FOCUS: CORPORATE HOSPITALITY - Getting in with a sporting chance World Cup fever had corporate hospitality companies grasping at straws for a slice of the action, but promising tickets which failed to materialise proved far more injurious than not offerin

As a sporting spectacle, World Cup 98 was a resounding success, but the insatiable hunger for tickets meant that the event, once again, produced all the wrong kind of headlines for the corporate hospitality industry.

As a sporting spectacle, World Cup 98 was a resounding success, but

the insatiable hunger for tickets meant that the event, once again,

produced all the wrong kind of headlines for the corporate hospitality

industry.



The winding up of Great Portland Entertainment (GPE) by the DTI in July

this year following its failur eto deliver on orders for tickets to the

World Cup was widely covered by the media. GPE’s demise, along with the

failure of several other suppliers to deliver on promised tickets, had a

knock-on effect in the corporate hospitality industry, causing the

collapse of a number of companies including the Sporting Occasiom amd

International Championship Management (ICM).



This in turn left many disappointed corporate clients without

tickets.



The collapse of ICM was reported to have left 2,500 business people

without tickets for the World Cup Final.So just what went wrong and what

lessons can the corporate hospitality industry learn to ensure the same

thing doesn’t occur at forthcoming events like the rugby and cricket

world cups in the UK next year, and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney?



GPE was committed to supply 40,000 tickets and it received approximately

pounds 2.4 million - far more than the entire allocation of tickets for

the English FA. Some simple checks might have saved clients of the

company from getting their fingers burnt, but the pressure to supply

corporate hospitality packages for a hugely popular event won out.



One problem is that anyone can set up a corporate hospitality

company.



’With major events like the World Cup a lot of small corporate

hospitality companies come out of the woodwork and try to make a killing

out of it, but the business is not about that,’ says Wayne Moss,

director of corporate hospitality company Jarvis Woodhouse and marketing

director of the Corporate Hospitality and Events Association (CHA).



Moss says his company sold hundreds of World Cup 98 hospitality packages

and could have sold many more had tickets been available. ’We had to

turn away quite a number of requests because we weren’t prepared to go

on the black market.’



Charles Webb, chairman of the CHA and director of event company Sellers

Arena Scene, says his company chose not to get involved in the World

Cup.



But in his role as chairman of the CHA, Webb does have plenty of advice

for buyers of corporate hospitality.



’We’ve tried to educate corporate buyers to deal directly with the venue

if they can. The venue should be able to advise who the officially

appointed hospitality agent is. We, as the industry association, can

point people in the direction of the officially appointed agent, but

there is still a lot of ignorance, which is why the unofficial agents

survive.’



Simon Gillespie, marketing manager at Sportsworld, one of 12 authorised

tour operators appointed by the French organising committee for World

Cup 98, has the following advice. ’If the simple questions ’are you

officially appointed?’ and ’where are you getting your tickets from?’

cannot be adequately answered, then that is the time for the buyer to be

wary, especially if large sums of money are involved.’



However, it seems a lot of hospitality buyers are still prepared to take

risks to try to secure tickets for major sports events.



’It seems incredible that major corporate clients consistently ignore

the advice of event organisers and insist that they can get a better

deal outside the officially appointed ticket and tour operators,’ says

Gillespie.



’Plenty of big PLCs still book hospitality on the basis of a phone call

in response to a late opportunity, half-price deal,’ adds Webb.



The negative publicity surrounding the World Cup now means the corporate

hospitality industry has some rebuilding to do. ’I think it’s done a

tremendous amount of damage to the reputation of the industry,’ says

Moss.



In response to the bad publicity the CHA has launched a ’buyer beware’

campaign, encouraging corporate hospitality buyers to check out the

credentials of suppliers, and in particular whether they are members of

the association.



All members of the CHA are vetted and must work within strict

guidelines.



To give even more reassurance to buyers, the association is now

introducing a bonding scheme for its members, similar to that in the

travel industry which will mean that any company that has bought

hospitality from a CHA member which then goes into liquidation will be

able to claim their money back.



’These requirements will be introduced in the next two to three years

through EU regulations, but it is best that we get ahead of the game,’

says Webb. ’This will provide a very tangible benefit of membership,

because it is a massive advantage to buyers to know that they are

protected.’



Whether bonding will put an end to black market dealings remains to be

seen. In the meantime the corporate hospitality industry has to get on

with its work now that the World Cup is well and truly over.



This season has seen a reduction in corporate attendance at traditional

sports events such as Wimbledon and Ascot because budgets were allocated

instead to the World Cup. Those in the corporate hospitality industry

now hope there won’t be a backlash because of the bad experiences and

negative publicity. ’Companies may well not look at corporate

hospitality at all if they’ve paid out money and had bad experiences. It

may be once bitten, twice shy,’ fears Webb.



’In individual cases you may find companies which have had their fingers

burnt over problems with the World Cup may well look to other ways of

being involved in future major events, whether it be their own internal

programmes or even in some extreme cases opting out. However these

companies will be in the minority as the lure of such events is simply

too strong for them to ignore,’ says Gillespie.



With both the rugby and cricket world cups coming up in the UK next year

there is a lot at stake for the corporate hospitality industry,

particularly for those companies which specialise in the spectator,

rather than the participation sector.



Research by Total Research published last September showed that while

spectator events still commanded 70 per cent of the market,

participation events were growing at a faster rate.



The demand for tickets for major sports events is always likely to

remain high, but the corporate hospitality industry needs to get its act

together if more of the corporate spend isn’t going to wind up into

other areas.



’One hopes that the lessons of France 98 are learnt in that companies

insist on checking on the source of the packages they are buying.

Short-term savings in terms of price are soon negated by the

repercussions of disappointing major clients or senior staff,’ says

Gillespie.



With some in the industry questioning the value of corporate hospitality

at events like the World Cup, the Red Carpet Group believes it may be

time to look at something more exclusive. Next year it will be offering

corporate hospitality packages to the Oscars and Golden Globe awards in

Hollywood. Red Carpet chairman and managing director, Alan Rogers, has

no doubt the packages will provide very effective corporate

hospitality.



’We are offering clients something unique and special. We have already

got clients who are interested, and from the feedback we’ve had I’m sure

this will provide extremely effective corporate hospitality.’



MAKING A CONCERTED EFFORT: Cathcart Spring Proms



Two years ago the European Group decided to create an event to provide a

new kind of corporate hospitality opportunity. The Cathcart Spring Proms

at the Royal Albert Hall is a celebration of British music intended to

create a lively atmosphere and a memorable occasion for corporate

hospitality.



’We found a demand in the corporate hospitality marketplace for an

arts-oriented event,’ explains European Group chairman, Christopher

Palmer-Jeffery. ’We also seemed to get a greater number of women

decision makers asking us to come up with ideas which were more

user-friendly to them and their client base.’



Another sea change in corporate hospitality pointed towards an evening

event. ’There was a tendency coming out of the recession for people not

to spend so much time out of the office,’ says Palmer-Jeffery. So The

European Group created an event which starts at 5.30pm and finishes by

11pm.



Two corporate hospitality packages are available for the Cathcart Spring

Proms. The President package includes a gourmet meal in the gallery of

the Royal Albert Hall followed by seats and waiter service in a box in

the Grand Tier for pounds 324 each. The Ambassador package is a slightly

cheaper option with the meal taken in the box for pounds 274 each.



’The event keeps people together for windows of time before, during and

after the concert and gives hosts an opportunity to say ’ please, may

we?’ or ’thank you’,’ says Palmer-Jeffery. Compered by Richard Baker and

including classical favourites and a piece composed specially for a

celebrity - next year Julian Lloyd-Webber - the Cathcart Spring Proms

appeal to a wide cross-section of people. ’It’s an opportunity for

people to sing their hearts out and breaks down the barriers that

classical concerts often seem to put up,’ says Palmer-Jeffery.



One of the features of the event is that it is open to both the

corporate market and the general public. Palmer-Jeffery comments ’It

wouldn’t work if you didn’t have the public there. The interaction

between the two audiences provides a great atmosphere’. This year 2,000

corporate hospitality packages for the event were sold to a wide range

of companies including Mercedes, Bernard Matthews and Eastern

Electricity. In its three year history the event has certainly proved

popular. ’The level of re-bookings is about 80 per cent, which is higher

than for any other event we do,’ says Palmer-Jeffery.



Sponsor Computacenter is also delighted with its involvement, renewing

its sponsorship for a further three years. ’The Cathcart Spring Proms is

the perfect choice for sponsorship because it is traditionally British,

yet a unique and dynamic event. It also offers the ultimate surroundings

and environment for sophisticated corporate entertaining,’ comments

Computacenter head of marketing, Phil Williams.



COMIC SITUATIONS: Variety proves the spice of corporate life



Booking entertainment for a corporate hospitality event can be

notoriously difficult. Get it wrong and your job may be on the line.



To make life easier, JLA has been running the Real Variety Show for the

last eight years. The event showcases up-and-coming as well as more

established entertainers in front of an audience responsible for booking

corporate entertainment. This year’s show was held at the Barbican

Centre in London in front of an audience of 1,600 and presented 12

variety acts.



’When a company is booking cabaret as the highlight of a conference or

dinner, they want to avoid risks and appeal to an audience which haven’t

paid to see the particular act, but they also want to be seen to be

presenting new talent. There is an enormous appetite for tomorrow’s

stars,’ says Jeremy Lee, director of JLA.



The star of this year’s Real Variety Show was Terry Alderton, a stand-up

comic who can also sing and dance. ’He’s original, but not weird and

he’s tremendously energetic, which is a nice contrast to comics like

Jack Dee with his lugubrious, deadpan style,’ comments Lee. The day

after the show JLA received 30 enquiries about Alderton, and he has

already been booked by Canon, Bass, a computer software company, and for

the Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards.



The aim of the Real Variety Show is to put on a wide range of

entertainers, and this year’s show also featured a circus troupe,

Acrobats Unlimited, classical percussionist Julian Warburton, American

magician and comedian John Lenahan, and Armando Iannucci, best known as

the front man for the Friday Night Armistice.



One of the trends Lee has noticed is more events with international

audiences, and to appeal to such audiences he says acts either have to

be visual or musical: ’As far as entertainment is concerned even if

non-English audiences speak English wonderfully they will have no hook

on English references,’ he says. Thus impressionists like Rory Bremner

who do impressions of English icons are not likely to be suitable for

such audiences.



Noting that comedy is like fashion, Lee says that stand up may be moving

towards ’all-round entertainers’ such as Alderton. Lenahan, a comedian

who performs magic, is a prime example of the type of entertainer who

appeals to corporate audiences. He is one of the busiest on the

corporate circuit, having done over 300 shows in three years, for a

whole variety of companies including BT, Lasmo, Vodafone and Zeneca.



’He is an expert in playing to audiences who have not paid to see him,’

says Lee. ’You need to press certain buttons and make reference to the

host company.’



BONDING EXERCISES: When joining in is half the fun



When international corporate removals and storage firm Trans Euro

Worldwide Movers wanted to impress a party of North American clients on

a UK study tour it decided it needed to go beyond the traditional

company tour and dinner. Trans Euro approached corporate hospitality and

event producers KPee and asked them to come up with something

different.



KPee proposed a series of participation activities. ’We thought at first

this might be a risk, but we were very impressed with the proposals,’

says Trans Euro marketing administrator, Patricia Wigram. ’Because we

were trying to build bridges we thought participation activities would

enable our people to get involved with their people as part of a

team.



We also wanted something that would be memorable, and not like

everything else they might have seen from our competitors.’



A series of team building activities was set up in Trans Euro’s

warehouse in London that tested creativity, lateral thinking, dexterity,

patience and listening skills. These included a bridge building

exercise, 2D and 3D brainteasers, and driving model cars round an

obstacle course while blindfolded. The 14 visitors were split up into

three teams and teambuilding exercises were rotated with presentations

and a facility tour.



The teambuilding theme was carried on into the evening dinner, held at

the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall. Here KPee created a radio

studio and gave teams a script to act out a Dick Barton-style drama. ’We

thought dinner was when the conversation might have got a bit stilted.

The radio drama meant everyone discussed the script and the conversation

was a lot more animated than it might have been,’ says Wigram. Guided

and encouraged by a team of writers, actors and directors from KPee,

participants entered into the spirit of the occasion with gusto, trying

to outdo each other as they acted and created sound effects.



’The teambuilding activities in the morning broke the ice and built up

relationships and by the evening people had gone beyond a games player

relationship and achieved the bonding of colleagues and friends,’ says

KPee director, Jon Sullivan. ’We got very positive feedback. Everyone

seems to have enjoyed it a lot,’ comments Wigram.



As a follow-up, a recording of the Dick Barton drama plus photographs

was sent to participants as a reminder of the day. ’We haven’t noticed

an enormous upturn in business, but at the same time it hasn’t dropped

and it was pretty substantial to start with. Relationships were

certainly built up,’ says Wigram.



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