“A region in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer.”
Event Horizon is a column by new Access recruit Stuart Wood, taking a look at the events industry from a newcomer’s perspective. In this second instalment, he treads the perilous waters of Instagram, millennials and avocado toast to bring back some tips for the event industry’s older generation.
On 26 October, I attended The Business of Events Senior Leadership Forum, a conference in Westminster which brought together leading figures from the events industry and government to discuss some key issues.
Just before lunch, everyone in the room was asked to line up along the back wall in order of how long they had worked in the events industry. At the far right, many veterans reached into 40 or 50+ years. But at the far left, second only to a new staffer who had joined five days ago, was me: proudly contributing four months of industry experience to the grand total.
I tweeted a picture of the line from Access’ sister publication Conference News, proclaiming: “Surely with this much brainpower we can solve some industry problems?” Shortly after, I received a tongue-in-cheek reply from another eventprof, who suggested: “Or does it mean there are too many old ***** and not enough new ideas?”
Let’s be fair here: this was a conference titled the Senior Leadership Forum, and it was explicitly aimed at those who know the industry inside and out from years of experience. But it got me thinking, nonetheless: is the events industry in touch with the younger generation?
Harnessing the power of Instagram
A story recently cropped up over on Exhibition News, which caught my eye for a similar reason. We received an email from a gentleman named Ian Carpenter, who successfully launched a new event, The London Brunch Festival, at the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch this September.
Carpenter launched the event by spending his savings for a flat deposit on hiring the venue, while working a bar job in the evenings and sleeping on friends’ sofas. He spent only £1,000 on marketing the entire event – one quarter-page magazine ad and some Facebook advertising.
The event managed to attract 4,000 attendees in its first incarnation, and it achieved this by harnessing the power of viral marketing on Instagram. Carpenter sought out a number of relatively low-level social media influencers, and offered them a number of tickets with which to hold giveaways and contests for their followers.
What Carpenter lost in ticket sales, he made up in footfall and visibility. Getting 4,000 bodies through the door meant more money being spent on tasty (and highly Instagrammable) brunch. In the end, it’s a win-win for both the organisers and the social media influencers promoting the event, who are after content to deliver to their followers.
Of course, this is an unusual and fairly unique method of marketing which is certainly not applicable to all events. And it does also raise some ethical questions about paid promotions on social media, and whether people are aware they are being advertised to.
But it is an example of event marketing that is in touch with the younger generation, and the ways they consume content. Too often, I hear people in events making broad generalisations about millennials this and millennials that – a term that makes me shiver a little bit.
Question – does anyone actually identify as a millennial? Has anyone ever said to you: “well, as a millennial, I believe this avocado toast is fantastic?” And if they did, could you resist punching them in the face? Rather than bandying around meaningless buzzwords, the industry should be learning from creative marketing campaigns that are reaching real young people, and not nebulous, poorly-defined demographics.
An invite to a fake wedding…
While we’re on the topic of buzzwords, here’s another one I’ve begun to take with a healthy dose of scepticism after four months in the events industry: experiential. Perhaps it’s because my first exposure to the concept was hearing something at my first trade show described as an ‘experiential experience’, but I’ve been a little dubious of the term.
Too often at events, ‘experiential’ means a VR headset in the corner while the standard drinks and canapes go round the room. Sometimes it might mean a giant robot or dinosaur roaming the show floor. But it’s rare that an event or marketing campaign stands out as a genuine experience – something that sticks in the memory and which you want to tell other people about.
Amba Hotel in Charing Cross recently pulled off one such event. ‘Upgrade to Amba’ sent us a mysterious invite which only promised an ‘immersive experience’. I was fully expecting another VR headset, but what we ended up getting drawn into was a bit different.
After being asked to wait in a room which slowly filled up with attendees, we were then led into a hall filled with flowers and ribboned chairs, where a groom and best man were stood nervously at the front. Music began playing and a bride-to-be walked down the aisle, before we found ourselves in the middle of a wedding ceremony between two people who had allegedly first met on Charing Cross station, situated just below the hotel.
They were actors, of course, but they were convincing enough, and the event was put together with enough mystery, that we believed it for a few moments. After the wedding, we were roped into a fake product launch from a cheesy, QVC-style salesman, and then unleashed into the main hall where an elaborate Christmas-themed party was fronted by a vocal jazz band.
The evening, we realized a little later on, was intended to promote the fact that Amba Hotels is a suitable venue for weddings, product launches and parties. But it was to the venue’s credit that they never explicitly spelled it out, and left us to put the pieces together.
Mystery and virality can make the difference
Upgrade to Amba and the London Brunch Fest are two examples of creative and entrepreneurial marketing campaigns that understand how young people think in 2018. In an age where even children are used to being bombarded with adverts, mystery and virality can make the difference when promoting an event.
But the wider industry, not just marketing teams, should be taking note. Events are a sector with a huge amount of experience and knowledge, but to continue our pattern of growth we need to make sure we’re not just shouting buzzwords into a seminar echo chamber. We need to make sure we understand what my generation wants, and how it can be packaged in an exciting and creative way.