Now... that's entertainment

Increasing numbers of women in business mean hospitality events must progress beyond a box at Wembley. Claire Bond investigates new ways to network

Flying high: Hospitality events are becoming more creative
Flying high: Hospitality events are becoming more creative

In the past few years, corporate hospitality has gone from being a treat for the highest paying clients to a standard way for PR professionals to interact with valuable contacts.

According to event management firm European Group, the number of packages available increased around tenfold in the past three years.

One of the reasons behind such an influx of choice is that as the groups targeted became more diverse, available options adapted to reflect this.

Or to put it another way, there are more senior women in the workforce.

‘Historically corporate hospitality was very much a male bastion, such as going to watch the rugby at Twickenham or football at Wembley,’ says Simon Gillespie, MD of Cavendish Hospitality.

‘But there is increasing demand for events more suited to mixed groups. There are more senior female executives around, and this has provoked a shift towards more wider-interest events.’

Gillespie admits although sporting venues continue to be the most widely patronised corporate hospitality locations, there has been a particular rise in cultural options.

His company now provides packages to flower shows, the ballet, and music and arts festivals, to balance out trips to football stadia and rugby grounds.

European Group, which owns European Hospitality, also believes that the scope of corporate events has expanded in recent years. ‘With the rise of the female executive, companies must be much more savvy in their offering to clients,’ says European Group CEO Christopher Palmer-Jeffrey.

‘Female middle management has increased massively in the past five years, and this is reflected in both the buying and the receipt of hospitality.’

The firm also emphasises the need to focus on understanding all attendees’ requirements, something that goes beyond simple gender divisions.

Its showpiece event is the Cathcart Spring Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

The firm feels the event has gone down well bec¬ause it ticks a number of boxes – it takes place out of work hours, mid-week, in central London and has an exclusive feel. It also provides funding for youth projects, which is handy for firms looking to provide a CSR angle to their corporate entertaining.

Even in traditionally male-dominated sectors there have been moves to acknowledge the proliferation of women in management roles and ‘redress the balance’.

Automotive PR and events specialist PFPR has become increasingly involved in events that entertain exclusively female executives and journalists. These events, which move away from ticketed hospitality packages, include adrenaline-fuelled projects such as off-road driving experiences in the Scottish Highlands, a Sunseeker powerboat trip from Southampton to the Isle of Wight and a two-day ‘Top Gun’ flying exp¬erience for female-only journalists and fleet buyers, involving ‘extreme aerobatics’.

PFPR chairman Peter Frater says it is about ‘giving guests a memorable day and building relationships’.
‘You have got to make sure that the client and the brand sticks in the mind,’ he believes.

Recently the firm staged a 30-minute aerobatic aircraft experience, something that proved as popular with the female attendees as with the male ones.

Broadening the scope of corporate events away from boozy sports trips also gives an opportunity, budget permitting, to invite partners of invitees. The extra expense may seem hard to justify at first, but guaranteeing the attendance of a key contact can be worthwhile in the long run.

Increasingly PR professionals are using the ‘couples tactic’of corporate hospitality to entertain journalists too. O2’s head of PR Nicola Green reveals one of the brand’s forthcoming hospitality offerings is to see Disney On Ice’s presentation of Finding Nemo at The O2. Time-constrained guests can therefore network, while also enjoying time with their families.

O2’s hospitality programme is heavily influenced by its links with music and sport. As well as The O2 venue itself, it has commercial relationships with both Arsenal Football Club and England rugby.

Green and her team have been thinking creatively to broaden the appeal of a trip to a football match by organising players to come and talk to guests after the game, or conducting backstage tours at gigs.

‘It is about creating an experience,’ she says. ‘Within the more traditional settings of corporate boxes at sports or music events, we will try to do something to add value and stand out.’

Similarly, media brand Virgin Radio, soon to relaunch as Absolute Radio, tries to incorporate the kind of experiences that money cannot buy.

Among the events it uses to entertain media are the Teenage Cancer Trust shows at the Royal Albert Hall, V Festival and its exclusive Zoo Live Lounge gigs.

‘People are often spoilt by going to so many different corporate hospitality events,’ says the station’s head of comms Cat Macdonald.

‘We try to think differently, using the content we create to influence hospitality.’

PR professionals drafted in to organise corporate events should take note: corporate hospitality is becoming more diverse.

It is no longer enough to simply book a soulless box at a random sports event. You should know who your guests are and consider what they, and possibly their families ,will enjoy.

The overriding theme is that clients are looking for ‘something different’. Whether it is sporting-led or arts and culture-based, standing out from competitors is going to require imagination.

The Lion King – Case Study

Kenya Tourist Board has employed a corporate hospitality programme centred on Disney’s The Lion King to promote the destination to UK opinion formers. The long-standing project aims to raise awareness among travel journalists and kicked off with tickets to the London show.

Thirty journalists, of which about 85 per cent were female, were invited to an early dinner opposite the theatre, allowing time for a short briefing and networking. During the show’s interval guests were treated to drinks and greeted by some of the performers in full costume.

‘We wanted something that could be both fun and relevant. The Lion King allowed us to bring a bit of Kenya to London,’ says Marisa Marsden, PR manager for the Kenya Tourist Board.

More recently the team has been planning private screenings of the animation in both London and Dublin. The two cities are key UK markets for the Kenya Tourist Board. The events will take place on Saturdays in October and November at Courthouse Hotel Kempinski in Soho and the Denzille Cinema in Dublin, and will host both journalists and their children. The aim is to promote Kenya as a safe, fun destination that is family friendly.

Although in these instances the team has focused on a family-led experience, there are plans next year to work with Virgin Atlantic (which sponsors the Kenyan Rugby Sevens team) and co-host journalists at Twickenham.

‘By holding different styles of events you are able to target different media. Sports do work well because you are able to watch the sport while also networking,’ adds Marsden.

Taste of London – Case Study

British Airways has been the main sponsor of Taste of London for the past three years. The annual event, which seeks to showcase the very best in food, takes place at Regent’s Park across four days in June. This year the BA team set up several hospitality tents to host 2,500 Executive club card holders, visitors and press guests to ‘reinforce the airline’s reputation as a provider of first class hospitality’.

The British Airways PR team invited press to mingle with guests in the hospitality area, while the wine buyer Peter Nixson hosted tastings for small groups. Celebrity chefs from the Taste Team including Michel Roux, Shaun Hill, Vineet Bhatia and Liam Tomlin also shared their creations and top tips.

Uniformed crew ambassadors were on hand to greet guests. The presence of catering and hospitality experts on the day also served as an opportunity to pre-launch BA’s ‘premium service training course’ designed to train crew to the highest possible standards.

The event generated features in print media, online articles and broadcast coverage using a ‘wine in the skies’ theme. The sponsorship of Taste of London complements other campaigns BA has run this year, which include a focus on Britishness and a relaunch of the British Airways Taste Team – a panel of food and drink experts committed to food at 35,000 feet.

Kate Gay, head of consumer PR at British Airways, says hospitality ‘sits at the heart of British Airways’ philosophy’ and the Taste of London brand helped reinforce the company’s commitment to ‘excellence and superior standards’.

‘The opportunity the event provides to meet and build relationships with journalists is second to none,’ she adds.

As well as providing a more relaxed and unconventional introduction to British Airways, the airline also welcomed 30 international press visitors, which resulted in substantial press coverage across Europe, Africa and Asia.

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