PR TECHNIQUE: Trailer splash: How to do a mobile event

While the marketing tour is a time-tested vehicle for spreading the word, it takes meticulous planning to ensure that it will hit the road smoothly.

While the marketing tour is a time-tested vehicle for spreading the word, it takes meticulous planning to ensure that it will hit the road smoothly.

The marketing tour began at the dawn of US super-consumerism in the late 1940s as an outgrowth of a series of hair-product ads featuring sets of identical twins with perfectly curled hair. The tagline, "Which twin has the Toni?" challenged readers to figure out which girl had the home versus salon permanent wave. At the time, Dan Edelman was PR director of the Toni Company. He recalls musing, "We should bring these girls to life." So the Toni Twins came to town. Edelman arranged for stretch limousines to tow trailers made to look like Toni Home Perm boxes to 75 US cities. With personal appearances at major department stores, and front-page-grabbing photos of the twins kissing local dignitaries, the Toni Perm became a cosmetics staple. Beyond the hijinks, the tour was leveraged to fight a congressional bill aimed at banning home permanents. "The hair salon industry said the permanent wave chemicals were too dangerous to use at home," says Edelman. The bill was defeated. Not all marketing tours begin with ads, however. Some are used as an alternative to trade shows, as a way to engage customers without being surrounded by the competition. This year, Konica introduced a new color copier it says uses significantly advanced technology, but research showed that Konica was not recognized as a major player in the color segment. Working with Connecticut-based agency Cronin & Company, Konica conceived the Color Force Tour. AnnMarie Kemp, Cronin VP and director of PR, says the biggest challenge wasn't targeting the masses. "This was a b-to-b tour," says Kemp. "We wanted venues that would generate sales leads for copiers, as opposed to venues with large consumer traffic." That meant booking the trailer in office parks and business centers that were in some cases untested for such an event. Although many cities now have pro forma permitting processes to make it easier to book large arenas, malls, and parks for the purpose of mobile events, Konica's desire to visit corporate settings added the wrinkle of dealing with property managers and tenant associations. This extra layer of negotiation was vital to scheduling the tour. Another challenge was the Konica technology itself. "These were very sensitive machines, not meant to be moved around like this." Kemp planned stations along the tour circuit where machines could be serviced and replaced. She advises agencies to plan for all logistics while the creative development of the tour is underway. "Timing is critical," says Kemp. "Every step hinges on the next." And the best planning includes anticipating disaster. It is important to establish relationships in advance with mechanics and technology experts along the scheduled route. Scott Moller, partner of Chicago-based mobile event specialist Marketing-Werks, starts the planning before the contract is signed. "We try to assess their needs, their current marketing strategies, and who their current customers are," says Moller. A questionnaire helps determine if a mobile tour will meet the client's marketing goals. "If the goal is just to sell product, a mobile tour isn't going to work," says Moller. "Sales should be a by-product of a more comprehensive marketing plan." The exception to this rubric is the b-to-b tour. According to Kemp, sales-lead generation was as important to Konica as shifting brand perception. "Because of this, our planning had to include a lot of advance work with Konica's regional sales forces" says Kemp. "Not every sales team is a strong as others." Cronin began providing collateral invitations, e-mail promotions, and other materials to Konica's sales force two months before the tour was scheduled to arrive in a particular city. Moller says a key to success is deciding what kind of experience you want to create for your customer. "A tour is a very personal engagement," he says. "You must not only identify your target, but know what he or she wants." The firm's LEGO Bionicle Tour targeted boys aged 8-12 and included video game elements, comic books, celebrity skateboarders, and was stationed at skate parks, surf camps, and soccer and little league fields. Some tours aim so high that multiple sponsors are needed to underwrite the cost. When Hollywood producer Norman Lear acquired a rare original copy of the Declaration of Independence, he envisioned a tour that not only celebrated our nation's heritage, but inspired young people to vote. Ensuring each sponsor gets the expected ROI requires intense up-front planning and negotiation. Ketchum VP-Account Supervisor Ashley Mowrey says that even though many of the sponsor benefits are outlined in their contracts, it is vital to delineate media protocols, collateral placement, product sampling, and other issues. "We made sure each sponsor has an equal chance to have a spokesperson participate in the media forums, but the title sponsor, The Home Depot, has the honor of going first," she says. As with any PR effort, it is important for a tour to be able demonstrate its value to the client. There are many data points that can be captured, and staff should be appropriated to facilitate each task. An obvious measurement of success is the actual foot traffic generated to the site. Recording the number of product demonstrations performed, or offering a sweepstakes to gather personal contact data can facilitate these measurements. Less tangible data includes the number of impressions the vehicle has elicited as it travels the country. It is therefore important to plan to calculate the number of passersby or highway impressions. Broadstroke awareness numbers and reach can be measured through pre- and post-tour research. When it comes to staffing, both Moller and Kemp advise the use of temporary firms in each city to capture data and help with hospitality. When possible, Moller even has the staff train with the client in advance so the experience at the tour site closely reflects the client's culture. Marketing tours define the term "big idea" and require the precision and creativity from multiple players to play their parts to perfection. This includes a fully integrated marketing campaign of which the tour itself is just a part. The experts agree, the tour is at base a tactic, and must dovetail with other programs to be judged a success. ----- Technique tips Do begin defining and negotiating logistics as soon as creative production begins Do negotiate all of the sponsor rights, roles, and responsibilities before the tour launches - this will ensure that toes don't get stepped on Do establish objectives and staff to ensure that you can capture all the data you need to measure results Don't leave staffing as an afterthought. Consider what client field support and local temp agencies are required Don't forget to plan for disaster. It will happen, so be sure to have all mechanical and tech support identified along the route Don't be inflexible. Maximize the tour by having elements that can be used while the tour is in transit to the next destination

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