CONFERENCES AND EXHIBITIONS: Revival of the roadshow

Although a cost-effective promotional tool, roadshows need to be tailored to individual cultures to make an impact.

Although a cost-effective promotional tool, roadshows need to be

tailored to individual cultures to make an impact.

Roadshows are the mirror image of exhibitions, conferences and single-

location product launches. They borrow ideas and technology from each,

but instead of the audience having to turn up for an event, the event

comes to them.

The equipment for a roadshow - stage sets and props, presentation

scripts and audio-visual material - can be re-used many times, and

appears as if new to each audience.

The logistics of such events require careful planning and organisation.

If the presenters belong to a company’s senior management, the sets and

equipment may have to be leap-frogged between venues to avoid wasting

time between presentations.

Howard Burbidge, business development director at the production

company, Conference and Incentive Travel Partnership, says the

relaxation of border controls across Europe has raised the importance of

international roadshows. ‘With modifications, you can take a UK show

around Europe,’ he says. ‘It is easy to run a truck across borders, and

the multiple use of the equipment offers better value for money.’

The development of electronic multimedia has further increased the

attractiveness of roadshows. LCD projectors - compact computer-to-screen

interfaces which incorporate sound and lighting - can now be used

instead of bulky projection and audio equipment, making transportion


Lois Jacobs, the managing director of the presentations company, HP:ICM,

believes roadshows play a fundamental role in marketing and employee

communications. This is despite the use of satellite-based private

television networks and the ability to send messages via CD-Rom. ‘The

roadshow continues to thrive because it gives people the chance to meet

face to face,’

Jacobs says. ‘It allows senior management to meet their employees or

customers in a natural environment. And it gives all parties an

opportunity to understand and question corporate objectives.

Effective, live communication touches hearts and minds in a way that is

impossible with all other media.’

The software giant, Lotus, launches roadshows every year across

Continental Europe to present its latest technology to dealers,

customers and the media.

It is currently organising a follow-up to last year’s roadshow, which

incorporated live events in London, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt and Milan.

The tours were managed by MWA, a division of Spectrum Communications,

and meant employing two technical teams in order to set up one show

while another was in progress.

‘Part of our job as a management agency is to ensure that we keep the

schedule as tight as possible,’ explains MWA’s managing director, Mark

Wallace. ‘The company presenters can jump on a plane, fly to the next

venue and do another event the following day. This allows us to combine

a number of events in the shortest possible time.’

The Lotus presentations are usually supported by live, on-stage software

demonstrations, which are displayed on large screens on either side of

the stage and interspersed with video clips.

For its roadshows, Citroen UK employs a conference format for its

events, which take place two to three times a year. These ‘fleetforums’

enable the fleet director, Ken Forbes, to give a presentation to dealers

and corporate buyers, which is then followed by an open discussion.

MWA also managed these events, and provides Critioen with value for

money because the sets were actually designed three years ago.

The presentations are illustrated by computer graphics and animation,

displayed on a large screen and accompanied by sound and lighting - the

equipment for which accompanies the roadshow to each venue.

While many roadshows tend to have tight budgets, some are more lavish

and theatrical. One of the more elaborate events was staged by General

Motors for the launch of its Opel Tigra model. While one roadshow was

visiting seven UK venues, another toured Continental Europe, taking in

three locations in Germany and others in France, Spain, Italy and

Switzerland. To pick up on the fun theme of the TV ads, featuring Harry

Enfield, the Tigra Coupe was depicted as a way to rediscover the joys of

motoring. The central theme was developed by HP:ICM, with managers from

each of Opel’s major markets. The creative vehicle was a giant ‘photo

album’ featuring the happy memories of a series of future Tigra owners.

Different pages of the album were represented by live actors playing

Tigra ‘owners’ and vast blow-up graphics.

Multimedia technology brought the set to life through audio-visuals,

videos, voiceovers and music, while the live cast performed mime and


The spoken parts were pre-recorded in the languages of the countries


‘The soundtrack was recorded by local actors in each country, working

with local theatre directors,’ HP:ICM’s director, Julian Pullan,

explains. ‘The presenters were from Opel’s management in each market, so

again there were no language problems.’

To maintain a continuous schedule, the set - which included a cycloramic

screen with revolving panels - was duplicated and two fleets of

articulated vehicles went to alternate venues to set up the equipment in

advance. The venues included a marquee at Longchamps racecourse in Paris

and a former railway station in Seville.

General Motors Europe’s director of advertising, Richard Dunster, says

the roadshow format was chosen to keep the company’s communications

consistent and allow cost savings when compared with individually-

prepared launches in each market.

Dunster comments on the show’s light-hearted theme: ‘They say humour

doesn’t travel well, but I think it travels better than they say.’

When the white goods manufacturer, Whirlpool, needed to secure a trade

commitment across ten countries for its brand transfer from Philips

Whirlpool to the standalone name, Whirlpool, the company decided to

launch a package of trade support initiatives, new products and ad

campaigns. The stage equipment for the accompanying roadshow was

transported from city to city in 40ft articulated vehicles, which were

prominently branded to form part of the promotion.

The roadshow’s venues ranged from modern conference halls in western

Europe to a town hall in Poland.

Although the shows were co-ordinated and funded centrally through

Whirlpool’s European headquarters in Varese, near Milan, the

presentations were all by local managers. ‘It is important to be

extremely sensitive to the cultural variations within Europe,’ says

Bridget Laing, deputy managing director of HP:ICM, which managed the

event. ‘We were in direct contact with the management in the local

markets to decide with them what changes needed to be made to the core


She adds: ‘All branding was sympathetic to the advertising campaign, so

we worked in co-ordination with the agency [Publicis and its subsidiary,


This is a common feature of most roadshows. Care is taken to ensure that

the message is compatible between all forms of promotion. Howell Henry

Chaldecott Lury and Partners’ roadshow for BhS, for example, was also

used as a film-shoot for the accompanying TV campaign.

HHCL’s joint creative director, Steve Henry, comments: ‘We have our 3-D

concept that we will oversee, and direct all marketing communications so

that they are consistent.’

Roadshows such as the one for BhS are managed by HHCL’s subsidiary, In

Real Life. Its managing partner, Richard Zucker, says: ‘Roadshows have

the power, like no other medium, to be personal, focused and


As a highly effective marketing tool, roadshows are often used to woo

investors in support of flotations and privatisations. One organisation

that has made a speciality of this is the multi-disciplinary

communications company, Imagination. It has been responsible for shows

such as the one for this year’s second tranche of the privatisation of

National Power and PowerGen. The tours covered 39 cities in the UK,

Europe and the US.

The financial roadshow is ‘the culmination of the entire marketing

programme,’ Imagination’s director, Paul MacKay, says. ‘It is the only

opportunity the company has to state its case in its own terms, face to

face with the key audience of potential investors.’


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