There is nothing quite like strawberries and cream washed down with chilled champagne at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships to woo potential new business. Whether entertaining clients at Royal Ascot or the British Grand Prix, hospitality at one of the UK's summer social events offers powerful relationship-building opportunities.
Latest figures indicate corporate hospitality spending is on the rise.
In last December's National Corporate Hospitality Survey, conducted by NOP Business, almost 90 per cent of respondents claimed their budgets this year will match or be bigger than last year's. A quarter of the 200 senior executives surveyed cited building relationships as a key reason for investing in corporate hospitality.
It is also increasingly used as a new business tool, with three quarters of respondents using events to target new clients.
Wining and dining
MacLaurin founder Brian MacLaurin spells out the benefits of hospitality: 'It is hugely valuable if you can get tickets to one of the Wimbledon finals; it is highly valuable in terms of building a relationship with the client.'
He points out that working relationships are often very intensive and certain corporate hospitality events can break down barriers. Nevertheless, PROs looking to host events at summer attractions must follow key rules.
They should find out whether clients are interested in the event and ensure there are equal numbers of agency or client staff to guests to maximise relationship-building potential.
Targeting the right summer event is also crucial.
Skandia Cowes Week in August is appropriate if clients actually want to feel involved. It's possible to take part in the race on one of the 950 boats that race each day, or hire a boat through one of the ten yacht clubs and watch the event in close proximity. Official involvement ranges from hiring a stand in the main harbour to being one of the supporting sponsors who receive high-profile branding around the town and on official publications. They can also host VIP corporate lunches at some of the waterside yacht clubs.
Companies with products required by the organiser enjoy greater benefits.
Official sponsors, such as Omega Watches, Mumm Champagne, Henry Lloyd, Timberland and WightCable can use the event more creatively, says Cowes Week Sponsorship director Stuart Quarrie. 'By running competitions and events such as tug-o-war, or by sponsoring music stages, some of our sponsors have made better use of their involvement,' he says.
He points to a move last year by Pimms to hire a steamboat to cruise round the mouth of the harbour, giving away samples of the drink. And Omega has a stand in the harbour and works with its championship-winning 'ambassador' Ellen MacArthur.
Omega's PR agency Price Nicholson marketing director, Di Green, explains that the agency takes journalists on boats during the week and holds press conferences. It also runs competitions for members of the public to sail with MacArthur.
Elsewhere, MPR managing director Susan Preston - who works for sponsor Henri Lloyd - says the company uses the event heavily for customer hospitality.
'We get retailers and the media out on boats and get invites to the evening events,' she adds.
Water events are not to everyone's taste, but the UK's summer season provides plenty more. Royal Ascot offers the pageantry of the world's most famous race meeting where guests can dress up, drink Pimms and have a flutter. The five-day event in June draws up to 70,000 people per day, with an estimated 15,000 involved in corporate hospitality.
Royal Ascot PR manager Nick Smith rules out commercial exploitation such as joint promotional marketing. Yet canny companies have been known to capture publicity through guerrilla tactics. 'It tends to be on a raid basis with hats made of edible materials that a firm is trying to promote,' adds Smith.
Perhaps the most famous of all summer events is Wimbledon. Unfortunately, unless you produce key equipment or are a leading international broadcaster, entertaining within the grounds is limited - an enquiry list is said to be several years in the waiting. Marquees are taken by companies involved in the event, such as Robinson's and IBM, but many PR companies use one of the official corporate hospitality firms, Sportsworld Group or Keith Prowse.
Keith Prowse marketing manager Emily Hickson recently took a large booking from Weber Shandwick. A spokesman for the agency confirmed that it has done so to specifically look after its top clients and continue relationship building.
If clients prefer to live life more in the fast lane, a visit to the only Formula One event in the UK might be more appropriate. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July has seen major changes in its hospitality offering. Organisers are involved in a three-year programme to improve facilities. Regular customers tend to range from the small to medium-sized engineering firms to big corporates such as Shell, the high street banks and car firms such as Jaguar.
Many international clients are drawn to cultural spectacles and during the summer, one of the world's most famous takes place - the Edinburgh International Festival. The event offers three weeks of opera, theatre, dance and music, and there are two ways PROs can get clients involved - sponsorship or product placement.
There were 15 sponsors at last year's festival, including the Bank of Scotland, drinks firm Scottish and Newcastle, and Standard Life - but with 113 different events there remains scope for new sponsors. Sole sponsorship of an event costs from £20,000, which would include receiving 'best tickets', branding on promotional activity and first choice of facilities.
Edinburgh International Festival sponsorship director Nicky Pritchett-Brown explains that the organisers would work with companies to identify the right performance. 'That could either be a symphonic orchestra concert, where you would be able to hear a CD beforehand, to a contemporary dance show,' she says. 'There are opportunities for product placement, plus growing numbers of venues for hosting events.'
Summer events are prime occasions for building client relationships or enhancing your client's name, and hospitality is increasing in popularity.
But, more importantly, it pays to be aware of the type of event your client would enjoy - and hope the rain stays away.
THE COST OF HOSPITALITY
Skandia Cowes Week - 7-14 August: The basic sponsor package starts at £25,000 and includes banners in Cowes High Street and presence in official publications. The cost of hiring a 40ft boat starts at £500; a 60ft boat is about £2,000. www.cowesweek.co.uk
Royal Ascot - 15-19 June: Prices start at £310 per person for the Royal Ascot Village package that includes a champagne reception, a four-course meal and access to the Grandstand. The VIP package costs about £515 per person. www.ascot.co.uk
Henley Regatta - 30 June-4 July: Packages start from £250 in the Fairway Village facility. The Temple Island package is on the Thames for up to 50 guests with butler service and pink champagne. www.hrr.co.uk
British Grand Prix - 9-11 July: Club Class packages are £329 per person. Private viewing suites to luxury marquee villages cost from £139 per person on the Friday to £999 for the weekend. www.silverstone-circuit.co.uk
International Edinburgh Festival - 15 August-4 September: Sponsorship costs from £20,000 including tickets and branding on promotional material. Corporate membership costs £7,000. www.eif.co.uk
Wimbledon Tennis Championships - 21 June-4 July: Keith Prowse corporate packages, including afternoon tea at the Gatsby or Championship Club, cost from £415 per person. Sportsworld Group offers marquees on Fairway Village from £310 per person. www.wimbledon.com.