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June 4, 2008

Russell Downing: Aligning the brands

Since the birth of our industry, planners have tried to create symbiosis between location, event and client – the modern technology client in the newly built glass and metal conference centre; the traditional law firm in the grand hotel; or the corporate social responsibility-focused design agency at the green and sustainable conference centre.

Events are the physical embodiment of a business, brand and core company values. Attendees will perceive many different things during the course of a face-to-face experience, which is why it is so vital to carefully plan every element in line with brand and goals.

Given the effect an event can have on a company’s brand, organisers must consider the power of the venues they choose. On the one hand they can reinforce brand values already in place; on the other they can create brand relationships and perceptions that previously didn’t exist.

Public image unlimited
This works well for those who wish to add more value to their brand or change their public image. A reformed polluter might, for example, start using a centre renowned for its environmental credentials and build trust by association. However, event managers beware, such brand alignments can easily backfire and earn the company a special mention in the likes of Private Eye – examples include well known stories of charities using five-star hotels.

Assuming you have picked the right venue for the event and brand you still need to avoid the little, but very public, mistakes. At the high-tech conference, make sure the technology and presentations are up to date, exciting and, above all, working! At the green conference, don’t put bottled water on the tables. Ultimately, venue choice and the right suppliers should alleviate these problems, but they are essential to get right. The venue is one of the most memorable and long-lasting elements of any event, so spend the time necessary to get the choice right.

For us at Sheepdrove, the key areas of brand alignment are clearly sustainability, the environment and social responsibility, all of which have become huge challenges for those looking to organise events – everything from venue choice to transport, advertising and catering affect these areas. But they are not bolt-on, nice-to-haves. Instead, they must be built into events from the outset affecting all the different elements, from planning to delivery. In fact, to really succeed, they should already exist within the company, management and brand, if they are to be successfully disseminated at events.

The sustainable brand challenge

Since our launch five years ago, the Eco Conference Centre has seen a host of different brands. While many come for the simple peace of our 2,500 acre organic farm, others have clear corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies that make the venue a logical choice – Innocent Drinks and Friends of the Earth are obvious examples. As world-renowned activists in the environmental sector, it makes perfect sense that they hold their events somewhere that has been designed with sustainability in mind. Among other processes, the centre uses solar power, wind power and a totally independent water system, where all the water used on site is drawn from 300 feet below a field next to the centre, bottled on site and fed back to the earth through a system of water recycling reed beds.

But the real brand challenges are the likes of Land Rover. Seen by many as creators of 4x4 ‘Chelsea tractors’ with no purpose, it is in fact a huge supporter of the environmental movement. As a company, it has very credible CSR policies, but, as far as I am concerned, it does something far more important – provide a range of vehicles, without which conservationists and farmers worldwide couldn’t survive. Some would see Land Rover’s use of Sheepdrove as hypocrisy – I see it as perfect brand alignment.

Russell Downing is centre manager at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, Berkshire, UK

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