Beauty and the Beast

I have been in this blessed events industry for 13 years and never cease to be amazed by the event as a nearly perfect communication tool … but the frequent misuse of this format still drives me crazy.

“Beauty” is a tool that, in times when capturing attention is increasingly complicated, not only draws the interest of people but their expectation, their dedication to experience what you want them to experience, their commitment. When other tools have to fight against the volatility of an increasingly difficult target, the advantage of the event is of utmost importance.

“Beauty”, because when companies have let go of the idea of merely introducing a product, the event allows them to stage a brand experience. When companies have let go of communicating with mere logos or promotional messages, the event provides a way of interaction with the five senses. When Unilever creates “Unilever home “, when Axe creates “Space Jump”, when Red Bull creates its “Soapbox Race car”, they communicate a complete experience; differentiated brand positioning that is memorable and even newsworthy. Without limiting ourselves to the consumer goods sector, when SAP presents the Sapphire event, it brings customers and developers in contact with its entire ecosystem and all its added values, unlike any other marketing tool.

“Beauty”, because companies need to connect, and it is clearer than ever that the real connection is the physical connection. The act of seeing causes chemical reactions that cannot be achieved online.  In the way that we react we are still animals: there is nothing better than seeing, touching, talking. Whilst the online world is wonderful, and the social networks are here to stay and remain a fundamental part of any communication, it is clear that true loyalty and the ability to build strong relationships require face-to-face interaction.

But events can also be” the Beast”, and the dangers that threaten the proper use of events are harmful indeed:

– “Hospitality”. Some still see events as part of the “hospitality industry”. As if the aim of the event was to organise a nice dinner. Yes, good food and pleasant venues are necessary but events are a communication tool, full stop. Our industry cannot devote 80% of available time and budget to logistics, food and entertainment, and almost no communication. What Maarten Vanneste denounced in his book ‘ Meeting Architecture ‘ is still a problem in our industry, logistics and hospitality take up far too much time.

Not looking for ROI. This old debate rages on. No one yet knows if the ROI on events is measurable or not. But no matter, we still have to look for it. Looking for ROI means defining what we want to happen after the event, what we want attendees to do, to say, to buy. The point of the event is not what happens during, but what will happen next. Our industry is too focused on what happens in the event, the experience offered, the smiles harvested. No: an event serves to make things happen afterwards, and if we cannot define this the event will not be useful.

– Not having a clear brief.  “I want to motivate employees and to introduce new products” is not even the beginning of a brief. Steve Harrison in his book “How to do better creative work ” explains: one of the hardest parts of writing a creative brief is to capture the brief well , ask good questions, understand the situation and the objectives of the company. An event cannot exist without a briefing. A one-page fax is unlikely to result in a successful event. The brief should be a process, a diagnosis, which is cruelly lacking in this sector.

– “I cook it, I eat it.” A corporate events manager told me recently: “any product manager in my company thinks they are an events expert, and tells me what to do”.  And it does look really simple. But until we respect the event as a delicate medium of communication, which requires knowledge of psychology, neuroscience, sociology, space management, use of symbols, group psychology … it will continue to be classified as hospitality.

In short, events are the way forward but too often are seen as a dinner at home rather than as a strategic communication tool. Let’s extol the beauty of the event and all come together to solve the “beast” aspects.

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