Measuring the Warm and Fuzzy: The Impossible Return on (Event) Investment

Tangible methods of measuring event effectiveness.

Frustrated Managing and Marketing Directors continue to scratch their heads as they are perpetually presented with bland ROI (Return on Investment) reports commenting on the effectiveness of their latest promo/ activation/ event.

Using simple economics, any self-respecting financial director will see the massive amount of cash that is being sunk into Marketing budgets and experiential eventing and ask the question “Was it worth it?”

From annual sales conferences and team building to product launches and award citations – the big brass have to have tangible proof that the money was well spent and that it was a sound investment.

The Direct Conflict of Interest

Marketing and HR departments are constantly being asked to provide results on the success of their events. It is human nature to ensure that the results of their hard work totally justify their efforts. I am not calling in to question their voracity, but it is a clear conflict of interest.

If your boss asked you to grade your performance and told you that you would lose your job if you graded badly – would you be totally honest?

Some clients take the higher ground and ask their events agency to incorporate an ROI tool into the event with participatory feedback from the attendees.

Again – surely the events agency has a vested interest to ensure that the results of their event – the creative they sold and delivered – is portrayed in the best possible light?


So how do you measure the warm and fuzzy?

Measurement of event effectiveness should be very simple:

Output before intervention     vs.     Output after intervention = Return on Investment (ROI)

A quick Google search will offer a myriad of ROI tools and theories, the majority of which sound like a wet rag.

These include:

  • Responses from the attendees
  • Client leads
  • Increase in brand position
  • Improvement in customer perception
  • Press/ Media Coverage
  • Survey results
  • Quality/ Fit of attendees
  • Response from management
  • Sales Growth
  • Client retention
  • Total attendance
  • Revenue generated from a paying event


While there are seeds of a strategy in these points – they are not rich solutions with real data that measures effectiveness.

Often the ROI strategy is developed AFTER the creative which is clearly the wrong way around. Any event or intervention is STRATEGIC – and a creative presentation should clearly identify the pathway from execution to desired results. In most event proposals – this is a glaring omission – leading to the fact that event companies are not taken seriously in most parts of the world. They are the “Rock and Rollers” and not directly linked to a successful outcome.

Before you DO anything – you need to decide on the outcome. Make a statement.

Here are some ideas:

Launch: “I want to sell 30 000 units in the next quarter”

Conference: “I want 70% retention of the five key messages after 12 months and a 5% increase in sales over the same period.”

Experiential Event: “I want 90% attendance of the TARGET market, 80% Conversion opportunities and 40% actual conversion.”

Team building: “I want 98% attendance and a 10% reduction in staff turn-over”.

These statements need to be Realistic, Tangible and Measurable.

Okay – so now you know what you WANT to do – the next question is HOW to achieve it.

Getting the Right People in the Room

In the case of a launch – getting the RIGHT people in the room is the first most critical point. Often launch venues are filled with staff, management, media, VIPs, collaborators and a posse of hangers-on. Rarely do the numbers of ACTUAL potential customers (who are poised to make the purchase decision there and then) outweigh those who are not. When you are counting the cost per head – this becomes a very expensive exercise.

The best investment a launch team can make is to fill their venue with individuals who are on the brink of making a purchase decision, open to options and willing to try new things. The strange thing is that in the new world information economy – these individuals probably have more information on the product than you will share with them (the internet is a great thing). They are there to be entertained, excited and to get hands-on experience.

There is no greater waste of resources selling to those who are clearly not interested – but are there for the free punch.

Go through the guest list and ask simply: “Will they buy or buy in?”

Perception versus Engagement

There is one thing liking an event and actually actively engaging. Event organisers (and marketers) often fall into the trap of measuring the success of an event by “satisfaction” and not by action. Any engagement requires a result – and one that can be measured.

“Just because I went to the event, doesn’t mean I engaged”.

“Just because I liked the launch, doesn’t mean I’ll buy the product”.

“Just because I remember what was said six months ago, doesn’t mean I did anything about it”.

“Just because your brand is the #1 recognised brand, doesn’t mean I’ll engage and use it”.

The engagement needs to compel the audience to take action. Without this – all the effort is pointless and expensive.

As an aside, I’ve been in many presentations where the PR team seem convinced that their event will make global headline news. The launch of a building or a new flavour of gum may be massive news to you – but the media often just are NOT interested. The relationship between marketing and Public Relations often becomes blurred in the event space with the respective teams battling for footprint.

Clearly establish the territory and ask for a considered external opinion as to how newsworthy your event is and plan around it.

Re-thinking Return on Investment

It seems that the term of “Return on Investment” has been largely misused. The return on investment should not initially be about the “Bang for your Buck” mentality. The “Return on Investment” should focus on giving the attendees ROI first. What do they get for the time they are investing? How is this proposition worth their while? Why is your presented solution in their best interests? How will their whites be whiter, colours brighter if they spend their hard-earned cash and use your product?

You need to show a direct link between your proposition and a better solution for them.

Whether you are selling soap, an idea, a proposition or a concept – the true value is in mapping the real return in investment for your audience. “How will this make things better for me?”

Magically – if you satisfy the Return on Investment for the audience, they will reciprocate by making your investment see a phenomenal return.

Finally, the buck must stop with the measurement of ROI – not by those involved in the event – but by individuals with nothing to lose. They need to report to the top directly and give honest, considered opinion and fact on the value that has been created and spent.

Ultimately – true positive Return on Investment leaves a company and attendee in a better position than they were before the show began and the fuzzy stuff started.


The Great Green Myth: Can you really have an environmentally friendly business?

A few years ago, I got a call from a business acquaintance wanting to set up some time with me to discuss a great new “green idea”.

I winced at the thought of another meeting around this buzz word but felt that I at least owed him the courtesy of some FaceTime and was willing to hear what he had to say.

A week later, we were sitting in a boardroom and, after the cursory small talk, he launched into his proposition. “we have a way to make all your events Carbon Neutral”.

My blood pressure rose a bar or two as he continued.

What this poor soul didn’t realize was that I have been spending years trying to understand this very conundrum.

Before you read further, please understand that you will probably feel more confused and frustrated after reading this article as I offer no solutions to this issue, only explore the flawed solutions that are being thrown our way.


The Carbon Neutral Hoax

Back to the meeting, I forced a smile and asked him to explain his solution.

He explained that his company would audit our footprint on the event (fuel/mileage/ electricity) and plant trees to offset the carbon credit.


That’s it? I couldn’t contain myself and unleashed my frustration on him.

The conversation went something like this:


Me: so you are telling me you are going to measure our carbon footprint by fuel, electricity, mileage etc. how do you quantify this? If you were going to honestly assess energy spent on an event, you would need to not only include all mileage and electricity used in pitching, co-ordination, pre-production – but surely assess the consumables and additional resources used in producing the event collateral as well as their associated impact. Print, animations, deliveries, gifts, courier movements and more. But what about our supplier processes? That 1000 lanyard order and USB sticks, didn’t they come from China? How do you assess that? They were personalized which proves they were bespoke and must surely be accounted for.

Green guy: yes, but…

Me: giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you could, indeed, account for all the energy used in all associated services in event delivery, what then?

Green guy: We will plant trees?

Me: Trees?

Green guy: Yes, in the Drakensburg (around 400km from Johannesburg).

Me: So let me get this straight, you are going to offset my carbon footprint by putting a bunch of saplings on the back of a large diesel truck, trek the. For over 400 kilometers to plant them in a freshly deforested area (leveled by heavy machinery). Can I also assume that the labour needed to plant these trees will get to their place of work by petrol taxi. The saplings will then be propagated and fed by water irrigation (plastic piping which also followed its own energy intensive distribution and manufacturing path). The water supply, too, would need to be pumped to a reservoir, using even more energy for at least two years until the sapling had taken root.

Green guy: But you don’t have to count that.

Me: Yes I do. If we are going to claim to be “Carbon Neutral” then we need to look at the entire footprint and not just the evident stomping ground. Fact is our impact and creation of need extends way beyond our line of sight. Our industry impacts on ecosystems around the world, from the badge-making resin machines in South East Asia to the fabric factories in India- all commissioned to satisfy my direct need.

Green guy: (speechless)

Me: I’m afraid I don’t buy the idea that you can accurately measure environmental impact holistically, nor can you truly offset my carbon footprint without creating additional environmental strain. Do you agree?

Green guy: (no comment)


Who’s got Green’s Back?

The fact is that the environment itself doesn’t have a bank account, team of lawyers or stronghold of dedicated, focused protectors. Small environmental groups and movements don’t stand a change against the majority of businesses whose primary aim is to make money. It doesn’t mean that big business doesn’t care, it’s just that they done know what to care about and how to care. We generally map our carbon footprint around what we can see and smell, rather than the impact our decisions are having on other environments, often half way across the globe.


Perceptually Green

It is often business’ compulsion to be perceived as being green To bolster public image and accent the sales and PR strategy. It is more important to be seen as doing the right thing than actually doing it. Spiritual wisdom indicates that if you are doing the right thing and have to tell people about it, you are probably doing it for the wrong reasons.


Whose footprint is it anyway?

So where does one company’s footprint end and the next begin. In other words, is it reasonable to expect others to clean up their own mess and be responsible? Well in a perfect world each company would ensure they were environmentally responsible. This is not a perfect world.


Fact is, environmental issues are at the bottom of most company’s agendas, especially the smaller ones. A good start would be to insist on your supplier’s environmental sustainability report and independent environmental impact audit before placing an order with them. This would move it up the agenda a few notches.



The Green Domino

Choosing to partner with truly responsible companies can not only create a powerful green domino effect but ultimately save you from fitting a much larger bill in the long run. The domino falls both ways, both forward in your own direct actions and back through your processes and supply.


The “Green” Conspiracy

There are still those who believe and would argue until they were blue (not green) that there is no conclusive proof of our effect on global warming. They argue that as we have only been measuring global temperatures for little over 100 years that we have no proof or evidence that the global warming and global cooling is a result of human intervention or purely cyclic.

They would also argue that there is evidence of pre-historic mutation, pointing to the fact that there have always been holes in our ozone layer.

The most compelling argument they would offer is that every element on earth has always been here. The only addition to our ecosystem is solar energy. The elements that make up our planet and our pollution have been here for millions of years and that our waste is merely inconvenient.


While some of these arguments have seeds of truth, the fact is that our intervention is creating a hostile environment where we continue to scar large parts of our world, making them uninhabitable and toxic. While the earth may have the ability to recover over hundreds and thousands of years, the human race does not. We only have one chance to make this work before this planet becomes too hostile to live in.


The Great Energy Debate

In Southern Africa, as in some other parts of the world, our national energy supplier actively advertises for people to stop using their product (a marketing first I’m sure). Constant commercials implore consumers to turn off their lights and geysers to avoid load shedding. They encourage the replacement of incandescent bulbs with CFL or LEDs – an absurd proposition.

As an aside, the simple incandescent bulb can be made in one factory, simplifying the production process. The CFL and LED have been known to comprise components and electronics from up to four countries, creating massive carbon footprints abroad before making it to our shores.


Green: A New Approach

As I said earlier in this post, I do not have solutions to our current predicament. I don’t believe that tree planting and buying carbon credits is a solution.

The first steps must surely be to consider our activity, create a positive trend by actively consolidating need. Turn a sharp eye on logistics, take one car to a meeting instead of two, ship items in fewer loads, making better use of transport networks.


1975 Ford Mustang vs a brand new Toyota Prius

Which is worse for the environment, a 1975 Ford Mustang V8 or a new Toyota Prius Hybrid?

Most would say it was obvious that the Prius would use less fuel and therefore beat the gas guzzler hands down.

Think again. It’s all about “need”. Why create a need for a new vehicle when you can lay your hands on one that exists.

The processes involved in making a new car, never mind a hybrid (whose battery itself is made in Europe, China and Japan before assembly) is purely catastrophic to any environment. From the tannery of the seat leather to the windscreen glass furnace pumping our heat of over 720 °C beyond its annealing point, creating unnecessary need is the environment’s biggest challengers.


I’m not saying we should end manufacturing new things, but we should simplify our demand. Do we really need seven different varieties of oranges from six different countries at our local supermarket or will one suffice? Marketing dictates that variety may be the spice of life, maybe we need to spice life up in other ways.


Finally, any company that claims to be carbon neutral shows a gross disregard for not only the environment, but our intelligence. These companies have hired “Green Consultants” to certify their efforts and assist in enhancing their reputation. It’s a direct conflict of interest, as they are hired and paid by the very company that they need to assess.

We are a long way from creating an alliance of responsible companies that honestly address their environmental impact globally.

We need to start the conversation again and understand that if we can’t see it or smell it here, someone else can over there.

Facebook is NOT your Marketing Strategy: When Social Media is not a right fit for your business.

When Social Media is not a right fit for your business.

There seems to be a disconnect – or at least a misunderstanding of exactly where the value of social media lies and how that connects with a business.

I have been in one too many boardrooms where the conversation turns to the “value of social media” and the fact that our events or activation MUST have twitter buzz. Why?

Let’s turn back the clock a bit – and only a bit – as these formats are relatively new (at least for the people grappling with synergy between brand and social zeitgeist).

Social media has grown exponentially successful as it seeks to close the gap between people that has been created by technology, globalisation, time and geography. It allows us to connect and re-connect with one another, measure and judge our own growth through our peers, follow and like things, give our opinion and feel like a global citizen with a verified number of friends or followers.

Part of the success and proliferation of social media is that it allows an unfiltered soapbox to individuals, regardless of stature or social standing, on an immediate global platform. It’s about people talking to people, expressing themselves, liking things, sharing their (mostly mundane) daily experiences for anyone who cares to listen.

For a generation that has yearned to be heard, technology has answered their call. Even if no-one pays attention – it still feels great to tweet and express one’s feelings and frustration – it’s cathartic.

But business wanted in on this. If people were talking to each other and connecting – where did business fit in – if at all? In fact, Facebook themselves have constantly strived to maintain (to various debatable degrees of success) a delicate balance between advertorial/ banner pops/ sponsored messages and personal content. (They have to make money right?)

Today’s marketers and Creative Professionals continue to grapple with the idea of how to promote a business/ product through social media. Some have had enormous amounts of success – with various ambush “like” strategies (Burger King’s Unfriend campaign being case in point).

Now I’m going to rant a bit.

Small business did, until recently believe that they HAD to have a web site. Once they had one – everything would be good in the world. The cash floodgates would open and money would roll in. That just didn’t happen. And while having a web presence made it easier to tell people about your business and product/ services, they still needed to know where to look. Marketers soon realised that a strategy was needed to get people to the site first – then compel them to make contact with the brand.

Web designers and “IT solutions consultants” would promise hits to the site and serve up monthly reports of traffic – often showing no correlation between actual sales and clicks.

Then came social media – from its roots in binary chat rooms to the fully fledged Facebook presence and Twitter feed – not to mention the various other permutations of Tumblr, Pintrest and many others. The wonderful world of web designers and marketers quickly developed a plan, hit the streets with their hipster thick-rimmed glasses and Macbook Pros, swarming the boardrooms, convincing the execs that the “Next Big Thing” was to ensure that they were “socially active”.

So which businesses should have a social media presence and which ones should focus their energies elsewhere?

If your business has a product to sell to the target market who use social media – then go ahead. Challenge your agency to come up with clever ways to get your public to engage with your brand in a real way, accepting and incorporating your brand into their peer group.

If your company has something to say and contribute to the community and people actually WANT to hear and know more, you too should have some form of online presence.

If your entity sells online and click-through is your daily bread – social media can be an important driver.

Let’s face it – most people would find some way to answer “Yes” to at least one of the statements above, validating their perception that they “need” a social media presence.

Before you jump on that bandwagon – let’s look at the flipside.

Social media is only effective if your presence is:

  • Honest
  • Consistent in language and personality
  • Perceived as valuable
  • Not exploitative
  • Seen as a peer and citizen of the group.

A business social media presence is, by definition, not honest. It is a fictitious personification of a brand. It is a thinly veiled sales and marketing tool to create brand awareness and drive sales. Measured by the above accepted rules of social media society, a company cannot be at all credible, but rather a tolerated annoying neighbour who has cool parties and gives cool gifts every now and then.

There are other drawbacks of running a Facebook account too:

While they are perceived as “free”, they are expensive to run and can cost your brand more than you bargained for. They need to be constantly maintained. When someone responds to a post or mentions you, you need to respond almost immediately.

Your content must be current and relevant, not just to the general public, but specifically to your ecosystem.

If you deliver a service, you must carefully weigh your own promotional needs against the confidentiality of your clients. Personally, I believe that any company that executes events for commercial clients should NEVER have a social media presence. In a work where companies need to celebrate and communicate – yet are constantly under scrutiny by hungry shareholders for return on investment – the last thing they want is a wayward agency bragging about the multi-million dollar project they just executed for them. Dangerous times!

The social media space also opens itself up to criticism, review, undeserved and unfair brand assassinations and more. Remember, the Twiteratti have the same publication power in their virtual world as the world’s most accomplished and respected commentator in the physical world.

No brand is immune to the venom that twists around the bits and bytes of the social space, much like our real world. As such, you need to be prepared to defend your space – both physically and virtually.

This all boils down to one basic fact – you need empowered, smart staff, resources and time to manage your virtual social space. Getting this right can cost you considerable money, distraction and mindspace.

I was recently taken aback in a meeting where a client offered the following answer to my question around marketing strategy: “Well, we are on Facebook, our MD tweets every now and then and we have printed a really nice brochure.”

This cretin deserves to be fired!

So, how do I know if my business needs a social media presence?

If you can create a direct correlation between clicks, friends, likes and your physical sales – then YES.. you need a Facebook site. But if your customers don’t make their multi-million-dollar decisions based on your daily status or who else is in your friend network – I’d look elsewhere for a solution to market your wares.

If your customers are niche and rely on results, referrals and proof of concept- Facebook is not your solution.

The awful truth is that now, more than ever, companies need to be vigilant around their communication strategies and while social media CAN provide wonderful solutions to some, it is far from a quick fix direct marketing tool that it’s pumped up to be. The wolves are at the gate and they will try to sell you anything. Don’t be fooled by their slick marketing speak and Infographics. Simply ask for a direct correlation and put a performance contract in place – with penalties.

Don’t get me wrong- I don’t have it in for web developers at all – I believe a lot of them are incredibly talented individuals who create amazing works of tangible art. I do, however, question their salesmen and believe that a great web developer is clicked and referred.

I yearn for the day when a client contracts these “solutions designers” to create the solution they propose – fully paid. However, a minimum performance parameter must be in place, and should the project prove to be ineffective – you deserve DOUBLE your money back.

Let’s see who tweets what then!

© Copyright David John Newton 2013

Themed to death: The Rise and Rise of the “TBC Theme”

“We’re having an event and we need a theme.”

This is the client mantra and the basis of most briefs. So what exactly IS a theme and why do we feel compelled to have one? Traditionally, a theme is a central concept that all communication associated with the event is based. Nice idea – but this rarely happens in reality.

Take an Annual Business Conference” for example.

The date is set many months in advance to secure venue and rooms, the agencies are briefed and revert with a pitch back to the client. This pitch, almost always, is centred on a “Theme” or “Creative Concept”. While this sounds like a perfectly solid approach, but the likelihood of the theme having any bearing on actual business communication or relevance to the business in six to seven months is minimal. In this unpredictable economy, business urgencies change daily as does their imperatives.

As a result, successful agencies are opting out and delivering benign, flexible and tepid conceptual themes that run little risk of conflicting with the business messaging in the months to come. They are generally generic and cross-functional and can be plugged in and played with at will – reverse engineering itself into any future business communication.

‘But we need something to hang everything on – even if the business messaging comes in at the last minute.’

True. The theme is the core around which the design of the stage, graphics, entertainment, video elements, décor and scripting is based. Without a central cohesive locus – the communication would be meaningless, disjointed and sporadic. Elements need a creative thread to be woven together into the fabric of the communication.

I’m not questioning the need for a theme to pull these elements together – but rather commenting that the themes in modern conferencing and communications are often threadbare and lack meaning.

Creative companies are picking a theme for theme’s sake and not insisting on cohesion with the communication purpose.

That’s not great is it?

Here’s a little off-topic aside that I think fits here:

From my experience, most events can be broken up into the following purposes:

  • Launch of a concept, product, strategy or idea
  • Alignment of teams on strategic direction and feedback on performance
  • Announcement and on-siding of a growth or consolidation strategy
  • Communication of stretch imperative and setting higher than anticipated targets
  • Plea for enhanced performance/ dedication
  • Announcement of Re-branding/ Merging or Independence
  • Celebration of achievement/ milestone or target
  • Team build and/or networking

Looking at my personal body of work and the work of my peers, I would have a tough time finding any project that did not fit in to any of the above broad categories.

So it would naturally make sense that you could plan, years ahead, a collection of basic “themes” that speak to these themes and some companies do just that – create a set of “events in a box”, commoditising the creative execution and literally “plug it in”.

Is there something morally “wrong” with using a plug-n-play approach to eventing and theming? Not if the client is aware that this is not a bespoke product. Is it fair to industry? You can decide.

It’s my party and I’ll dress up if I want to

Before finding a possible solution or offering a different approach to theming – we can’t ignore the fact that theming has been happening for thousands of years. While it is always fun to dress up as a hippie or vampire for a “Fancy Dress” party – we often overlook the reason WHY so many social events are themed. Human beings have celebrated and communicated with mask, decoration, expression, theatrics and costume from the time the first cave person decided a bit of indigo and blood would make an impressive mural on their cave wall. We continue to put our stamp on ourselves and our environment to show individual expression – to be recognised by the collective.

This is starting to sound way too academic. Themes have given us as human beings to express ourselves differently around the same common core. If the theme is “Wild West” I can almost guarantee that even though there may be five cowboys in the room, they would all express themselves very differently – wanting to be different – but the same, adhering to the agreed theme.

For the purposes of this discussion – I’ll give themed parties a break. They’re fun and I’ll get over it. It is, however even more fun to psychoanalyse the host’s theme selection and look for deeper issues. (I’m almost kidding here).

Making sense

So if themes ARE indeed important, how do we get them closer to the content of the communication? How do we make them more effective? How do we take this prime communication opportunity and ensure relevance to the audience.

A Different Approach:

Enter the “TBC Theme

Recently, I pitched a project to a client with a placeholder or “TBC Theme”. I made it really clear at the top of the presentation that a lot can happen in six months and I insist that the final theme and logo only be selected four weeks before the actual conference – allowing enough time for logo build, print collateral and pre-conference communication to be produced in time. More importantly, I knew the business and, indeed the presenters would actually be THINKING about their upcoming presentation and content. This shows an intimate knowledge of the business’ dynamism and respects the contributions made by management and guest speakers.

This didn’t mean that we couldn’t go ahead with the rest of the execution. Sub-themes could still be developed. Colour, set, animations and shoots could still be formulated around the TBC direction as this would not change.

Approaching the deadline of the final theme presentation, I managed to steal between 30 minutes and an hour with various executives and stakeholders, asking them about what the business has just been through and what the business should achieve in the coming months. This interaction immediately got them thinking about their content and automatically got buy-in to any themes I would later present – purely through consultancy.

I presented three themes – all treated in the same way and knitting neatly to our creative elements already in production. Success.

With a conference title and logo firmly tucked under our belts, we immediately put out the brief to the speakers, selected the external speakers that aligned with the messaging and signed off on the last outstanding ticket items.

Typical Creative: Leaving everything till the last minute!

Yes and No. The TBC Theme allows you to put the mechanics of an event together without losing relevance and freshness. In conferences, launches, celebrations and any other themed event – the TBC Theme ensures that it connects to the world of NOW and not of six months ago. It opens you up to hits, artists, headlines, YouTube trends and world events that a six-month-old theme would never be able to do.

Sometimes leaving the best till last leaves you with.. well.. the best. Right?

© Copyright David John Newton 2013

There’s a girl on the hood! The Evolution of the Corporate Celebration

The Evolution of the Corporate Celebration

How girls on the hood can no longer cut it.

It’s no secret that the way we celebrate and communicate has fundamentally changed over the past centuries. The fifteen years, however, has seen a direct influence by technology on the way we consume information and demand immediate satisfaction.

Our audiences have become sceptical, learned, selective and acutely aware of the value of their time. (One South African cellular phone company even promoted the idea that we only have 2.2 billion seconds to live – so why waste them). Armed with handheld “lie detectors (read: smartphones)” they can immediately reference, cross check and compare information on-the-fly. It is not unusual for audiences to have researched the product and topic, prepared questions and rebuttals before even entering the venue. They want the event to fill the gaps in their information, confirm their theories and justify the inconvenience of not being able to do something else with the time.

In a world where we constantly compete for mindspace, headspace and heartspace, we need to not only create a truly COMPELLING reason to attend an event – but ensure the experience lives up to the expectation.

As little as 15 years ago, it was not uncommon to attend a vehicle launch with a slinky 36-24-26 draped over the hood of the latest model, swiftly followed by speech after speech as the lady would swoon and point to the various features and benefits.

I can hear the bellows of feminist scorn rattling my keyboard while I write this as they sharpen their pitch forks and line up to hunt the offenders. I can merely point you in the direction of the lowly car dealership that still thinks that tying helium balloons to the windscreen wiper blades to the vehicles on their forecourts actually attract sales.

Retracting my tongue back from its firm in-cheek-position, I question how we, in a few short years, have completely revolutionised the way we sell and celebrate our concepts and services. I see this as nothing short of a miracle (although I do miss meaningless fireworks displays).

Is it the advent of mobile telephony and internet, the progress women have made in all sectors of business that have broken up the old boys club of Mad Men in the decision seats, the sheer variety of options and myriad of SKU’s available or the fact that our audiences are just getting smarter/ wiser? I believe it is a combination of all these components and more.

Where has the girl gone?

A girl on the hood no longer cuts it. People want emotive, hands on experiences (of the car – not the model). They need testimonials – not marketing speak. They want easily digestible, accurate and honest facts and figures.

Our audiences don’t want to be “preached” or “sold” to, but rather “partnered with” and convinced through peers and sense in their purchase/ adoption decision.

Clients are asking tough questions around the value of the spend of each communication and need now, more than ever, that there is a Return on their Investment (ROI). The girl stroking the bonnet of the latest Corvette isn’t going to provide a compelling reason that results in a purchase decision. A big team-building adventure involving building rafts and slugging lager and the latest international artist at an internal corporate gig won’t necessarily warm the hearts and ignite the imaginations of a demotivated workforce.

The Unofficial Evolution of the Launch:

A rough look at the launch landscape could very simplistically look something like this, however, this does NOT mean that they were contained in these timespans. There were innovators, the “Crazy Ones” way ahead of their time. There were more exceptions than the rule, but a glance at the trends brings us back to this median.

1920’s – 1980’s: The Girl on the Hood

The success of the Girl on the Hood was the direct link between the product and a preferred lifestyle and all it represented. Owning the product got you the girl, the lifestyle, the accessories and the suburban white picket fence dreams associated with it. Selling product was linked to the basic idea of selling through sex appeal.

1980’s – 2000’s: Celebrity Endorsements, Multi-screen and technological tricks

The penny dropped, the girl slid off the bonnet and creative executives suddenly realised that the carnal desire was NOT the same as desire for a product or solution. The way we communicated quickly changed as did the marketing and eventing landscape. The terminal term “Think outside the box” became a nauseating platitude as agencies threw the latest technological toys and biggest stars to create product differentiation.

2001 – 2010: Smoke, mirrors and 3D Projection Mapping

Technology trumped substance where cool gadgets without much meaning started reigning the launch world. Agencies found justification to project 3D mapping on almost everything to sell cars, footware, movies and even coffee. While they did create awesome memorable experiences, there is little evidence these were compelling enough to motivate a purchase decision.

2011 – 2013: Hyper-realistic applications, experiential marketing and global worldwide instantaneous launches.

We are moving one-on-one. Consumers have taken the lead and are filtering out unsolicited email. The role of the marketer and creative is to create a need for information and immersion. Life is byte-sized and attention spans have dwindled to mere nanoseconds.

The speed of browsing has increased click-by-click and reviews are available within hours of a product launch globally to sink or float a brand.

The Future:

Where is this all going? Anywhere that the individual is recognised, listened to, collaborated with and respected as… and individual. This means using smart technology – not for technology’s sake, but to create a trail of breadcrumbs from a bakery of accumulated cookies of knowledge that leads the customer on a journey of willing discovery. The consumer will do the work if we entice them and reward them for their journey.

So… Where IS the girl on the hood?

Honestly, I have no idea.

© Copyright David John Newton 2013

Who is the damn client anyway?

Understanding the levels of customer in a new pitch economy.

As Creative Professionals, we often find ourselves navigating the minefield of egos around an event or experience – often to the detriment of the end creative product.

After only a few weeks in an industry where creative communication is “outsourced” to a third-party agency, it becomes very clear that a Fine Arts Degree is trumped by any credential in psychology or political studies. You need to wade through the treacherous shark-infested boardrooms as you try to present a concept that you believe is right for the product without losing too much blood.

Over time and exposure, the concept gets pummelled and punctured beyond recognition due to political wrangling/ ego stamping and contribution for self-justification – losing its effectiveness and power.

The Creative Professional’s biggest task is to protect the concept from these negative influences and try to deliver the product unharmed to market.

How many clients are there anyway?

To do this, we need to embrace the dynamics of Gatekeepers and Key masters.

Gatekeepers: grant access to the right people, open doors and give momentum to your project. These same people can just as easily shut you down and stop you from moving forward.

Key Masters: these are the individuals or groups who wield the most decision-making power and can fast-track your progress or shut it down completely.

Who IS in the room and who isn’t?

It is critical when presenting Creative work that you know WHO exactly you are presenting to:

Answers to these questions will help you formulate your approach:

  • Who is this person/ are these people in the order of the decision tree to get this idea accepted. Are they gatekeepers or the final decision makers?
  • How different are these people as individuals to the final target audience? It is scary how often you will find yourself presenting ideas that are intended for a dynamic youth audience – to a group of 50+ clients. Part of your selling of the idea is to convince them that YOU KNOW the audience – you have done your research and have spent time on the ground – even if you too are a “silverback” yourself.
  • If the people in the room are not the final decision makers – they more than likely will present their UNDERSTANDING of your presentation to the more important people who couldn’t make the meeting. Rarely does the final decision differ from theirs in that their superiors have empowered them to some level to take the meeting and will use their advice or gut feel as a general measure of confidence.
  • Is the person who put the brief together in the room and have you got ALL your information you need to create your pitch? Many companies have recently standardised their pitch documentation into a basic “tick the box” format which is beneficial in terms of basic budget creation – but disastrous in terms of being able to get quality information. If the client hasn’t really THOUGHT about what they want to achieve by describing the event outcome in detail – you will fail before you begin. Always insist on a follow-up conversation on the brief to get the information you need and trigger them to think about the project.
  • Does your client actually KNOW their brand? In many situations you may find that you have more experience working with the people and the brand than the newly elected marketing manager who has just briefed you. It is essential to listen for fresh ideas and approaches from them- but offer guidance when requested. Acting smarter than them and referencing a history they may not be privy to will only get you off the pitch list.
  • Who needs to “peacock”? What are the agendas around the table – who needs to prove something – look good in front of someone else? You usually can spot these individuals a mile away – they are dangerous and can turn on you if you don’t fit in with their agenda.
  • How many levels of customer are there? In a general creative sale you have the following levels of customer – and it can be a long journey. Take the example of being briefed by the marketing department in a car company to launch their vehicles in dealerships nationwide, targeted at the youth LSM 4-7.

Level One Customer: The Gatekeepers in the room. Event Managers/ Purchasing/ Assistants etc.

Level Two Customer: The Keymasters: Executives/ Brand Managers/ International Custodians

Level Three Customer: The Dealers and Sales Teams who need to actually connect with the end user.

Level Four Customer: The consumer who makes the purchasing decision. (This is often different to the person who the product is aimed at. In our example a new entry-level vehicle may be paid for by mom and dad and not the trendy hipster the campaign is primarily aimed at).

Level Five Customer: The end user. While this customer seems to be right at the bottom of the “decision tree” and priority target – they are actually the most important of the whole lot.

Why is this important? A good idea is a good idea – right? Unfortunately, hundreds of great ideas and phenomenal execution plans lie on the floors of the bloodied boardrooms as the creative director missed vital political cues that could have changed the ballpark completely.

So what is the solution?

Work backwards – create a strong idea focussed on the level four and five customer. Keep it simple and reverse engineer each selling strategy and presentation to work for the specific audience. Keep true to the idea – but change the selling language to appeal to the people in the room.

Most importantly – create immediate security by showing an intimate understanding of their target markets without showing off. NEVER conflict with their data unless tasked to do so. Your communication needs to SUPPORT their understanding of their target market from the expensive and extensive studies they have done.

Remember – they are in the business every day of selling their goods and services – your role is to creatively support this.

It’s not always blood on the dancefloor.

Unfortunately, it is a rate blessing when a Creative Professional is teamed up with a secure and confident client. It can be quite unhinging at first to have a sponsor of the project trust you, endorse you, support you and defend you as you deliver on their brief. These unique individuals make everything worth it and must never be taken for granted or disrespected. Pay as much even MORE attention to these worthy individuals than you would some of your more needy clients. The latitude they provide will let you soar.

Unfortunately, though, these individuals are difficult to find and often difficult to differentiate at first between the apathetic “I-don’t-care-just-do-it” and the “I-trust-you-to-do-it-right” client. Trust your gut and give it time.

How do you know if you succeeded in navigating these treacherous waters? Simple – after getting the job and successfully executing it – you win the next pitch too.

© Copyright David John Newton 2013