Magazine article Marketing

Low Down on the High Spots

Magazine article Marketing

Low Down on the High Spots

Article excerpt

In the hunt for something different, clients are expecting better service and value from London venues. Sue Bryant takes a look at what's on offer

In London, anything is possible. You can hire a palm-filled atrium, a futuristic glass gallery, an underground crypt or a room full of dinosaur skeletons for a function. Even a transvestite cabaret club -- Madame JoJo's -- has now joined the fray, hungry to attract the corporate market.

We're always hearing the familiar refrain "Clients are looking for something different". While this is probably true they also have higher expectations of service and are extremely price conscious, and it is important to use a venue which has not lost sight of this. An unusual venue will understandably be the main feature of an event but make sure it can cope and isn't a false economy -- theming is expensive when light, sound, set and flowers are added.

Also, don't expect to serve perfect Beef Wellington in a museum with a small canteen kitchen without considerable investment. Everything may have to be imported, from cloakroom staff to loos.

If it's a serious production and you want blackout, back projection and a special set, use one of London's functional hotels or one of the big conference centres such as the QEII or Wembley. These are not necessarily staid and straight-laced, and have the advantage of large amounts of flexible space.

Allied Dunbar, for example, installed a pool with fountains in Wembley Conference Centre for its annual sales conference, and one of the large exhibition halls was transformed into the "American Football Experience" earlier this year, complete with cheerleaders, all sorts of equipment to try out, and all the colour and razzmatazz associated with the Dallas Cowboys.

"People are wanting to be more creative," says Wembley's marketing manager, Mark Taylor. "You've got to have something visually stimulating and some element of panache to keep the audience in tune throughout the day. We can give production companies the opportunity to be creative. We've had circuses in here, also the Benson and Hedges snooker and squash tournaments. The hall is very flexible."

London is full of venues which will impress and entertain. The problem is, a lot of companies don't know how to find them and the venues could be better at marketing themselves. This is improving with a couple of new ventures in motion. Historic Royal Palaces, for example, is putting a lot of effort into raising the perception of its five venues: Hampton Court, the Tower of London, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. And earlier this year caterer Payne and Gunter launched its own marketing initiative called Great British Secrets, promoting 11 historic venues in and around London. "The venues are what we consider to be the best within the London area and a lot of them have never done anything resembling promotion," says Roger de Pilkyngton, sales and marketing director. "People are aware of obvious places like hotels, but the reason we called this Great British Secrets is that some people have never even heard of them or what they can be used for."

The venues range from household names like the Natural History Museum and Hampton Court Palace to lesser known but nonetheless spectacular halls such as the Tallow Chandlers Hall and Trinity House, the Georgian headquarters of the British Lighthouse Authority, with magnificent views of the Tower of London from the library.

Payne and Gunter is not necessarily the tied caterer for these venues; the idea is simply to generate more business for the venues themselves and the company's catering arm. "We have had a very good response so far, particularly from overseas buyers," says de Pilkyngton.

On top of these two ventures, an invaluable guide has just been launched by Harden's Guides and Champagne Mumm, listing 900 party venues throughout the capital. The authors visited every single venue and offer a concise but intelligent assessment of everything from Planet Hollywood to the Tea and Coffee Museum in SE1. …

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