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September 8, 2008

INSIDER EXPERIENCE 2:Getting it right

In the second article on how experiential marketing is influencing the meetings and conference industry, Pete Roythorne looks at how planners can make sure they chose the right experience for their event.

Meetings planners can learn a lot from experiential marketers about how to make their meetings more engaging, but deciding what techniques are best suited to an individual event can be a complicated balance between fitting in with the brand, its company and the message you’re trying to convey. Planners need to consider this and create an experience that’s unique and more importantly relevant.

"As when planning any event, you should always start by considering the target audience. Who are they, where are they, and what will really engage them?” says Justin Isles, account director, Event Management Solutions. "When deciding on location, you need to think carefully about the tone and feel you want to create. Sometimes you need a big gathering in one central place, while at other times – for example with a small group of really key people – you want to create something far more personal. At busy times of the year a more tactical, local approach may also be needed, so you aren't taking people away from their jobs for long periods."

Sarah Trumble, group events director of Gyro International, adds that using an experiential agency is probably the safest route as it’s what they do day in day out. “If you are organising this yourself,” she adds, “then you need to think of the outcome you’re trying to achieve. This will start to help shape the delivery.”

Measuring up: HBOS takes its new uniform to the people

It’s good to talk
Failing that, talking to your peers, and taking a look inside and outside your industry at what companies with similar needs are doing will give you a greater insight into what works and what doesn’t.

“The best place for any conference planner to go to is an established brand experience such as the O2 Wireless Festival or the innocent village fete,” adds Ian Irving, sales and marketing director at experiential agency Sledge. “Fully immersive brand experiences engage the audience and turn them into advocates. So it’s logical to use this power internally - if it’s not an effective way to educate and empower a work force then a company should stop trading.”

So what types of events are people running?

Jeremy Starling, managing director at Involve gives some insight: “The kinds of experiences Involve uses depend on current fads – there are certain themes which we know from experience will work well with mass audiences. Some clients approach us with ideas of their own for us to bring to life. For example, one company wanted a Dr Who event where the competition were Daleks.”

Get the audience engaged…
Starling also points to a series of employee forums the company organised for a leading insurer, designed to help the company become the trusted market leader. “The forums were aimed to get staff really understanding its customers and the fact that they are real people with real lives and when they call up they are usually in the midst of a crisis and trust is incredibly important to them,” he explains. “As part of the experience we had people enacting the role of customers who were involved in a dramatic gas explosion, with the employees tasked with helping them get their lives back together. It was a very high impact, emotional experience.”

Feedback gathered before and after the event showed that every one of the 13,000 participating employees benefited from a deep connection with their customers and a realisation of the importance of their role in the company and how it affects their customers’ lives.

“Other examples include when we created a Big Brother style house,” Starling continues. “We used this to help employees practice talking about their company’s products and services, with those who were less good being evicted. This left the people who were best at talking about the company in the house, with the viewers – the other employees – witnessing what is best practice again and again. It was very entertaining and very easy for people to relate to, with dramatic results.”

…whatever the subject
Isles, meanwhile, draws on the example of some recent work EMS has done for HBOS as to how you can create compelling and engaging content around something less attention grabbing. "This roadshow was created get staff buy-in to the new range of clothing. Our solution was to showcase the range by creating a relaxed personal shopping experience for employees; our sophisticated mobile unit included dressing rooms and an on-board tailor to advise on sizes and styles,” he explains.

"The roadshow visited 32 different locations across the UK and proved extremely popular with the staff; pressured for time, they really appreciated the fact that the experience came to them. This campaign is a good example of how taking a local level approach to communication can reap benefits, especially when your message touches on very personal, sensitive issues."

So really, the only limit to what can be done to make your events more engaging is your imagination. But before you go out and plan that next meeting around your favourite reality TV show, it’s important that whatever the theme, there’s no getting away from the fact that the most important thing by far is not the theme but what you’re trying to achieve with the event and why.


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