Event organisers are constantly scanning the world for new and exciting destinations to stage their clients’ events. Their mission is usually clearly defined — destination, theme and technology.
The secret to maximising the impact of any business event — one that packs more punches than Muhammed Ali at his greatest — is to select an event company who knows what they’re doing.
And “knowing what they’re doing” requires a powerpack of creative minds, a research unit of experienced scouts, a technical army of plugged-in operators and a logistics swat-team ready for any unexpected contingency.
Corporate events are staged around the world for a variety of reasons. Opening and closing ceremonies, awards nights, conference galas, incentive reward do’s and recognition events are just the tip of the iceberg. Product launches, sponsorship activations, experiential marketing programmes, consumer promotions and loyalty marketing events make up a large proportion of the worldwide stage and lap up an equally large proportion of the world’s marketing dollars — a basic requirement for staging a memorable and punchy event.
By nature, staging corporate events is a highly competitive business.
Competing for the loyalty and attention of employees and resellers and competing for the opt-in of consumers in a cluttered marketplace has presented seemingly insurmountable challenges for marketers. To successfully engage the audience and solicit a desired response — whether it’s a well delivered thank you, an invitation to buy or an inducement to retain loyalty — the event must stand out. It must have “wow”, create an emotional bond and leave the participant with a relevant and memorable experience they will absolutely identify with.
And the expectation level of employees and consumers is now at an all-time high. Invitees to an event expect to be impressed, dazzled, amused, stunned and blown away. Nothing less! In there lies the real challenge to create an event that engage their senses and emotions, opens up personal dialogue and leaves them with a truly immersive brand experience.
An event organiser will say the first thing they require from their client is absolute honesty. Their primary role in the planning stage is to extract the true reason for the event from the client. What are the objectives? Should it be measured, and if so, what metrics should be used? Is the client looking for a return on investment or objective? Is the event educational, celebratory or motivational? Once established, the organiser quickly moves into another space, a mode of creativity and exploration where they ask the client to close their eyes and imagine. In a forest of white boards, flip charts and excited conversation, a collaborative brain dump where no suggestion is taboo, a world of possibilities is unearthed.
Recognising the need for brand awareness and taking into consideration the demographics, gender and composition of their audience, the event organiser delivers a short list of possibilities which, when fully scoped out, is whittled down to a basic plan. The planning develops where destination, theming and design are all considered.
After much deliberation, to-ing and fro-ing, raised eyebrows and consternation, a decision is finally agreed upon. We have an event!
Build it up
Building the expectation of the event is vital. In the months, weeks and days leading to the event, momentum builds and anticipation mounts with considered use of collateral material and communication. On the actual night, the organiser employs some special techniques to keep the guests guessing and holding their breath.
Rhona Walker, managing director of audio-visual and theming company, Solution RED explains: “There are several approaches we can use to build the suspense. One is the pre-function area, which can be a very basic hotel style, but then the rumble comes from the ballroom or function space. Doors open, powerful audio and lighting penetrate and the audience starts pushing forward trying to see what’s in store for them.”
Walker further explains, using an example of an event she recently held for a leading pharmaceutical company.
“The other way to build the suspense is make sure the guests know that from the moment they leave their accommodation, the party has started in a big way. Dressed in true Bollywood garb, the entertainment takes them on a journey. The procession, complete with garishly adorned elephants, takes them on a magical ride to the venue. They enter through a field of rose petals into the entrance (which has been significantly branded) and are entertained while waiting for the action to start.”
And action is exactly what is in store for the guests. In fact, it’s lights, camera, and action.
At Solution RED’s event, the excited guests have a fair inkling of what’s about to occur but when the doors open, a riot of colourful, noisy and brilliantly staged activity assaults every one of their senses. They are now the stars of an international film studio and it’s all 100 percent Bollywood.
Belly dancers gyrate among the guests hooking them into the swing of the night, singers dressed in a rainbow of bright silk saris bombard them with song, real movie stars demonstrate some of the tricks of the trade and the wait staff, all themed to the nines, ply them with fine food and wine.
But the night is not just another function where entertainment is laid on. The guests are the stars, and as if they have just arrived from central casting, take their roles as Bollywood movie legends seriously. Throughout the night their antics are filmed and cut and spliced into a fine piece of questionable cinematography.
By engaging the guests in an interactive event, the power increases from one where they are merely the audience. Participating in the fun and activity of the night and being a true part of the entertainment amplifies the involvement and creates a lasting impression.
At night’s end, suitably refreshed and feeling like Bollywood royalty, the guests are ushered back to their accommodation by the same troupe that brought them there. Seemingly, the party never ends and the accommodation has been transformed along similar lines into a theatre where a special screening of the movie they’ve all just starred in gets under way. The stars have become the audience.
From go to woe, it’s been a night of glitz and glamour, all heavily themed to the finest detail.
The event organiser is the consummate magician, and like all good illusionists, is guarded at giving away too many secrets. Rhona Walker, however, admits that it’s literally all smoke and mirrors, in the true sense of the words.
“It’s technology that really powers an event” she says. “Without a doubt, technology”
Making the impossible possible
Guests expect the unexpected in any major event. There is a natural tendency for planners and clients to agree on the exploitation of a destination’s natural or cultural features. An appearance of the Vienna Boys Choir at the Theatre der Wien in Vienna is an obvious choice for entertainment, as is a jousting match, complete with heraldry-clad horses and Sir Knights in a medieval castle in Edinburgh.
Legendary incentive doyen, John Hudson explains: “Our client, General Motors, called on us to create an incentive reward trip for their high achievers. We chartered a small cruise ship, The Windsong, which is actually a sailing vessel, and cruised around the Polynesian islands.
“When we arrived at the Tahitian island of Huahine, which is a tiny speck in the Pacific with a population of only a few hundred, the delegates received a welcome from the locals that they would never have expected. We wanted to create an experience they would not normally receive from a commercial cruise so we enlisted the cooperation of the local headmistress for the children to welcome the passengers in a recreation of an explorer’s landing of the eighteenth century.”
The possibility of such an event caused such interest on the island that a half-day public holiday was declared and the children’s families were also involved. In fact, the entire population of the island became involved.
As the passengers arrived at the tiny port (they were actually expecting to arrive at Payette with its tourists trade, shopping and commercial accoutrements), they were lowered to the turquoise water in life rafts and a flotilla of canoes filled with the beaming smiles of Tahitian children and adults, all in colourful national dresses, ushered them into shore, filling their rafts with fruit, flowers and highly prized piglets as gifts.
The result was an unforgettable welcome that would normally never be afforded to just another boatload of tourists.
“Everyone won. The delegates felt a strong attachment to the island and the locals provided a true Tahitian experience. It was the biggest day on their calendar since Captains Cook’s arrival,” Hudson continues.
But juxtapositions also work effectively.
Guests at a recent event in Singapore were blown away to arrive at their destination not really knowing what to expect but to find an ice-skating rink set up on the beach of Sentosa island.
Staging Connection’s client, the Russia-Singapore Business Forum, needed a high-impact conclusion to their business activity and their brief was to feature an iconic Russian experience in a Singaporean environment, combining the elements of both cultures.
In a feat of event engineering and miraculous transformation, an ice skating rink measuring 39 by 20 metres was created in one of the largest air-conditioned marquees ever constructed.
In a city not known for its bitter winters, 50 tonnes of water was frozen in to a sheet of skatable ice.
But it’s not just enough to create an impressive stage, no matter how incongruous it may be — the show must be just as spectacular.
The night’s entertainment featured the who’s who of top Russian skaters, flown in specially for the event, dressed in dazzling costumes and skating artfully to a spectacular sound and light show with snow machines and a burst of amazing pyrotechnics.
By nature of the event’s quality, several business collaborations between Russia and Singapore were established proving that impressive displays demonstrate the capabilities of the sponsor.
Is big always best?
Most events organisers will say “there’s no show without punch”, but punch comes at a price. With a realistic budget (and that usually means big), anything is possible.
However, corporate events can still pack the required punch without blowing the budget. Most event companies have a closet full of “stock” where they can take an event from the shelf, adapt it and recreate it in a variety of settings and themes.
By recycling, but still relying on a sophisticated technology suite, the major cost of theming and stage production can be obviated. The trick from both the client and the planner’s perspective is to recreate the event to make it appear original, but more importantly impressive
There is no denying that corporate events are perceived as pure entertainment by the guests. It’s a private world of exclusive, impressive, expensive and elaborate production.
CONSULT A REPUTABLE EVENT ORGANISER Make sure your event organiser has a solid history of past performance and is well credentialed. Research on them and contact their past clients. Look for their accreditation and association memberships. Your investment will be significant so research at this stage will insure it.
LOOSEN THE PURSE STRINGS Major events are expensive. Be realistic from the outset. Cheaping out on certain parts of the event will leave a sour taste with the guests. Match your expectations to the investment.
DON’T PROMISE THE WORLD AND DELIVER AN ATLAS! Your collateral material must be truly reflective of the upcoming event. By building it up too much and delivering a less than impressive event or something that is not what the collateral promised, you’ll do more harm than good.
BE SPECIFIC Provide a strong, clear and concise brief to your event organiser and be totally honest with them. Give them as much information they require to match your expectations. Speak their language and get them to speak yours.
EXPECT A FEW ROAD BUMPS It’s not a perfect world and despite the greatest planning, accidents and unexpected things can get in the way of a perfect event – a perfect storm for example. Include a contingency plan.
GO WHERE NO MAN’S EVER GONE BEFORE Be daring. Think creatively and start the planning with an open mind. Be receptive to new ideas and lead the way with events that have not been staged before.
TAKE THINGS SERIOUSLY Okay, it’s a party, but measure your ROI and test the effectiveness of the event with your metrics and validation mechanisms. Justify your spend.
CHECK AND RECHECK YOUR SELECTED DATE Be 100 percent sure your date doesn’t clash with other major events or religious festivals (Lent, Passover, Ramadan etc) Also check that your chosen venue doesn’t have another event on the same night that could clash culturally or philosophically (a revivalist meeting may not sit well against Sexpo!)
BE CONSISTENT If it’s a five-star event, match the accommodation with the venue. Make sure all arrangements (travel, accommodation etc) have a similar style, theme and quality.
OVERSEE BUT DON’T INTERFERE You’re paying a large sum for the event organiser to do their job. Stand back and let them work. But if things are not going the way you want, speak to your main contact and make sure you have an understanding and common ground. Don’t shoot the messenger.
THINK BIG PICTURE BUT PAINT IN DOTS Start with a big plan but pay attention to the detail in every aspect at every step of the process.
ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE