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April 4, 2008

THIS YEAR, NEXT YEAR: A look at 2007's key live marketing trends

It has been an interesting year. Live events and online continue to be the brightest stars in the marketing sky, with the two seeming to complement each other in an increasing number of ways. Meanwhile, there has been a flurry of merger and acquisition activity culminating most recently in Photon UK’s buyout of Britain’s second largest experiential marketing agency Sledge, which now sits alongside Frank PR and Corporate Edge in the company’s marketing portfolio – a clear sign of the status live events now occupies in the marketing mix.

Early signs were back in June when Expomedia snapped up Homebuyer Events, organiser of the Property Investor Show and the Homebuyer Show. And this was after Ingenious Media invested in Brand Events. But this hasn’t just been happening in the UK, with Australia’s Exhibitions and Trade Fairs buying up nine shows in November including RSVP, while Tarsus acquired Middle-East focused Fairs and Exhibitions around the same time.

Live marketing has also been attracting some top marketing talent, such as Peter Cowie who took the helm at Fitch Live from a senior advertising role, and Victoria Biggs, who left e-bay to become business development director at experiential agency Out of the Blue.

“The events industry is now a major growth area,” says Eventia executive director Izania Downie. “We are seeing consolidation among agencies, and it’s no coincidence that several of the large marketing groups have acquired experiential agencies in recent months. Experiential marketing is starting to have a huge impact, offering an engaging, entertaining and interactive brand experience. Agencies are rethinking traditional forms of marketing – with more experiential events in the mix. We’re likely to see an even greater proportion of digital and live events in the future.”

Going digital
The events industry has really started to embrace online technology, once seen as the main architect in its demise. “Agencies are taking advantage of the natural marriage between live events and digital and it’s no coincidence that these are the fastest-growing marketing sectors,” says Rob Allen, chief executive of marketing agency TRO. “While a live event produces more audience engagement than any other form of communication, digital adds the facility of previewing and extending the experience – taking it to a wider audience and maximising interaction both pre-and post-event.”

Agencies are also using the internet more creatively. Imagination’s new digital division creates engaging online experiences that support the agency’s live events where relevant.

Encouraging interaction
Interactivity continues to be on the increase, enhancing audience engagement and generating key statistics. “The smart conference organisers are investing in interactive technology to increase audience engagement,” says Allen. “One-way communication to passive audiences will gradually become a thing of the past – and discussion formats enabling a genuine sharing of information will take over.

“This year, the events industry’s own annual conference, The Summer Eventia, used a free-form discussion format combined with interactive technology to identify and explore core issues affecting the industry,” Allen continues. “The outcomes provided a set of goals for the industry to reach.”

Chris Elmitt from Crystal Interactive, which provided the technology at The Summer Eventia, agrees with Allen and has seen a real shift this year in the level of interactivity at events. “Four or five years ago we were educating the market about interactivity. So 80% of our enquiries were from people we had proactively approached – 20% were unsolicited,” he explains. “Today the figures are reversed – 80% of enquires are out of the ether and only 20% are from people we have directly contacted. Given the huge growth in business that we’ve had over that period, there’s a significant section of the market that is now instinctively thinking about interactivity in their events.”

Sticking with the technology issue, mobile phones are increasingly being used as live marketing tools, from streamlining registration and entry to keeping visitor and delegates aware of the itinery of any event, through up-to-the-minute texting. There has also been an increase in companies using virtual world SecondLife to hold events.

A new virtual world
"We are expecting to see a significant increase in companies using virtual environments, such as SecondLife, for meetings and small conferences,” says Peter Dunkley, director of Depo Consulting. “We have seen companies such as Field Fisher Waterhouse, the City lawyers, beginning to use their virtual offices for both internal and external meetings, and there is significant potential to reduce travel, save costs and increase productivity as a result.

"I would suggest that the providers of conference and meeting facilities look at how the potential to use social spaces such as SecondLife might impact upon their business,” he continues, “particularly as the need to reduce carbon (as well as cost) drives more companies to examine the alternatives. Providing managed facilities might be an opportunity rather than a threat."

Socially aware

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has rarely been off the events radar this year and Elmitt believes this is going to continue. “Companies in the conference and meetings sector have been looking at CSR and this is set to accelerate,” he says. “Some this year focused hard on creating sustainable events and, as an industry, progress is being made, for example on standards. However, on the client side CSR is only patchily occupying minds. Some are giving it a real priority – others are not even thinking about it.”

Allen, however, believes that client appreciation of the environmental impact of events will only grow. “Clients are becoming increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of their business activities, and this is progressively filtering down to their events activity,” he says. “We can expect to see a closer scrutiny of energy use, transport and travel, suppliers, materials and waste management. Brands are also looking to ‘give back’ to communities, whether it’s local schools, nominated charities or villages in overseas locations where corporate events are taking place.”

Supporting CSR’s rise up the corporate and customer agenda is the new standard for events sustainability BS8901 launched a month ago.

A more strategic approach
Now events are becoming a key part of the marketing mix, it’s important to keep up the momentum by developing a strategic approach to the medium.

“It is essential that experiential continues to strengthen its strategic role,” says experiential agency Jack Morton’s managing director, Julian Pullan. “This is essential for our and the industry’s long-term growth, taking us further away from the commoditisation of the industry and demonstrating our value as partners.”

Gary Fox, managing director of 2heads, agrees, saying: “Changing the culture of the industry to become more thoughtful and strategic is a very important issue. Understanding a client’s needs, their strategy, their goals and what they need help with, is crucial to delivering a great experience for their customers. Industry bodies need to take a lead on this and ensure quality information and research is available to the industry. We want a client to understand, at every point, the benefits of what we can offer and why they should invest in our services.”

No matter what happens next year, and all signs are pointing towards a possible recession thanks to the global credit crunch, let's hope it's at least as exciting as 2007.

Why not send in your predictions for next year by emailing your thoughts to us using the comments button under the headline of this article.

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