Let there be light

By Robin Parker, general manager, Church House


In a country like the UK, where we have a long dreary winters, and the weather often fluctuates throughout the year, a ray of sunlight is always welcome. Daylight can have a positive effect on our mood. It can lift our spirits and make us more efficient at work.

Natural light is also essential to maintaining a normal, healthy physiology. Exposure to sunlight is a key factor in synchronising our internal body cycles so we sleep when it is dark and are alert during the day.  In fact there are numerous classical references to the fact that many of the ancient Greek philosophers taught outside.

In our modern society, we have, due to the vagaries of projection technology in the 80s and 90s come to prefer darkness with illuminated lights over natural light when it comes to organising events and conferences. Of course, there is no denying that many social occasions are best suited to evenings, but I (and most-up-to-date research) think that most daytime conferences and events spaces should have adequate provisions for natural light.

Interestingly though, it is not just about delegate wellbeing.  As a recent case study demonstrated, having provisions for natural light not only helps save energy, but it also serves as a contingency plan in the event of a power failure.

A few weeks ago, the British Chamber of Commerce’s annual conference was held at the Church House Conference Centre. The conference was attended by a number of high profile public figures like George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, David Frost, director general of the BBC and other members of parliament. The conference was extremely important as the chancellor was due to set out the government’s pro- business plans.   However, just before the event started, there was a power cut across Westminster. Though the power was eventually restored – just before the Chancellor stepped onto the stage, even a major power failure did nothing to affect the course of the event. By choosing a venue with natural daylight and high quality acoustics rather than a square box in the underground pit of a hotel – no one felt suffocated or trapped and the event continued seamlessly.

Unfortunately too many organisers tend to plan daytime events in large halls that cannot be run without artificial lighting. Lack of natural light can lead to a dull venue, making delegates vulnerable to mood changes. It can also make them feel sleepy, hampering their ability to concentrate.

The event industry is continually looking at creative ways to make events more effective.  A great idea – but let’s also make sure we remember the lessons of the past and the benefit of natural daylight.


Unusual Catering

By HQS Wellington

Sometimes you’ve just got to think big.  Generating the wow-factor with some unusual catering options can be just the boost an event needs.  Below you’ll find some top tips and some truly spectacular ideas for unusual catering and how to blow your guests away with extraordinary catering:


1) Sounds very obvious but let’s start with the basics – get planning!  How many people are you expecting and what are their expectations?  Once established, brainstorm – what can you do to really get them excited and what will be truly different?


2) Some of the best ideas work hand-in-hand with the venue – is there a stunning rooftop which could act as the perfect backdrop or a glamorous ballroom for a truly outstanding champagne reception?


When it comes to the food – our advice is to talk early on in the process to the chef. They are the experts and will love nothing more than a chance to do something a bit unusual.  Themed canapés, dishes and desserts are a sure fire hit – if it fits the atmosphere what about having dishes named after each of the evening’s key players?  Perhaps a tailored cocktail named after a new product/ honoured guest/the company etc?  If you’ve got the budget and it’s the right time of year try something spectacular – perhaps a full hog roast buffet or hitting on the current trend for all things eco, go for a totally meat-free evening, with all produce sourced sustainably.


3) All-in-all aim for impact and keep things relevant.  That’s why step one is so important.  It’s no good getting that 7ft company-themed blancmange if you know the event is to celebrate the company’s brand new, dairy-free range!


And finally, take comfort that as your event cheerfully goes off with a bang, whatever feat you manage to pull off this year, your successor’s got to try and better it!


Breakfast Meetings

By Maria Schuett, marketing manager, Central Hall Westminster

Breakfast meetings are fast becoming the new way to carry out business. It is fair to say that taking your clients out for extended lunch meetings has become a thing of the past. With time and financial constraints being felt across the industry, it simply isn’t a viable way to conduct business anymore.

Breakfast meetings are often seen as an innovative yet practical way of carrying out business and in recent years have dramatically increased. Here are a few reasons why:

1) Compensating for the time spent away from your desk is becoming increasingly difficult especially with the pinch of the recession still on our tails. Therefore spending hours away from your desk travelling to and from meetings and enjoying an afternoon tipple just isn’t feasible anymore. Also, returning to your office to find your email inbox filled to the brim isn’t an inspiring prospect for a productive afternoon.

2) Our work ethics have dramatically changed over the years resulting in a ‘lets get down to business’ attitude. Rather than sealing a business deal over the course of two or three leisurely meetings we want more immediate results. Walking out of a breakfast meeting with a sure fire business prospect is almost guaranteed to give you positive vibes, that, coupled with the idea of maximising your time propels you forward in to a more positive working day.

3) There is a significant increase in restaurants and cafe chains offering a breakfast or brunch option which usually means there’s not far to go in search of a delicious and nutritional breakfast. Beginning your working day with a freshly prepared breakfast beats soggy toast and instant porridge by a mile. You can enjoy your mouth-watering breakfast whilst technically working, resulting in a full tummy and a potentially lucrative business deal – now that’s a result!

So whether you are organising an intimate breakfast meeting or a corporate brunch consider these simple rules:

What – Have your aims and objectives planned out and make sure the meeting is not only informative but also enjoyable.

Who – Think about who you want to attend and remember to listen to your guests and encourage discussion.

How – Make sure the time and location is convenient for all guests. Choosing somewhere fairly central is always a good idea.


Email marketing: a logical tool for event organisers

By Melissa Morris, sales and marketing manager, One Wimpole Street

The colourful mix of channels available to marketers and event organisers has created explosive potential for concocting immersive campaigns that successfully push customers’ buttons. Email marketing is one of the most logical, cost-effective and high impact ways to get this started, allowing you to communicate a message to your valuable database of contacts with relative ease. Maximising your event’s immediate and long-term impact requires planning, publicity, slick execution and a well-oiled feedback strategy.

Results measuring is a high value aspect of an email marketing campaign. Measure open rates, undeliverables and click-throughs; view results for a campaign as a whole; view the actions of a specific recipient to understand what makes that person tick. Capturing this sort of information can prove a valuable lesson for improving future targeted campaigns, making your messages more reflective of that person’s behaviour, preferences and location.

When creating an email marketing campaign, what should you do and what should you avoid?

Plan, publicise, promote

You hold events to raise funds, close deals, nurture relationships and educate colleagues and prospects. First up, you need to let people know what you’ve planned, whether its a trade show, a launch party or a business workshop. If you’ve not yet got a list of invitees, get to work on creating a page on your company website that details your event. Invite interested parties to sign up with their email address to receive more information. You could even offer email subscribers a free entry voucher, or other promotional incentive, like a glass of wine on arrival. Allow plenty of time to execute this initial data grab.

If you’ve a ready-made list of dedicated clients, you’ve a captive audience primed to receive offers. Don’t get sucked into thinking you have to have thousands of people on your list — focus on quality rather than quantity. Then plan, plan, plan.

Avoid email overload and create a schedule. Map what you’ll communicate when, then if and how you’ll segregate your data into groups, e.g. event organisers versus booking agencies. Plan to send a ‘save the date’ announcement, then a detailed invitation, then a reminder. You need to tell guests what they will learn, who they will meet and if there are any free resources or prizes. They’ll want the date, the location, the cost and the link to register.

We buddied up with myvenues.co.uk to share news of our Confex trade show promotions with its 70,000 subscribers. Our eDM to them featured an interactive iPhone-style fascia with graphic buttons representing click-through links to various pages of One Wimpole Street’s website, including HD virtual tours, facilities, location and late availability. Hits towww.onewimpolestreet.co.uk leapt to 531 on that day, accounting for the busiest in our company’s website history.

Consider sending a morning digest containing updates on presentation times, speakers and locations if the event spans more than one day. Finish up with a post-event email to thank your contacts for attending, whether that’s done hand-in-hand with a feedback survey, an event re-cap with a link to download presentations, or an invitation to connect on Facebook or LinkedIn — or a combination of all those things.

Customise, integrate, schedule

Email marketing tools can be integrated with databases or CRM systems allowing event managers to easily customise emails with details such as name, job title and address. Perceived lack of technical skill is no longer a hurdle to engaging with email marketing. Content management systems (CMS) require no knowledge of HTML — they mask all that jargon behind easy-to-use templates that can be customised to mirror your company branding. You can even automate email scheduling and send test emails before they go live to your database.

Content should be viral and sharable — increase the reach of your campaign by allowing recipients to ‘Forward to a Friend’. Tweet about the event and include a link to the sign-up page. This is something you can continue to do throughout the campaign. Create a hashtag too, or link to one that’s relevant. We took advantage of the #confex hashtag to market ‘a chance to win money every 30 minutes’ live from our Confex trade show stand. This put us in front of new Twitter followers and increased foot traffic to our stand by those keen to get in on the lottery ticket promotion we’d devised especially for the show.

If appropriate, bolster your efforts by creating a Facebook page. Mirror marketing messages, link to your website and consider creating interactive content like YouTube videos, podcasts and opinion polls. As consumers, we have control over who we ‘like’ on Facebook. By expressing affiliation with a brand, we are inviting and giving permission to that company to engage with us. It’s often worth our while, as we become part of a community that is given exclusive access to promotions, information and product previews we might not have otherwise been privvy to. Use that logic in your own campaign and reward your loyal Facebook fans with unique content. It’s a lot easier to sell to an existing customer than to sell to a new one.

Email often seems a less intrusive way to be contacted, but respect your customers and be explicit with permissions — ensure people are very clear about what they’re signing up for and what they can expect to receive from you. A user’s ability to control the lifespan of that relationship is theoretically just a click of an ‘unsubscribe’ link away. Be aware that it’s a legal requirement that all commercial emails offer readers a simple one- or two-click mechanism to opt-out.

There’s no cookie-cutter solution to event email marketing technique. Learn tactics from other businesses, but through testing and results monitoring, find what works best for your customers. Never be afraid to ask questions.