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April 4, 2008

Sarah Farrugia: The live marketing pantomime

It’s easy being black and white about something. Just look at the sales of the Daily Mail. People love a right and a wrong. Grey is so much more difficult to digest. Leave that to the broadsheets – those high-browed types who enjoy pointless discussions about the minutiae of life’s mysteries.

So my black and white question for today is this: Do events really have any value?

The black and white answer would be yes, or no… but, the truth is, as is usually the case in life outside the Daily Mail, it depends.

Think of it this way. There is always a front end and a back end to a pantomime horse. The front leads the way and the back hopefully follows, so we can all enjoy the story.

In business terms, the front end is sales and marketing, while the back end is procurement and accounting. Obviously there’s a short boy with a stick driving along the whole kit and caboodle (the managing director), but he’s generally too busy working out the plot with those other two scoundrels, the chief executive and chairman, to get involved in anything much except end-of-quarter results.

Front versus back
Now, some in sales and marketing (front end) do believe brands and events add value, so they develop brand identities, unique essences, core propositions, etc and deliver these through the mix, including events, in order to wow their target audiences. But sometimes when they come up against the back end of someone else’s pantomime horse (procurement and accounts) there’s a glitch.

You see, I’m not sure that procurement and accounts believe in brand and event values in the same way. Sure they sit in on the cascades, certainly they play the game, but beneath it all, they might be ‘a little bit cynical’.

I don’t think many procurement departments believe that Coke’s the Real Thing when they are negotiating on office refreshments; they won’t be persuaded by the brand values or the essences or anything like that. How much, how many and how long is pretty much the level of their discussion. They believe in performance, efficiency, costs, best value, tangible assets – all very black and white, with not a hint of grey in sight.

Leave your emotions at home
So where does that leave us when we face the back end; when what we produce is totally emotion based – a brand’s heartland? The detail of the way things look, and what essences and feelings are evoked are central to events.

For the live medium, style IS the substance, form IS the function.

We all know that brands are developed to evoke feelings and memories. Drinking Coke has different feelings and memories associated with it than Pepsi. Going to the 02 Wireless Festival evokes different emotions to visiting Virgin’s V Festival.

Events are emotional marketing personified. What they leave you with is intangible, yet powerfully affecting. They have a magical quality, and so which champagne, which beer, which lighting, which colour, which sofa, are the very necessary tools that we work with.

So to counter the back end we try to develop measures. Proof. If we can just prove their worth then our work is done.

But events are a bit like popstars or film stars, they have attitude – anyone with style has got attitude. They don’t like to be pinned down. You can’t always prove that serving the better wine or dressing the VIP area creates a better return. That’s why different people keep coming up with different proprietary metric converters ROI, ROO, etc.

Stand up and be counted
Although I am making light of this, it’s a pretty huge issue.

What are we doing as a unified industry to ensure that the values that are definitely added to a brand and to a business, and definitely experienced through live marketing are counted at the highest level?

There are some big stories, some huge brand activities – but are they being told?

And if so, is this being done front to back… or back to front?

Sarah Farrugia is director of branding, events and research specialists Sarah Farrugia and Co.

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