CONFERENCES AND EXHIBITIONS: Breaking brands with an event

Marketers are coming round to the notion of events as a vital launch tool. The key, Robert Dwek says, is to seek synergy with the rest of the promotions strategy

Marketers are coming round to the notion of events as a vital launch

tool. The key, Robert Dwek says, is to seek synergy with the rest of the

promotions strategy

Though traditionally considered a less potent part of the marketing mix,

conferences and exhibitions are an increasingly popular option for

brands wanting to break into new countries or markets.

The increased emphasis on brand and corporate values in recent years

means that internal communications are of much greater interest to

marketers than they were in the past. And media fragmentation has

increased the attractions of using face-to-face techniques for external


Car manufacturers have long recognised the importance of the live event.

The unique nature of the car market and its reliance on dealers to sell

to the consumer means that if you don’t get these valuable middlemen on

board, your brand vision could be severely jeopardised.

Non-car-literate folk are often amazed at the vast mountains of money

that are lavished on car launches, but the manufacturers know a false

economy when they see one.

HP:ICM, one of the UK’s biggest events specialist, has been heavily

involved in the launch of the Vauxhall Vectra, a brand already

established on the Continent and now launched in the UK to replace the

Cavalier. HP:ICM stresses how closely it works with advertising agencies

to ensure that the internal message is perfectly in synch with the

external message.

‘A lot of the meetings we’ve had with Vauxhall have also been attended

by its agency, Lowe Howard-Spink,’ Lois Jacobs, the managing director of

HP:ICM, says. ‘There’s no point just getting a message across to the

general public if the people interacting with them are not reflecting

the same message.’

Peter Stephenson-Wright, who works on the Vectra account at Lowes, says:

‘Conferences and exhibitions are another essential part of the

communications process. Most of what we do is external, but the

divisions between external and internal do blur and should tie together.

‘The trick is trying to get the two looking like they are acting for the

same product and the same company at the same time. It’s quite

remarkable how many events you go to where external and internal don’t

look alike.’

According to Stephenson-Wright, the biggest problem in the relationship

between ad agencies and events specialists is the different timescales


‘Because venues are in such demand, they generally have to be booked

very early. This means that the people working on the events side of

things are often working on the project much earlier than the people

creating the advertising. If you’re not careful, this can get in the way

of a seamless communications campaign.’

Stephenson-Wright is also critical of some events organisers for falling

into the trap of bombarding the attendee with too much information. ‘As

ad agencies, we are constantly under pressure to find just one message

and to communicate it as succinctly as possible. The best presentations

companies are the ones that realise this and use it to keep their

message as focused as possible.’

Despite this quibble, he believes there is usually quite a high level of

co-operation between the two groups. This is particularly true where a

client encourages long-term relationships with its suppliers, as in the

case of the Vauxhall parent, GM.

‘It’s up to the client to foster respect among its suppliers for each

other,’ Stephenson-Wright adds. ‘The minute you start from a factional

basis, you throw up barriers. The key is to delineate roles so clearly

that there can be no question of who does what. The death-knell for any

co-operation is having blurred areas of responsibility - the agency and

presentation company will become suspicious of each other.’

Scott Garrett, a senior account director at Chrysler’s ad agency,

Delaney Fletcher Bozell, has nothing but praise for DIA, the events

specialist which helped relaunch the US car manufacturer in the UK. ‘I

can’t speak highly enough of it,’ he enthuses.

When it exhibited its Jeep and Cherokee models at the 1992 Birmingham

International Motor Show, Chrysler had not actually started selling or

marketing the cars in the UK. There was no advertising to speak of, so

DIA had nothing to base its stand design on.

It did, nevertheless, consult with Delaney Fletcher Bozell, which was

still at the drawing-board stage, and managed to come up with a stand

which reflected the rugged, American, outdoors yet stylish image that

would later feature in the advertising campaigns.

‘DIA is a company which understands advertising values and one which

takes time to listen to the ad agency,’ Garrett says. Others, he claims,

are less collaborative. ‘I’ve worked with Reed Exhibitions, which is

huge, but it tends to like everything to stem from the exhibition. It

seems to have difficulty in seeing an exhibition as just one part of the

marketing process.’

DIA admits its Chrysler stand was ‘not cheap’. Nor was a more recent

stand it designed for the US brewer, Budweiser, which tried to develop

its distribution network in Europe and Eastern Europe (yes, even in the

Czech Republic, home of the other Budweiser). This was a no-expenses-

spared replica of a real working bar, which had to be transported from

one venue to the next.

But Richard da Costa, the managing director of DIA, says companies

cannot afford to be penny-pinching when it comes to face-to-face

communications. ‘There are occasions when you have to confront your

potential customer in a very direct way which allows you to demonstrate

your brand in a three-dimensional context.

‘The problem is one of needs versus desires - a client may desire to do

an advertising campaign, which means the budget will not be constrained

too much by cost considerations. But that client will feel a need to do

an exhibition, which means it immediately becomes price conscious. It’s

the difference between buying a new pounds 500 suit and spending

pounds 5 to dry clean an existing one. You don’t blink at the pounds 500

but you begrudge forking out the fiver.’

Mondex International, the company behind the ‘cashless society’

experiment in Swindon, certainly has no qualms about spending large

amounts of money on exhibitions. It uses them to attract licensees for

its brand new brand which, it believes, will soon be a powerful global


‘It does mean spending quite a lot of money,’ says a Mondex spokeswoman,

Angela Walker-Page, ‘especially when you look at the costs of personnel

and shipping the stand, but we feel we get a lot out of them. Mondex is

a product which you have to see and touch and feel to understand; it’s

very difficult to explain in written language. Having said that, we

choose the exhibitions that we attend very carefully.’

BT used the recent Live 95 exhibition at Earl’s Court as a launchpad for

its entry into a completely new market - the brave new world of online


The events specialist, Imagination, designed a stand which had a strong

live aspect, with MTV-style entertainment throughout the day and banks

of BT telephones offering free calls to anywhere in the UK.

‘The whole concept behind this stand,’ says Ralph Ardill, the marketing

director of Imagination, ‘was Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s ‘It’s good to

talk’ ad campaign. Our task was to bring it to life in a way that was

exciting and relevant to a young audience.’

So just how effective is this form of marketing? Unfortunately, the

stock response to this question involves hasty references to pieces of


‘It is very difficult to assess,’ Ardill argues. ‘Advertising

effectiveness is probably a much more developed science. You have to be

clear at the outset what it is exactly that you want to measure.

‘It’s easy enough to attract loads of people to your stand by offering

freebies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will remember it

when they go home, or that it has changed their perception of the


Steve Hill, marketing manager of Academy Expo, which has designed stands

promoting BA’s Club Class in ten different countries, is in no doubt

that live events are undervalued. ‘Clients and media planners should

realise that in many instances exhibitions and conferences are more

valuable than direct selling using a sales force.

‘You are face-to-face with buyers and suppliers and you have a captive

audience. If you’re competent at stand management and you have an

attractive display, you’ll be in a strong position to talk sensibly to

your target market.’

Whirlpool goes to India

The largest white goods manufacturer in the world, Whirlpool, launched

in India in September. It did this by acquiring one of the biggest

companies on the domestic white goods scene.

The strategy caused huge marketing headaches. Brand values had to be

succinctly, but effectively, communicated to Whirlpool’s mass of new

employees. The answer was to stage, with the help of HP:ICM, two

conferences in Delhi. The first targeted 800 employees; the second,

which took place later the same day, brought together 800 dealers for a

three-hour presentation and gala dinner.

Lois Jacobs, the managing director of HP:ICM, had assumed the dealers

would want a ‘no-nonsense, investigative style of presentation about

Whirlpool and its values’. However, after working with local teams and

gaining a better understanding of India’s theatrical and cinematic

traditions, the creative team felt that a more entertaining and

sophisticated approach would be more effective.

Compered by a well-known quiz-show host and also featuring the TV star,

Priya, the show stressed the knowledge Whirlpool had gleaned about the

Indian white goods market: the company did not want to seem like an all-

American newcomer. ‘The theme of the whole evening was partnership,’

Jacobs explains.


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