There are plenty of forums, exhibitions and associations providing platforms for the latest ideas, services and devices designed to help planners and organisers up the creative ante at their event.
ISES UK, Tech Fest, MPI meetings International Confex have all recently brought the best of blue sky conference thinking to the fore.
Destination and venue alliances are increasingly injecting creative USPs into their marketing techniques. Sometimes that stems from common roots in a sector such as an ‘energy’ or ‘sport’, as they attempt to not only swap inside information, but collaborate to keep the creative bar high.
The International Association of Conference Centres (IACC) – Americas recently offered its members a series of ‘golden nugget’ takeaways at its global innovations workshop during its annual conference. Workshop moderator, John Potterton challenged participants to present examples of innovations they had introduced and share the ideas, services and new products with fellow members.
The format was also creative: a rapid series of five-minute case studies gave members an opportunity to highlight one issue and explain the solution they found and the impact it had on customers or staff.
Contributions came from members in Japan, US, Canada, UK, Denmark and France with topics that included the welcome experience, the audio-visual experience, the food and beverage experience, operations efficiencies, the learning experience, the meeting room environment, the conference centre experience, the concierge experience and the meeting experience.
From the US, a new concept for managing a meeting room’s AV equipment from your smartphone was demonstrated by FLIK Conference Centers who have incorporated it in their centres throughout the country.
IACC’s Japanese member, Benchmark Conference Centres Japan, demonstrated how they use LED technology to create colour-changing effects in their lobby areas and creative thinking was demonstrated on the topic of meeting room design, by France’s Chateauform which related how it transformed several spaces to stimulate thought, creativity and discussions.
Kapellerput Conference Centre in The Netherlands described its tree house meeting room concept and Lotta Boman, CEO and Owner of Sigtunahojden Conference Centre, near Stockholm broke down the barriers (both literally and figuratively) of the reception desk that traditionally stands between conference staff and customers.
Inspiration & experiential
Keeping things fresh and exciting in the corporate event world, meanwhile, can be challenging, especially when there is the restraint of tight budgets and short lead times. However, the demand for creative events continues to grow and it’s up to organisers, as well as venues, to come up with ways to stimulate imaginations and produce an event that is both inspirational and on budget.
It is arguably easier to be more creative if the backdrop for a big event has a wow factor.
Rachael Cotton, Head of Trade and Corporate Sales at Alton Towers Resort, says her clients have high expectations.
“This drives us to constantly think ‘what else?’ in all aspects of events. Being resourceful and having the UK’s number one theme park on our doorstep are two key parts of how we deliver over and above expectations and sometimes all it takes is to hop out of that proverbial box and look at all the options in front of you.”
Cotton adds it is important to agree the objectives before seeking creative strategies to achieve them.
But where does the ‘wow’ and the inspiration for an event come from?
Cotton believes it is a matter of casting around and seeing what your peers have done, as well as exploring case studies.
Delegates can relate easily to real-life storytelling, she adds. “Humans are extremely visual which is why good visuals are essential for any case study”.
Cotton also advises taking heed of event blogs for finding inspiration. She recommends Event Juice and Event Brite for practical tips and events designed to encourage creativity.
“They also offer a chance to engage in conversation with people that might not necessarily be in your direct network but could potentially help you out,” Cotton adds.
“Many trade publications also offer widely read blog platforms. The Conference News blog provides a platform for discussion that has given us the opportunity to talk to readers about topics such as team bonding and creative events within budget. Social media opens up an endless pool of opportunity and if you search carefully, a chance to find inspiration from others and engage in discussions relevant to your business.”
Twitter hashtags such as #EventHour, #EventProfs and #EventProfsUK attract thousands of people to share tips, discuss topics and build relationships, while Pinterest provides a visual platform for finding inspiration.
Searches at ‘corporate events’ and ‘business event ideas’ bring up hundreds of boards and pins full of interesting items, from table decorations and invitations to themes and catering.
For all the SM and online advice, facetime with your team leaders should not be forgotten as a means of brainstorming and finding creative solutions and ideas, says Cotton.
“Sit down and use your team as a sounding board. A team can bring the wackiest of ideas back to earth and develop concepts that are deliverable but without losing that all important creativity.
“Brainstorming sessions can be used for all elements of an event from the lighting and entertainment, to the theme and the food; it’s better to have the vision of a team than just one person’s view. People can bring different strengths or skills to the table.”
Budgets remain crucial to creative discussion and the recession meant the industry had often to think more laterally to find solutions that would allow planners to deliver an event that was exciting but didn’t require endless amounts of money.
Cotton urges organisers to use online connections to find value. “It could be a lighting specialist you met at an event a couple of years back or perhaps someone you know from university who happened to go into contract catering.
“Whoever it is, you’ve got nothing to lose, what’s the worst that could happen?”
Another way of adding an element of creativity without spending a fortune is looking at emerging businesses that might just need that big break. From start-up companies offering team building to independents providing quirky services. They often just need a break to showcase their services and you could get a bargain, into the bargain.
Getting creative on the road
Steve Manfield, Area Director Marketing UK & Ireland, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, helped create an experiential marketing roadshow, designed as a different approach to the traditional sales visit.
With a specially built 20m events truck, this experiential marketing campaign took the brand experience on the road to planners across the country. Guests entering the truck got to learn more about the Radisson Blu meetings concept during a distinctive sensory experience, including live chef demonstrations and audio visual presentations.
Beginning at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, Guildford on 11 June, the roadshow runs until August throughout the UK and Ireland. Over a thousand third party agencies and corporate companies were invited.
“We’ve taken an unconventional approach to B2B marketing by creating an ‘experiential campaign’ with the aim of bringing the consumer up-close and personal with Radisson Blu Experience Meetings,” says Manfield. “We wanted to create a point of difference from brands with similar offerings”
Actively participating in conferences can be overwhelming for some quieter delegates who may be anxious about speaking out in front of bolder, more confident attendees. Equally, delegates intimidated by public speaking or presenting their ideas in front of a large group of their peers may shy away from contributing, thus denying the discussion some potentially important insights.
So that organisers can tap into all delegates’ creative potential, digital and media production agency, Really Creative Media designed a Social Media Visualisation app that captures and displays feeds from a number of online social media sources to create a communication platform for delegates. The meek can now inherit the meetings Earth (if that’s alright with everyone else).
Bashful but creative delegates can post questions and comments to a dedicated social media channel or hashtag which are then physically brought into the live conference arena through the provision of AV.
As Hashtag Live utilises social media, it opens up the live discussion to audiences not in the room, bringing together the real and virtual worlds for debate.
Really Creative Media transformed The Vamps’ recent gig at Westfield into a participatory event for international audiences through the use of Hashtag Live. The band launched their new album with a 30-minute set at Westfield London followed by a Q&A session with fans. Westfield wanted to create an experience which truly engaged the audience and allowed them to actively participate in the event.
Hashtag Live increased audience engagement and displayed messages to the band as the event space was too noisy for fans to ask their questions out loud. The app pulled data live from the web which was then overlaid onto a webstream broadcast for the online audience and to eight screens around the live event space.
Fiona Kyle, General Manager Events & Entertainment at Westfield London, said: “Fans got involved, posing questions for the band members. We were able to extend the campaign to more than just those physically present in the experience.”
Those eager to dive more deeply into the creative engagement theme should contact EVCOM live communications and events association and the UK chapter of the International Special Events Society, both associations have more to say on the subject.
This was first published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston