other elements of the conference included a focus on continual improvement in stores, as well as presentations, question-and-answer sessions, videos and pyrotechnics. Joe Simpson, the mountaineer and author of Touching the Void, which was subsequently made into an award-winning film, was also a guest speaker.
 
Another winner

As well as organising a fast-paced programme of events and activities, DRP organised all delegate movements – between three halls, plus various suites and seminar rooms – and transfers between the NEC and 40 hotels, some up to 25 miles away.
 
“We are delighted with the outcome of the conference,” said DRP managing director Dale Parmenter. “It is particularly satisfying that not only did the creative, technical and logistical sides of a highly complex conference, involving thousands of people, worked so well, but that delegates have said it was the best event to date.”
 
The event once again proved to be an award-winner, with DRP scooping the Best Conference accolade at the recent Eventia UK Awards.

Look out for Dale Parmenter talking about the Sainsbury's annual conference on the video review of the Eventia UK awards coming soon…


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