Magazine article Marketing

Being the Host with the Most

Magazine article Marketing

Being the Host with the Most

Article excerpt

Audiences of the 90s expect more entertainment than ever, irrespective of the recession. Whether it means our attention spans are getting shorter, or whether it's a reflection of the communications business getting more sophisticated, themed events are here to stay and in turn, venues up and down the country are responding and jumping on the theme bandwagon.

A theme can be introduced into a conference for a number of reasons. It can break the ice, add continuity to an event, provide a chance to let off steam at the end and most important of all, reinforce a corporate message and sell a product. "Themed evenings are generally on the increase as companies are trying more and more to involve delegates rather than having them sitting there being talked at," says Kevin Berry, conference manager of The Grand Hotel in Brighton. "It can also be more cost-effective to theme an event than to invest the sort of money top cabaret artists can demand."

BBC Enterprises, for example, themed a dinner held at The Grand in order to sell the programme Vampyr to overseas networks. Eerie red light, a projected image of the moon with clouds drifting over it, staff in Dracula-style capes and a special menu created an atmosphere more conducive, the client hoped, to buying.

Of course, it has to work and you'll need a good budget and usually, professional help. "People often want a theme and don't have any particular reason for it, or a product that really lends itself to theming," says Andrew Chance, managing director of Chance Entertainments, a company which will create spectacular themes anywhere from a Yorkshire field to the Dorchester Hotel. "What I do is throw lots of ideas at them and I find they suddenly ignite. I had a client the other day who wanted to hold a party in France. They were asking for ideas before we'd even found a venue. I persuaded them to wait and we found a spectacular chateau, so of course, it had to be a really elegant, classical French theme."

Production companies often prefer to start with an empty space if complex theming is required. "The larger the audience, the more difficult it is," says Lois Jacobs, managing director of communications specialist HP:ICM. "Anything over 100 people presents a real challenge and sometimes the best solution is to find an empty venue where you can create your own unexpected environment."

Some extreme examples of this are a disused gasometer outside Vienna, where HP:ICM launched the new Astra 18 months ago in the remaining cylindrical brick structure. Apart from the fortuitous tie-in of the gasometer being about the same vintage as the first Opel car, the sheer novelty value of the venue attracted an audience of 3800 over nine days.

Similarly, HP:ICM launched the new Corsa to 14,000 European dealers in groups of 1500 in a disused railway station in Barcelona. It was transformed into a large auditorium that could be split to reveal the cars at the end of the presentation.

Of course, the budget for these events is phenomenal. But luckily, the UK has several ready-made themed venues that are only to keen to get into the conference and hospitality market at a more modest cost.

Alton Towers is probably our best known theme park, set around what was once the largest stately home in Europe. There are various - and quite different- locations for corporate hospitality and meetings around the park. Corporate clients, according to business development manager Marc Bell, vary from those with a leisure-associated product to those who use the park as a metaphorical carrot. UniChem, for example, has held two trade exhibitions at Alton Towers, attracting 7000 visitors each time. "They have to go into to the exhibition before they get a ticket to the park," says Bell. "A lot of business is done at the show and they're coming back next year."

Alton Towers also works, says Bell, because the family can be included. "A conference will still attract the manager they want and the family can enjoy the park at the same time," he says. …

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