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March 3, 2009

Scott Knox:Grasping the opportunities in 2009

We’ve just had the results in from our agency barometer – a ‘state of the nation’ survey on how marketing agencies are fairing in all the sectors across the board. We asked agency heads to predict whether different disciplines within marketing felt they would have their budgets cut. Interestingly the answer for the experiential sector was pretty much an equal split between those who thought it would increase, stay the same or decrease. Out of all the marketing disciplines we examined it is the one that people seem to be most uncertain about.

To me this shows that it’s up to you as experiential marketers to get out there and prove that experiential is the right place for brands to spend some of their precious budget. When you first started working in experiential marketing you didn’t think it would all be wacky events with sky high budgets that got an instant emotional reaction from the consumer, did you? Let’s be honest, you’d be bored silly if you had a consistent flow of undemanding, straightforward projects.  

Most people go into this sector because they’re spurred on by the challenge of closing the emotional gap between brand and consumer. They’re turned on by creating that spark that can make a brand exciting, memorable and valuable. It’s all about the thrill of the chase. They wanted problems, briefs, hurdles. They were hungry for them.

Drag them by the budgets

But now clients aren’t quite so forthcoming with the ‘blue-sky budgets’. If you want them to go out on a limb you have to drag them out there, which is going to be hard when everyone around you is tightening the purse strings.

Well, this is where the fun starts. You wanted to be able to give consultancy advice on how to deliver memorable brand experiences. So get out there and consult. When consumers are cutting back and down grading to own-brand products, your clients need you to keep developing that real emotional link more than ever. When the light appears at the end of the economic tunnel, do you want to be the agency that withered and died because they were scared, or do you want to be reaping the benefits because you worked with clients to create challenging campaigns that deliver real results.

By challenges, I don’t mean ‘create a sensation which drives a brand’s online buzz up 200%’. Rather a more broad scope of challenges; everything from ‘blow my boss away with our latest project so that I become totally indispensable’ to ‘find a way to produce a £100,000 campaign for £50,000’, and even ‘Please, God, just give me the answer so I can report it at the next board meeting’.

Bring brands to life

This year experiential really has the opportunity to show its worth as part of the marketing mix. When brands are questioning how to split their budgets the temptation is to push much of the work online and while this is an evolving and exciting sector, I believe the only truly effective way to market is through an integrated approach that takes the best parts of all the marketing disciplines. Experiential’s key facet is the ability to bring a brand to life and deliver real life interaction with the people that matter most to them – their customers.       

Of course it will be tough. But that’s what you’re there for – to solve problems. Show your expertise whether that’s delivering unique concepts, being able work with tight budgets or seamlessly problem solving. Get out there. Consult. Be the experiential agency that grabbed the bull by the horns while everyone else was moaning about stroppy clients, long hours and the lack of freebies. Show those who don’t understand or doubt the value of experiential marketing its role in the sector, so that the next MCCA barometer paints a clearer picture of the experiential sector as a positive force to be reckoned with.  

Scott Knox is managing director of the MCCA


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