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August 6, 2007

INSIDER EXPERIENCE 2: The rules of engagement

If you’ve finally realised the importance of using experiential marketing techniques to get your employees behind your brand, you may be wondering how best to do this and how to maximise its effectiveness. In short, an internal event is the same as an external one and the same ideals will apply.

In particular, your choice of venue, as Matt Ralph, creative director at employee engagement consultancy NKD Group, explains, is the single most important decision you can make. “Choosing the right venue is paramount when planning any brand experience – and employee brand experiences are no different. Venues need to reflect the key message of the event and be flexible enough to adapt to different design ideas. It’s no good holding an event in a museum if your message is about the future, for example.”

Location, location, location
Ralph advises that accessibility to the venue needs to be well thought out. “A venue with bad transport links or in an area notorious for traffic is likely to put off delegates. It is also important to consider how familiar the delegates are with the venue. This can work as a positive or negative, but will need careful thought.”

Justin Isles, account director of mobile event specialist Event Marketing Solutions, agrees. “The most important factor when deciding location is to maximise attendance," he says. "This can be as simple as geographical considerations alone. The choice of venue must also have some level of attraction to your audience and must support your theme and objectives.”
But he also adds that this is where mobile venues come into their own. “By utilising a mobile exhibition vehicle, clients can maximise the geographical reach of their programme by going directly to their personnel," he explains. "A mobile solution also enables you to retain control of the environment – ultimately maximising the impact of the experience.”

Catching their attention

Isles also highlights some of the key trends that corporates are using to help engage their internal audiences. “Obviously, the main issue here is that techniques depend hugely on your audience, and companies need to do a lot of research into this to get it right. However, more clients are using interpretive media – anything from interactive graphics panels, to visitor centre style set ups – to deliver impact and reinforce messages. The use of presenters and personnel to support the experience is also very popular,” he says. “We also find that more clients want to follow through the experience with digital media. For example, one client is providing all participants with downloadable photographs after the event.”
With such a lot at stake, it’s not advisable to undertake something of this scale without some serious help, and companies should look for agencies with relevant experience. An ideal partner should have experience of delivering internal projects, as well as an understanding of your sector.  
“Employee brand experiences do require a slightly different skillset to consumer brand experiences,” warns Ralph. “It’s worth finding an agency that really understands the issues facing HR and internal communication departments, not just ones that have creative flair. At NKD, for example, we have three specialist teams covering corporate transformation, learning and development, and creative live events. When you combine intellectual content with creative delivery, the results tend to be far more engaging. If your partner company doesn’t ask for your intervention objectives in the first 10 minutes of discussing the project, walk away!”

Make sure you've got it covered

Nick Bender, managing director of performance improvement agency Maritz, agrees, saying: “It is crucial to look at the depth and breadth of the services they offer when choosing a partner agency. You need an end-to-end solution. This could cover employee research, logistics experience and head-count to handle a long-running event for several thousand people, plus developing and implementing ongoing creative communications.

“A company that also offers you the tools to ensure understanding, such as developing a recognition programme to recognise and reward the behaviours you are working to engender, plus post-activity analysis, will make sure you truly receive a return on your objectives and on your investment.”
If you’re already working with an existing brand experience agency, it’s not necessarily a given that they will have the skills to effectively handle internal events, so make sure you ask the right questions. But essentially the rules of engagement from the corporate marketers angle remain the same: know your audience, know you objectives, and measure your impact.

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