Companies reexamine events' role in overall strategy in the wake of recession

As budgets tighten and company objectives change, marketers are reevaluating how to efficiently incorporate events into their 2009 plans.

As budgets tighten and company objectives change, marketers are reevaluating how to efficiently incorporate events into their 2009 plans. This former PR “must-have” faltered earlier in the year, and companies remain cautious about which events to pursue.

“[Following] the AIG story, event marketing froze. We're starting to see it come back now because of the need for [presence] at b-to-b shows,” says Harris Diamond, CEO of Weber Shandwick and Constituency Management Group.

At a time when clients are cutting 30% to 40% of their budgets, events have been scrutinized and measured against less pricey social media tactics, says Ellen LaNicca Albanese, EVP of CRT/Tanaka's consumer practice.

In fact, many clients have limited their use of press conferences and other events, according to Albanese. “I believe it's driven... by the consideration of cost,” she says. “If there's a different way to [meet clients' objectives] we [will].”

Building relationships
Yet, while digital resources have largely supplanted the need for press conferences, some brick-and-mortar events are still being used strategically to deepen relationships with key influencers.

Monica Teague, senior manager of mass brands PR at Whirlpool Corp., explains that events are still valued at the company. However, starting this year, instead of doing events for individual brands, when possible, multiple brands will be incorporated into one event.

Using these new criteria, the company hosted a cocktail reception during the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show and Conference in May. Other similar events are planned for summer.

“Our budgets are pretty much the same. This [change in events] frees up cash so we can go out and do other things,” says Teague, who also notes the positive response the event received from media.

Using events to build relationships with media and influencers is still an important tactic, which can enable “[the PR professional to] go back to [journalists] with breaking news, new product launches, and interesting announcements,” says David Herrick, GM at Kaplow.

Marni Hale, corporate communications manager in North America for BSH Home Appliances Corp., agrees, and has sought to use some events to “keep up with the trends and personal relationships with media.”

BSH has cut back this year on secondary events, like the Thermador Chefs Challenge, so the company can instead focus on its nine main product launches and present those products to key media, Hale says.

Also, “expensive” celebrities, like Top Chef's Tom Colicchio, who hosted last year's challenge, will not be included in the foreseeable future. Instead, the company has looked to local and up-and-coming spokespeople to participate in events, Hale adds.

Similarly, Volvo “hasn't touched” its product launches, which are key to automakers, but has cut back on secondary events aligned with the company's brand image, according to Geno Effler, VP of public affairs at the automaker. One such example is Family Day events, which previously invited journalists and their families for weekend driving trips.

Linda Rutherford, VP of communications and strategic outreach at Southwest Airlines, has also limited “one-off events [or stunts that] we can't strategically tie [in]... We're really looking at more broad campaigns.”

With the recession, showing how ROI from an event ties directly back to PR objectives is one challenge facing PR pros, says Teleia Farrell, corporate communications manager at Welch's, which is currently “considering hosting” an event next year.

Farrell notes, “In this economy, and the way businesses are doing, we are challenging ourselves that much more as PR professionals and asking, ‘What did we get from that activity? What were our key learnings? Do we repurpose it again?'”

Other tactics for consideration

Brand spokespeople:
Unless a celebrity or an industry expert is closely integrated into several aspects of a campaign, spokespeople are better left untapped·

Product placements:
Given the cost of this tactic, it's important to make sure that the expense is justified by the program's reach

Press kits:
What journalists or editors need in terms of images and product information can be provided on digital kits or USB drives

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