Events have long been a valuable marketing tool for businesses wanting to promote their services, generate leads, and advocate for their brand, as well as reach new markets or re-engage their current audience through the power of incredible experiences. But how does one ensure that their events can prove tangible ROI and be genuinely justifiable to stakeholders and decision-makers?
We sat down with Alistair Turner, Managing Director of EIGHT PR, a London-based PR and marketing company specialising in the world of events, to quiz him on how experiences can be an invaluable part of a company’s marketing mix. Read on for his expert insights, straight from the horse’s mouth!
Fundamentally, I think consumer tastes and needs are evolving. We’re now faced with a more sceptical society that is less trusting of brands, so the ones that find success must go beyond simply what they say to customers, and focus on what they actually do for them. This is where events come in.
At their best, events join the dots between the gift of an enriching and nourishing experience, while building the trust and immersion a consumer needs to become loyal to the brand. Ultimately, it needs to be more than just words and pictures on pages or online.
It’s also worth talking about how more and more marketing spend is being moved into digital marketing. This leaves two opportunities; the first is the need for more tangible and ‘real’ marketing mediums, of which events represent the perfect antidote. The second is the need for instigation; social media works around ‘moments’, and this is what events offer.
Are events an essential addition to a successful marketing strategy?
I would argue (somewhat biasedly) that they are essential. I can’t conceive of a marketing mix that has no face-to-face element; a purely print and digital strategy for me is linear and lifeless, it lacks pure engagement and interaction and borders on boring.
Equally, the idea of a marketing mix is that it does ‘mix’. The event stimulates advertising, which is complemented by live, and vice versa. Through-the-line activities like events and sponsorships bring all mediums closer together and add to their collective value.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges with using events as a marketing tool?
At the moment, there is a lot of work going on in the industry to ascertain the longer-term effects of an activation. There is no long-term value to the industry by asking people if they ‘liked’ the experience they had at an event; it’s about how we track their actions after it.
This is really difficult, but it does move us closer to other marketing mediums that have a similar issue e.g PR, Sponsorship, and print advertising. This is also where integrated marketing, across the marketing mix, has a future. Evaluation needs to be done in concert with other disciplines:
- How many people did the advert drive to the event?
- How much social media did the event drive?
- How did employee satisfaction move post-event?
- How much more company understanding is there after a conference?
These are the questions that marketing and brand executives need to be asking to reverse engineer experiences and get the most out of what we do.
One of the other areas of immediate concern to the industry is waste. I recently did some research on Centennial mindsets and summarized the thinking as: « don’t waste my time, don’t waste my money, don’t waste resources ». Events have an immediate perception as being wasteful, not least in terms of the sustainability impact of travel and production. Waste is an important way of looking at this. Consumers don’t mind spending, they want things to be worth it and have value. But if they don’t, they see it as waste and will attack any guilty brands.
How can planners stretch out the marketing value of their events?
I think this needs to be built into the brief from the start and as part of an integrated approach. There shouldn’t be anything called a ‘one-off event’. We need to call them campaigns, activations, programmes, etc. No other marketing medium is reliant on one day! It’s also important to leverage your event content as much as possible to extend its shelf life.
What else contributes to a successful marketing mix in 2023?
I think targeted briefs are increasingly important. The rise in personalisation means that brands can choose their customers and not vice versa. I’m fully behind a more modern approach where brands profile the audience they have the most affinity with, not just from a product perspective, but from a values perspective. Nike did this excellently with their work around the Colin Kapernick stance.
If these briefs are tight, from an audience point of view as well as a values point of view, event marketers can really let their creativity run wild in a way that adds intrinsic value.
Yes, I use them as a massive dose of goodwill. I don’t set too many expectations for an event. For me they are like parties with friends; everyone gets enriched by operating in a home environment. I fully expect wild and wonderful things to spiral out of the event, that adds value to everyone present. It’s the essence of EightPR and our The Club approach. It’s a big part of what we do and who we are. We also know the corporate and brand world really well, and we do lots of research to get closer to how businesses see events and better understand how we can work collaboratively together.
Are there any useful resources you can recommend to planners?
I’d suggest reading the IBTM World Trends Report, and I’d also look at the session I did with Chorus and TikTok on Centennial mindsets, which we presented at Cvent Connect in London last year. There is loads of really good stuff on top of those resources, but this is a shameless plug for my own humble inputs into the discussion!
We hope these insights are useful for you when thinking about how events can fit into your own marketing strategies. To hear more from Al, he’ll be speaking at International Confex on 1st and 2nd March, so make sure to register for the show and head down to his sessions.
Alistair Turner is Managing Director of EIGHT PR & Marketing, a specialist creative agency servicing the events industry. Alistair has over 20 years experience in the PR and events industries, working closely with key trade associations as well as the UK government.