Corporate Events Come of Age: Stand and Deliver: No Longer an Afterthought, Just a Bit of Entertainment for the Troops or a 'Thank You' to Key Customers, Conferences and Events Are Increasingly an Integral Part of a Company's Marketing and Branding Strategy. What's Driving the Changes?

Article excerpt

Conferences, conventions and events are big business--and growing. As the quality and performance gap between different products and brands narrows with increasingly sophisticated design and manufacturing tools, companies jostle to differentiate themselves. Staging events, entertaining clients and creating opportunities for face-to-face meetings with customers are primary methods for stealing a march on the competition, and all are contributing to a burgeoning industry.

Companies staged conferences and events for a myriad of reasons in the past --staff and/or client schmoozing; product launches; "because we always have an annual conference/seminar/AGM function/whatever"; and there haven't been the measurement tools to gauge the success or otherwise of the event. For some time in more developed events markets like the United States the emphasis has been on delivering information and creating learning opportunities at any conference/ seminar-type forum.

But according to Lisa Garrity, managing director of Wellington events managers Clockwork, attitudes are changing. The tight recruitment market is one driver for change: organisations need to be consistent in their messages and branding to all stakeholders including potential new recruits. Every aspect of the organisation needs to generate the same message, but only a handful of corporates are achieving that, says Garrity. Many are still doing the ad hoc one-off event.

Consistency of branding and maintaining a strong and confident voice about what an organisation stands for can be vital in recruiting, and retaining, good people. Everyone now is pretty much aware of the relative cost of holding on to an existing employee against having to recruit someone new.

If Clockwork is approached to handle an event for a company its first move is to try to pull all the company's internal key stakeholders into a meeting: HR manager; marketing and communications; sales and marketing; CEO--all those operating at the key interfaces between company and staff, and company and clients.

Garrity says CEOs are often initially reluctant to get involved with something that has in the past been relegated to a junior management or support person, but there is a growing understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent language and message.

Companies that are reluctant to make the commitment to building a comprehensive strategy whereby all activities and messages are consistent may be converted by the success of competitors retaining top employees and key clients.

"Medium-sized companies are probably the easiest to work with; they have a smaller staff and are open and fluid enough to take on a new initiative," she says.

Activities must be targeted, reported on and measured. Garrity says it's surprising how often the delegated conference/ event key contact within a company has no idea what the company spend on the project is; money has traditionally come from various budgets and, if that is the case, it is difficult for there to be proper accountability.

"There need to be clear objectives and a baseline from which to measure success." Clockwork has a measurement tool called "I speak" through which delegates or attendees can give feedback over the phone (to an answer machine) via an 0800 number, It's a set of five questions which takes approximately two minutes to answer.

Giving feedback to a machine generally means the respondents are more candid. Anything like this needs to be simple and ensure accurate feedback.

Measurement might be by sales/revenue figures or more long term such as staff retention and enhancement of client relationships.

Other benefits may be the data gathered by the sophisticated registration model Clockwork provides, which allows for in-depth analysis of the event's audience.

Garrity says the key to staging events that engage people is not rocket science. …