FOCUS: LAUNCHES AND ENTERTAINING - Launching pads. Location may be an important element of a successful launch, but it isn’t the be all and end all. Suzan Leavy investigates

Many people outside of the profession notoriously associate PR with throwing parties and taking journalists to lunch. There’s no denying that’s an element of the job, but many PROs feel under pressure to justify spending vast sums on holding launches at flashy venues or on entertaining journalists with long lunches.

Many people outside of the profession notoriously associate PR with

throwing parties and taking journalists to lunch. There’s no denying

that’s an element of the job, but many PROs feel under pressure to

justify spending vast sums on holding launches at flashy venues or on

entertaining journalists with long lunches.

Demonstrating value for money for a launch or the value of a

relationship with a journalist is often difficult, as many clients will

still measure success in terms of column inches.

There will always be journalists who turn up at a launch purely to have

a good time, with no intention of writing anything, so how can

consultancies strike a balance between attracting the right journalists

and making the event ’sexy’ enough to ensure a good turnout?

Sheryl Seitz, a director at Bite Communications, believes that although

little can be done about preventing freeloaders from turning up, if the

objectives are established well in advance and events and venues

tailored to specific brand values, key messages will get through. But

she believes that there is little substitute for good contacts.

’We don’t recommend doing expensive launches to our clients unless we

know that we will get extensive coverage. Although it can be pretty

important to hold an event at a trendy venue, sometimes a client has a

heritage, so you have to opt for somewhere classy,’ she says.

’Inevitably you will get a small percentage of liggers coming along but

I don’t think that there is really a way to rule this out.’

However, Richard Gee, managing director of Nottingham-based Geewhizz PR,

believes there are instances when a glossy launch is the most effective

way of getting the message across. For example, he decided to use a

’carrot and stick’ technique when launching insurance underwriter Iron

Trades’ motor insurance web site. Twenty-five journalists from the

national press, motoring magazines and internet sites were invited to a

Formula One driving day at Mallory Park in Leicestershire. The agency

decided to put its key messages across the night before the event, when

the guests attended a presentation about the service and a dinner hosted

by motoring celebrity and former Formula 1 driver Tiff Needell. The next

day, the guests were split into teams and were given training in

different cars before being given the chance to drive a Tyrrell Formula

1 car.

’Formula 1 was the hook to get everyone there and in terms of getting

coverage in our target areas, it was a hook that really worked,’ says


Established brands often do not like to do anything that can be

perceived as relaunching themselves, so agencies must think of new ways

to attract coverage, instead of formal events. For instance, Cake

handles PR for mineral water company Evian and last year created a new

annual event for the company with a snowboarding competition called Cham

Jam. Journalists from key titles such as FHM and Maxim and snowboarding

publications were taken to Chamonix in France for four days to watch the

first competition.

’Evian had always had a link with snowboarding and so it was important

to be seen to be doing something like this. The presence of the

snowboarding magazines gave the event credibility,’ says Cake managing

director Mike Mathieson.

But recent research by event marketing specialist McMenemy Hill reveals

that much of the money that brand managers decide to spend on

entertaining the press or launches can be wasted, as there is no

evaluation of the event.

The research also showed that the PR agency involved may have little

choice in determining what sort of events they hold, as the client’s

personal preferences can often come into play.

The survey consisted of interviews with marketing decision makers in 77

UK companies. It revealed that just 34 per cent of those surveyed

claimed to evaluate events against their objectives. And 72 per cent

cited the personal preferences of management as very important in

deciding how to entertain the media.

’Launches or events can often be seen as an ’end note’ to a period of

planning, and our research shows that they tend not to be subjected to

the same sort of scrutiny and evaluation as other disciplines in the

marketing mix,’ says joint managing director Chris Hill.

’Launches can be evaluated on two levels - cost-effectiveness and the

output which gauges the relationship with your audience before a launch

or event and the relationship afterwards.’

Building a relationship directly with customers was one of the main

objectives for PR consultancy 3rd Rail when it worked on the launch of

Nike Town, the sports brand’s major store opening in London last July.

The launch aimed to build this relationship with customers and

style-setters rather than with the media. ’Nike tends to get criticism

everywhere it opens in the world, mainly in the press, but for the

launch of Nike Town, the company decided that it wanted to forge a

relationship directly with Londoners,’ explains Phil Tucker, managing

director of 3rd Rail.

The agency invited lecturers and students involved in architectural and

product design at the Royal College of London and St Martin’s School of

Art to the store before it had been completed, along with around a dozen

journalists. The store designers were also flown over from the US to

answer questions about the architecture of the store. Hip hairdressers

and bars were also given information on the store to build hype through

word of mouth. On 17 July, the day of the store opening, a community

event was held at a west London sports centre for 700 children with Nike

figureheads Carl Lewis and Michael Jordan turning up to work with the


No press were invited to the store opening itself. Instead, the ’Friends

of Nike’ such as footballer Ian Wright were in attendance.

Tucker believes that journalists like to see a launch event as a

starting point, and the key to success is to keep the core messages

simple but consistent, as this will make more of an impact.

’You need to be very basic with the messages you are trying to get

across. We never treat places as just another venue: attention must be

given to the ambience you are trying to create. It is the message that

journalists, or other audiences take away with them that counts.’

A real growth area is that of new businesses, which call for

imagination and often have to be launched on a shoestring budget. Band

and Brown associate board director David Vindel says PR consultants have

to think laterally to achieve good press coverage of launches in this


’Use of guerrilla marketing and good photography can be instrumental in

ensuring press coverage, more so than before because you are often

launching a company with little backing, which is at its infancy and

with no track record,’ he says.

Band and Brown adopted a multi-faceted approach to the launch of, an on-line currency. Journalists were sent a teaser bank

statement with no details apart from the beenz web address, and

one-to-one briefings were set up with members of the press the week

before the launch.

While no one can guarantee press coverage, many more PR consultants are

warming to the US concept of breakfast meetings or briefings as a way to

ensure that at least those journalists who turn up have a genuine

interest in the message.

However, while a breakfast meeting is likely to be more serious than

lunch, and you may be able to get the message across with more clarity,

there is the argument that it is not so conducive to ’bonding’ as there

is less alcohol involved. And care must still be taken when choosing a

venue for breakfast, particularly in terms of food and service, as many

journalists will be working to an afternoon deadline.

It’s unlikely that big launches and lunches will ever go out of fashion,

as many in the industry still consider them as the best ways to get key

brand messages across -whether to an audience or an individual. Although

there are no guarantees of coverage, no matter how much your credit card

winces at the bill, both can be a useful contact-building tool, and

trying to do things on the cheap could do more harm than good to a





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lunch, dinner or reception. Half day from pounds 350, and full days from

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Private hire facilities: Seven suites Room hire rate: The Hellenic Room

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the Niagra Room pounds 525, the Clarendon Room pounds 650, the Lord

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Catering: Light refreshments from pounds 3.50 per person per serving,

canapes from pounds 9 per person, dinner from pounds 36 per person

Type of clientele: Past guests have included Rudyard Kipling and

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Best elements: Secretarial back-up and efficient service.

But: Not ideal for launches which want to be seen as cutting edge

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Where is it? 45 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4HX

Private hire facilities: Bars include the Light Bar and the Rum Bar and

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Best element: Awesome design But: Not always welcoming, and not keen on


Feel: Cutting edge Philippe Starck design in all areas


Where is it? 45 Dean Street, London W1V 5AP

Private hire facilities: Three reception rooms

Room hire rate: Bloomsbury Room pounds 75, Gennaro Room pounds 175 Soho

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Anyone wishing to hire the private rooms must be vouched for by an

existing member

Feel: All of the reception rooms are individually decorated from a warm

dining room feel to a bright pink, piano-shaped room


PROs who need some inspiration for upcoming launches may find what they

are looking for at the International Confex show this month. Now in its

18th year, the event takes place from 29 February to 2 March at London’s

Earls Court, showcasing event and entertaining opportunities from around

the world.

More than 1,300 companies will be represented at this year’s event and

are split into four areas: UK Destinations, Venues and Incentive Travel;

Overseas Destinations, Venues and Incentive travel; Corporate

Hospitality and Events; and Exhibition and Conference Support


The Overseas Destinations and Venues area will cover nearly 100 European

and long-haul destinations, with representatives from convention

centres, national tourist offices, cruise lines and historical


The UK Venues and Destinations sector offers the latest in domestic

venues and services, and the Corporate Hospitality and Events sector

covers motivation and team building, caterers, activity sports and

unusual venues. The Exhibition and Conference Support Services area

includes exhibitors from audio visual suppliers to furniture and floral


There is also a workshop and seminar programme, giving advice and

comment on the latest trends and developments on various sectors. The

seminars run all day, every day from two seminar theatres on the

exhibition floor, and visitors do not need to book in advance.

The International Confex web site ( is now

on-line, where visitors can pre-register for the show, see the latest

press releases and the list of exhibitors and pre-arrange their diaries

with the appointment system on the exhibitors’ page.

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