Does it work for the brand?

Bruce Barrow is vice-president of sports and entertainment with Encore Encore Strategic Marketing, a Toronto-based agency that has developed sponsorships and promotional events for clients such as Molson Breweries and Clearnet. For this report, we asked him to share some of...

Bruce Barrow is vice-president of sports and entertainment with Encore Encore Strategic Marketing, a Toronto-based agency that has developed sponsorships and promotional events for clients such as Molson Breweries and Clearnet. For this report, we asked him to share some of the event marketing lessons the agency has gleaned from its experiences.

If there’s one major trend in marketing today, it’s the emphasis placed on all things ‘e’ – e-mail, e-business, e-commerce and e-tail. There is, however, one ‘e’ whose significant role in the contemporary marketing mix is still sometimes overlooked: ‘events.’

As electronic communication grows ever more popular, event marketing may prove to be the one and only true interactive experience that companies share with their valued consumers.

Events can serve as a foundation on which to build consumer promotions, advertising campaigns or public relations initiatives. Involvement with an event can enhance brand image and awareness, and help to build sales volume. And if that event lives up to its promise in the eyes of consumers (or better yet, over-delivers), the result can be lasting brand loyalty.

Evaluating events from a brand perspective

When it comes to event marketing, your primary options are (a) sponsorship (either title or secondary-category) of an existing event, and (b) development of a brand-driven proprietary event. Some companies may do big-impact proprietary events a couple of times a year, along with ongoing sponsorship activities to provide continuity and frequency.

Sponsorship of an existing event offers the borrowed interest that comes through association with a well-recognized property. And, because sponsorship is often shared among several corporate players, the cost equation can be attractive.

A proprietary event is developed to address a particular corporate need – whether that’s generating revenue, or simply helping to promote a brand. Such an event can, obviously, be tailored specifically to a brand, helping to bring its essence to life. And, most importantly, it is ownable.

Before leaping into the fray, think carefully about objectives. You may have the greatest event concept in the world, or a tie-in with a major sports or entertainment property – but it won’t work for you if it’s off-strategy for the brand.

If you opt for sponsorship of an existing event, make certain that you’re reaching your consumer both on- and off-site. (The number of people attending the actual event is insignificant compared to the number of people exposed to the event through marketing communications.) And remember that generating awareness of an event is not the same as generating awareness of the brand sponsorship of that event. One of the major challenges will be linking your brand intrinsically to the event property.

Look carefully at the event promoter’s media plan to determine whether it meets your needs. If not, you may be required to build a plan of your own, either by converting some of your existing media, or by spending incremental media dollars. Co-promotions and on-site media opportunities should be factored into the plan. Does the event provide sampling opportunities, or other ways to convey your product’s benefits to attendees?

When evaluating an existing event from a brand perspective, you should also weigh the following considerations:

- What is the appeal of the event?

- How does it fit with your brand?

- Who is the target audience?

- What is the rights fee, and how does that stack up against the potential benefits?

- What kind of awareness does the event have? Is there established equity, or is it a new property?

- What kind of media value does the property deliver?

- What is the PR or ‘talk value’ of the event?

- Will the brand receive credit for its association with the event?

- Will the brand be perceived as adding value to consumers through its participation?

- Is there opportunity to generate corporate goodwill through support of the event or an associated charity?

- Are there database marketing opportunities associated with the event?

- Is there scope for corporate hospitality, to help generate additional business-to-business opportunities?

- Can the sponsorship be integrated into the company’s own internal incentive programs?

- Are there broadcast or Webcast opportunities associated with the event?

- Are there A/V integration or on-site signage opportunities?

- Are there opportunities to ‘back-sell’ (that is, to reinforce your brand’s association with the event afterwards)?

The event planner’s role

If you opt to develop a proprietary event, then an event planner can assist in designing a property that addresses corporate objectives, while keeping the quality of the attendee’s experience very much in mind.

As a starting point, try developing an itinerary by mentally walking through the event from start to finish. Create a unifying theme, and then weave that throughout each component of the event. Look for enhancements that will create talk value, and make your event unique.

A comprehensive event management plan should cover all of the items on the following checklist:

- An event staffing plan

- Budget estimates

- Source suppliers

- Site selection

- Facility inspection

- Securing of permits and insurance

- Release and declaration documents and waivers

- Tickets and invitations

- Excursions, activities and other enhancements

- Travel and hospitality arrangements

- Ground transportation

- Talent booking

- Production

- Communications

- Security

- Signage and theme decor

- Media and public relations

- Emergency services

- A risk management plan

- A wrap party

- A final assessment and determination of key lessons learned

Having developed and executed unique brand-driven events for major clients, such as the Polar Beach Party in the Arctic for the U.S. launch of Molson Ice, Encore has learned important lessons about such initiatives. All events, whether large- or small-scale, require the same attention to detail from both event organizers and the corporate sponsor. And one should never let logistical difficulties get in the way of a big idea if the concept is right for the brand.

How companies benefit from events

Event marketing is the perfect vehicle for companies seeking opportunities to touch consumers directly – and consumers touched by an event can become outstanding ambassadors for a brand. In the U.S., for example, NASCAR fans are major advocates for those corporate sponsors that support the racing circuit. Handled properly, event marketing can build brand loyalty more effectively than just about any other marketing discipline.

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