Launch Venues - Unique Locations

PRWeek looks at five unusual venues that have been used recently for successful PR events and launches.

Everyone wants their launch to make an impact, and an important factor in making sure that happens is picking the right venue.

A location or venue that has a particular style can say volumes about the product or company being launched, so selecting an appropriate place to suit the values of the brand, whether for a product or company, is key.

Selecting a venue in the public eye can encourage journalists to make space in their diaries. But keeping track of good venues can be a full-time job.

Simon Tyler, editor of venue guide viewlondon.co.uk, says that the time a venue enjoys as a hotspot can vary. While bars typically remain in the spotlight for six months, restaurants can maintain a fresh face for a couple of years before changes are made.

Currently, he says places such as Sumosan, Delfina and Amber are at the top of London's must-try list, but the pecking order changes as new venues open and yesterday's hotspots lose their exclusivity and gain in popularity: 'After a couple of years that's when it starts to tail off.'

But for the purpose of a PR launch there is a prime consideration: regardless of where's trendy (and some of the old reliables have been providing excellent service for years), the need to match the venue to the launch or the product is paramount.

Countrywide Porter Novelli recently used its own west London offices for a product launch for Tefal. 'Tefal wanted a light, airy venue that could hold 60 to 70 people. They wanted a blank canvas so they could have control of it,' says consultant Vicki Evans.

Although the agency looked at outside venues, it eventually decided that using it's own offices provided the best solution to the brief. The money saved was used to hire branded taxis to bring journalists to the venue.

For those who don't have such flexible office space, there are plenty of options. The rise of sporting culture has created a new generation of venues designed to feed off our desire to get close to sports stars.

The home of the England rugby union team, Twickenham, is just one of the stadiums now offering such services. Twickenham Experience sales and marketing manager Dawn Jones says recent launches have included Ford - which took advantage of the car park as a launch venue - and computer company Nordic ID.

Part of the attraction is that as well as having the space for your meetings the stadium can offer added bonuses such as a visit to the museum of rugby.

The Big Brother House in Hertfordshire highlights another class of event destination - one with limited availability. The house will be out of action for around half the year because of filming commitments.

For the third summer in a row Big Brother has been a televisual and social phenomenon, and now the house itself is being lined up as a venue for corporate events. A decision to allow the house to be adapted to the demands of event planners is expected in early October and, if it is approved, then the first event could be held there by the end of the month.

There will be limitations on the periods that the house is available for hire as next summer's instalment of the reality TV show and the celebrity edition eat into the diary. Bookings are now being taken for December, January and February.

The venue is, as yet, untested, but is expected to attract a lot of interest.

Randle Stonier, chief executive of Skybridge - the company that will manage the House as a venue - says it can be used for everything from a stand up buffet to a recreation of the programme itself.

Serving finger food means the venue can hold up to 150 people but only 84 for a sit down silver service function. When it comes to staying the night, capacity is only 14 people.

The cost starts at £18,000 for a full-capacity finger buffet but recreating the real Big Brother environment will require a big budget. Stonier admits that the need to employ camera crews and industrial psychologists means 'it's not a cheap exercise'.

Then there is the 'never to be repeated experience'. This is part of the pitch pushed by Fortesqueue's, for a 13-metre high metallic structure erected in Lincoln's Inn Fields for limited periods.

'Having the structure in place for a month or two at a time allows firms using it to share the costs of its construction, while still giving them a one-off opportunity for a product launch that could not be copied by anyone else,' says Scott Balfour, Fortesqueue's MD.

Firefly Communications speaker and event services manager Mark Hughes-Webb says even the most conservative clients are now looking to create an impression of modernity: 'The tendency is to move away from the over-sized chandeliers in favour of style and innovation. Now even more traditional firms are looking for something that will appeal to a more contemporary audience.'

But picking the right size of venue is also important: 'While an event can be designed which encourages interaction between the host and the attendees, if the venue is too big or the decor too minimal, then the atmosphere is not always conducive to promoting and talking,' he adds.

And if that doesn't happen, the event can lose a lot of lustre.

The following five venues are among the most enticing in the country today, for a mixture of the reasons above.

MAGNA CENTRE, ROTHERHAM

When Yorkshire and Humberside Digital Radio wanted to spread the word about their bid for the regional DAB licence, they hired a new museum that celebrated the area's industrial heritage, the Magna Centre.

Gregory Watson, corporate development director at GWR - which has a stake in Yorkshire and Humberside Digital Radio - says the company picked the centre for the event earlier this year because it provided a huge contrast with bland hotel rooms where such meetings often take place.

The centre is a science adventure centre based in the former Templeborough Steelworks. This giant manufacturing site has the advantage of a capacity of up to 3,420 people but also caters for smaller parties as well.

An inflatable restaurant seating 200 people helps to divide some of the cavernous space while meeting rooms can take parties from 20 to 150 people.

Hiring the restaurant costs £500 a day, while a room 'as big as a football pitch' can be booked for £1,500 a day, according to the head of the corporate department Paul Davey.

THE ROOF GARDENS, LONDON

Kensington's rooftop oasis is a popular location for all types of events. The ability to take advantage of green space in the centre of the city is something that a lot of venues can offer, but the Roof Gardens has the added advantage for press launches of being close to Associated Newspapers, home of the Daily Mail and The Evening Standard.

The Notting Hill Carnival launch function was held at the Roof Gardens this year by Midnight Communications, partly because it wanted to be near the site of the event in West London and also because the venue was highly flexible.

'It had lots of separate areas,' says director Lindsay Edmund, 'allowing the different media to interview spokespeople in private.' There was also space to hold a traditional press conference and enable BBC LDN to broadcast from the venue.

Add in an outdoor barbecue, a steel band and some of the masquerade costume bands and the agency was able to create a flavour of the real carnival at the venue.

The Roof Gardens offer one-and-a-half acres of green space on the sixth floor above Kensington High Street, complete with flamingos, ornamental fountains and palm trees.

Prices to hire the space vary depending on day of the week and time.

As a guide, evening events between Monday and Wednesday cost at least £10,000, but that goes up to £15,000 on a Friday night, and Thursdays are not available as the gardens close. Daytime events Monday to Friday cost £2,500 but food and beverages are extra. Sundays cost a minimum of £8,000.

SKIBO CASTLE, SCOTLAND

When Madonna and Guy Ritchie were married, they chose Skibo Castle as the perfect romantic location. Since then, the Scottish hideaway has been touched by celebrity, making it a unique location with a pulling power for the media.

EHPR was looking for a venue for the consumer press launch of a new range of Daniel Galvin products earlier this summer, and it decided to use the castle.

As well as appealing to the jaded appetites of beauty journalists who are bombarded with offers of fantastic trips, it also fitted with the brand values of the product.

'The brand communication was all about natural beauty,' says Valerie Rushton, EHPR senior account manager. 'We wanted to take beauty journalists somewhere that really captured that natural beauty positioning.'

The castle is the northern outpost of The Carnegie Club, an exclusive club dedicated to recreating the kind of luxury enjoyed by the former owner Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate and philanthropist.

But the venue is secluded. Press parties normally fly from Gatwick to Inverness and travel onwards from there.

After being fully briefed on the new product, visitors can also be offered the chance to go clay pigeon shooting, have a spa bath or go mountain biking.

ELECTRIC CINEMA, LONDON

For a theatrical launch London's Electric Cinema offers a traditional theatre atmosphere.

The refurbished cinema on Portobello Road has been used by Gnash Communications for several recent events including a company launch. Agency CEO and founder Narda Shirley found the audio visual facilities to be its strongest point: 'It also definitely helps that the venue hasn't been over used in the past.' The west London branch of Soho House has a screening room capable of seating 102 people in leather arm chairs, with footstools and tables.

Since it opened in May, the venue has also hosted a number of BBC events and photo shoots.

Hiring the cinema costs £200 an hour, which includes the services of a projectionist. The venue also has a couple of smaller venues including the Study, a boardroom for ten people and the Playroom, a larger venue with a bar and a terrace. But these options are only available to members.

DELFINA, LONDON

The Delfina on London's South Bank, with its clean white walls, restaurant-quality food and a generation of young British artists toiling away above you, is a venue that has a contemporary, artistic theme.

Last year Police Sunglasses used the venue to promote its David Beckham branded range of products. Billington Jackson Natalie Tesson account director says the Delfina was selected because of its size - anything involving the England captain always attracts a crowd. 'It was a white open space and we could do whatever we wanted,' she says. 'It was very atmospheric.'

The profits from hiring out the gallery go to a trust fund for young artists, which gives the event a philanthropic angle.

The Delfina can host a stand-up event of up to 500 people or 250 seated if using the whole space, although it is possible to hire half the gallery space. The cost starts at £3,000 to hire the whole space on a weekday with a £4,000 charge during the week.

Managing director Bruce Watson says that since the venue opened around five years ago even the most traditional companies have started to use it.

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