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.’