"Roadshow event manager required,” began a recent posting on a popular job search website. “Managing a team of event and roadshow specialists, this will suit a candidate with exceptional people management and strategic event management skills.” Sounds intriguing, but ask any roadshow event manager and they will say this ad heavily understates the scope of the role.
“The nature of [a roadshow] tests the capabilities of the organiser, regardless of where in the world it is held,” says Chupit Chutitum, managing director of Bangkok-based Penner-Madison, “[because] it takes place in an open environment, where access to the public is plentiful.”
The primary challenge of managing a roadshow brand promotion or product launch is the sheer scale of the operation – from concept to delivery. The open roadshow environment means myriad issues arise that are more easily predicted and managed at a private, confined venue. Add the fact that roadshows are often held sequentially at different locations across a country or region, and that job ad seems even more undercooked.
“A sequential roadshow event requires a great deal of planning and preparation, since it takes place from one to another location in a short period of time,” says Chutitum. “The team needs to plan ahead in terms of the event format, time frame and logistics, not just to run a smooth programme but also to achieve the client’s objectives.”
The core objective of most roadshows is to engage purchaser passions in a persuasive and entertaining way. This is increasingly challenging. Rising urban affluence across Asia-Pacific means consumers are more demanding than ever, and brand loyalty is unpredictable. Grabbing and influencing the attentions of Asian purchasers has become the driving marketing force for multinational and domestic consumer brands – resulting in fierce roadshow competition on main shopping streets and in malls region-wide.
This ramping up of roadshow events in emerging markets has attracted the notice of leading retail analysts. “We are seeing these kinds of roadshows a lot now, especially in China,” says Paul French, Shanghai-based research director for Access Asia. “Recent ones ranged from North Face in Chengdu to Mengniu promoting yoghurt with sub-Beyonce pompom girls.”
Pompom dancers are one way of attracting attention, but roadshow managers must frequently devise new ways of kickstarting events. “For our roadshows, the exciting activities are gimmicks that we put in at the beginning of the shows to get attention and interest and, at the same time, lead into the programmes and product highlights,” says Chutitum of Penner-Madison.
“These are always related to the product or service being promoted, since our success is measured by the number of participants at the shows and sales volume after the shows.”
A substantial part of Penner-Madison’s recent roadshow experience in Thailand relates to IT brands, having worked with companies including flash memory card manufacturer SanDisk and internet-security firm Norton. “We have noticed that these companies run a lot of roadshows to boost their sales volumes and brand awareness,” says Chutitum.
“Roadshows have become an increasing medium to reach affluent urban consumers, such as office roadshows for SanDisk to reach white-collar workers, and IT retail store roadshows for Norton to help their IT retailers boost sales volumes.”
Another roadshow trend in Asia is the connection with major sporting events. Octagon conceived and managed the Johnnie Walker Keep Walking China Tour, which capitalised on the brand’s association with Formula 1 motor racing. A two-month roadshow travelled to six Chinese cities – Guangzhou, Beijing, Xiamen, Ningbo, Hangzhou and Dalian – before arriving in Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. There the company’s whiskies were showcased alongside the McLaren MP4-21 Formula 1 racing car. The aim, according to Octagon, was “to promote Johnnie Walker as a contemporary and prestigious brand, identifiable with the target demographic of Chinese males, ages 25 to 35”.
Coded within that sentence is a key element of roadshow planning – target consumer research. After all, promotional displays, entertainment, product demonstrations, background music and even downtown locations that magnetise target consumers in Shanghai may fall flat in Sydney, Singapore or Shenzhen. And then, there are different permits required from local authorities, crowd management and safety strategies, and media management – all of which affect the roadshow’s bottom line.
These myriad factors require foresight. “Timing is critical for roadshows, especially when booking venues, which must be done far in advance, and taking into account transportation,” says Stefano Ritella, director of operations of Shanghai-based HLD Event Services. “In countries like China, it takes time to move around, so if the roadshows need to be done within a short time, this will affect the number of cities possible and the approach taken.”
In 2008, HLD organised a roadshow for Technogym, which was the official gym equipment supplier for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The roadshow encompassed five events in three Chinese cities – two in Shanghai, two in Beijing and one in Guangzhou. The concept was to promote a healthy gym lifestyle using a 100sqm booth inspired by the Beijing Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium and filled with Technogym equipment and trained instructors.
“For Technogym, there were different client requirements in each city in terms of numbers, target audience and brand penetration. This influenced our choice of venues,” says Ritella. “The main challenges included getting the locations we wanted in key shopping malls. Malls can be tough to deal with, and we had to ensure we got the space and set-ups we needed”.
Adapting the brief to the requirements in each city was important. “We created a booth that could be shrunk slightly for different locations. We also produced two booths instead of dealing with transportation to Guangzhou, and purchased certain equipment instead of renting to minimise costs,” Ritella adds.
Musical and visual entertainment often define a successful roadshow, and the Technogym events contrast significantly with a new roadshow series HLD Events is producing for HP in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. “Technogym had big entertainment at its core. We played music as loud as allowed with the aim of attracting large numbers of passers-by,” says Ritella. “The upcoming HP event is a closed event for 70 carefully selected industry leaders and influential people. There is also entertainment, but it is product related and closely geared to the chosen participants.”
HLD is again rebuilding its set-up for one of the roadshow cities, Hong Kong, “to save time and avoid import taxes,” and has chosen a catering partner that has a presence in each of the three cities. “Choosing partners with a presence in different Chinese cities saves time, money and ensures quality consistency,” says Ritella.
Consumer roadshows occur almost daily across Asia-Pacific, and Vietnam has developed a penchant for this form of consumer connection, particularly for fast moving consumer goods and electronics. “Ten years ago, Vietnamese people didn’t know the word ‘roadshow’, but now it’s familiar to everybody,” says Nguyen T Bich Thao, managing director of Ho Chi Minh City-based GazeFi Events. “Almost all companies with a big marketing budget now hold roadshows for branding their products at the big supermarkets, electronics centres and department stores, especially in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.”
When Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo sought to target Hi Chi Minh City’s student population, it contracted Thao’s previous company, Event Vietnam, to manage its Olympic Torch Relay roadshows. The commission soon proved tricky, however, as politics, rather than business, entered the fray.
“Lenovo wanted to launch a laptop computer to the Vietnamese market through the Olympic Torch Relay,” says Thao. At that time a dispute flared up between China and Vietnam over the sovereignty of the Paracel islands. “For this reason, we encountered a lot of problems when we contacted universities. Instead of the proposed 10 universities, the Lenovo event was held at just three venues, plus the main launch ceremony.”
Event Vietnam pressed ahead by urging universities and students to view the roadshow as a business, not a political issue. “Lenovo simply wanted to introduce a new means of learning for students with a reasonable budget,” says Thao.
The roadshow’s business-focused messaging proved successful, but the interplay of culture and politics proved instructive. “If you want to launch a new product in a new country, you should research its culture and politics at the time you launch,” says Thao. “Even though we could not present the event at all 10 universities, feedback from students told us that they had learned about the Lenovo laptop through this roadshow – as had consumers across Vietnam.”
PLANNING FOR WIDER OUTREACH
Planning for wider outreach
Last year marked the Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau’s (MCVB) fourth annual Asia Roadshow. Twelve of the Australian city’s leading business event firms embarked on a promotional tour that took in cities including Jakarta, Beijing, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur.
The aim, says Edwina San, director of international incentives at MCVB, was “to target emerging markets throughout Asia, highlighting the ways in which Melbourne is a city ‘Made for Incentive Travel’ ”.
The roadshows were overseen by MCVB’s regional sales directors in Singapore, for South Asia, and Hong Kong, for North Asia. Local representation and public relations companies were engaged in some markets to enhance cut-through and reach. Local consultants were also used to help target key media. “Each country has its own business and cultural protocols and considerations, and by having in-market managers and working with locals we can tailor our events to best meet the needs of every market we visit,” says San.
Having previously hosted similar roadshows in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, last year’s expanded programme required meticulous planning and in-depth follow-up. “Undertaking research to ascertain the success of our Asia Roadshows for buyers, agents and sellers is critical. This feedback is used to follow up on potential business, and it helps shape future roadshows,” says San.
The entertainment aspect of the 2010 roadshows tied in with the message that Melbourne is Australia’s capital for theatre and the arts. “In Jakarta and Seoul, we were accompanied by Australian entertainment company SMA productions,” says San. “David Malek sang famous ballads and popular hits, including some with a Melbourne twist, and Korean-born Australian Nan Heo wowed the audience with her violin repertoire.”
While the roadshows support MCVB’s sales and marketing activities and target key agents and buyers, they also serve a broader outreach. “By engaging with trade and mainstream media in each market, the roadshows also extend our message to consumers,” says San. “From an operational point of view, running the event is much the same in most countries. However, the key differences relate to adapting to the cultural considerations in each market to deliver an engaging and appealing event to the target audience.”
Permits and permissions – In some cities, you may need to obtain multiple permits from the local authorities and the roadshow venue itself, and be able to present these for inspection during the event.
Entertainment – You must be clear about the noise and performance space limits at the chosen location, and check if there are any restrictions on the timings during the day or evening for roadshow performances.
Brand value – Roadshows are all about reinforcing consumer branding and outreach. In many Asian cities, such branding should be ubiquitous and stylised.
Give, give, give – Free branded giveaways and goodie bags are always well received, whether they are for less well known products or more popular consumer items. Competitions and interactive elements with options to win better prizes add extra spectator appeal.
MC no-show – A lot of roadshows hire local TV personalities and presenters to host the competitive and performance aspects of the roadshow. Hire them well in advance, and be prepared for a Plan B, should they pull out at the last minute.
Watching the detectives – In countries like China where intellectual property infringements are widespread, look out for overly zealous competitors seeking to photograph and copy your product display layouts. Consider if you want to distribute any leaflets at all to your spectators.