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April 4, 2008

Gary Fox: Hands off our discipline!

There has been a natural move in recent years for agencies with tenuous links to the experiential and live events sectors to make their presence known. Now the industry is struggling to define itself, clients are confused and the demise of the LBEA is one such consequence.

It seems that public relations and field marketing are two mediums that are muscling in on the territory. It’s not always with dire consequences and agencies who expand into experiential off the back of an acquisition can offer the correct skill sets needed in experiential marketing.

But my bug bear are companies that simply add this as a service without due understanding of the skills needed and often without the resources to deliver. For one reason or another, by offering a greater depth of service based on the skills that they already have, they do not add value to the experiential offering but rather create a spin on their capabilities.

Pushing a product

PR is one such sector that is being squeezed by an increase in digital spending and a fragmented audience. The strategic planners are frantically trying to up-sale to clients and offer event management as part of their offering, but even they struggle to find the difference between offering an experience and a plain event. PR is a sector based on persuasion whereas, within experiential marketing, consumers and customers choose to take part and interact with a brand. Therefore, the focus of the PR strategy is not centered on creating a brand experience, but more about pushing a product and generating awareness. PR companies do not have the operational expertise or staff, such as production managers or event managers, to deploy an experience, especially a digital one.

Similarly field marketing does not factor the brand goals into any strategy, but instead is purely driven at increasing revenue. They do not have creative directors, or people that understand brand strategies. Therefore, outgoings surrounding an ‘event’ are kept to a minimum and margins on recruitment are maximised. If one was to take a similar ethos in experiential marketing, the quality and detail would be subsequently sacrificed.

Furthermore, field marketing does not create a shift in affinity among customers because it is geared towards a short-term gain. By ignoring the long-term marketing objectives for a ‘quick buck’, they cannot deliver a brand experience.

A lack of inherent skills
For example, for a major broadcast client, we developed a strategy targeting its audience four weeks prior to the event. We used word of mouth, a web microsite and digital media on mobiles to develop a holistic experience leading up to the event. The event itself was hugely successful because the targeted audience could connect and context the event because of the blended experience pre-event. As a result, our client realised a record level of sales leading on from the event.

Essentially, those that choose to expand into experiential marketing need to recruit accordingly or start on the acquisition trail. Either way, as individual disciplines, neither PR nor field marketing have the inherent creative skills and expertise to develop brand strategies, yet they will still persuade clients that experiential is among their company’s core services. The misrepresentation of service will lead to the delivery of a poor result and I only hope that clients are not being put off by the true benefits of experiential marketing.

Gary Fox is managing director of 2heads, an experiential and design agency based in Henley

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