At a time when celebrities wield so much influence, persuading them
to talk up a product can be a dream come true for PR people.
But the methods used to target opinion formers have had to become more
subtle - simply inviting them to an event through their agent and then
hoping they’ll turn up is no longer good enough.
’We develop relationships with agents and the media and don’t over-egg
it,’ explains Mark Borkowski, of the eponymous specialist entertainment
PR agency. ’It’s a question of developing a complicated network of
contacts and building up their trust.’
This can be a time-consuming process. ’Opinion formers recognise the
mechanisms and need some sort of sampling exercise so they can
understand what you are trying to get them to buy into,’ says
One of the most successful ways Borkowski has found of seeing through
this process is in intimate lunches. ’We do lunches and more intimate
activities so that opinion formers have an understanding of what is on
the shelf,’ he says.
Manning Selvage and Lee managing director Kleshna Handel has also noted
a trend towards corporate entertainment on a much smaller scale. ’Rather
than getting a lot of people together, the emphasis is on a lot more
one-to-one entertainment,’ she says. ’This can be anything from going
out to dinner to taking someone to the opera. This gives opinion formers
a very different feeling to that of being one of a crowd of 200.’
When targeting opinion formers, it is important to understand their
’Very high-powered opinion formers are attracted by other people of
their kind and they like to be given information they couldn’t otherwise
get,’ says Handel. She mentions an event she ran where a select group of
around 20 opinion formers were invited to hear a speaker from the
Government Policy Unit talk about the implications for them of the
Everyone attended. ’If people are given the opportunity to meet someone
interesting, they will come because they may not have another chance to
meet that person,’ she adds.
The challenge for corporate hospitality companies today is to create
events that are so compelling opinion formers simply cannot afford to
turn them down.
’If you’re trying to get opinion formers to go to an event en-masse, it
has to be something that has a level of prestige and is so totally out
of the ordinary that they will want to go along,’ says Handel.
The Alternative Corporate Entertainment Company (ACE) works with PR
agencies to create events that are not only compelling, but also
’Events can’t really exist in isolation any more, they have to be linked
to business strategy,’ says ACE marketing director, Chris Hill.
The next step after the business strategy has been established is to
work out who the relevant opinion formers are and how to attract
’You have to push the hot buttons and understand what will excite them
and what will be relevant to their relationship with the host company.
Once you have worked out what kind of relationship you want with the
opinion former, then you can be creative with the event,’ adds Hill.
So good targeting of opinion formers is all about matching people with
events. ’The kind of opinion forming activity we do is about targeting
and matching people with the strategic objective,’ says Julia Hobsbawm
of Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications. ’The opinion formers for one client
could be totally different to those for another.’
When the Victoria and Albert Museum was seeking planning permission for
its Spiral extension to be built, for instance, Hobsbawm Macaulay
attempted to create a climate of opinion by hosting a series of forums,
breakfasts and receptions. The invited audience of opinion formers
included social and cultural commentators and critics of
Hobsbawm believes that such targeting can make all the difference
between a good and bad event. ’Poor targeting of opinion formers is
trying to grab a celebrity and putting them into an event for some kind
of empty cachet. But if you get the right opinion formers, they are glad
to be there because they’re already interested in the subject and
they’re there for a reason.’
INFORMED OPINION: GETTING THE RIGHT PEOPLE TO THE PARTY
Alexandra Shulman, editor Vogue
Not surprisingly, Vogue’s editor receives a lot of invitations to
parties. To attract her attention invitations have to be addressed to
her personally, and it helps if her name is spelt correctly.
’If I’m around and I know the people running the event and they have
some kind of relationship with the magazine, I will try to say yes,’ she
says. Time is at a premium for Shulman, and she isn’t normally able to
travel outside London. ’I prefer events that don’t take any more time
than they need to. And I don’t need to drink for an hour before
Breakfast events are looked on favourably. ’Breakfasts are good because
you can start at 8.45am and by 10am, you feel you have achieved
Generally speaking,everything has to be right - the people, venue and
drinks. The people giving it should make an effort to speak to you and
show some recognition that you’ve taken the time to attend.’
Jeff Randall, editor Sunday Business
Randall confesses to being a ’mad keen golfer’ and says that if offered
the chance to play, ’I will bend over backwards to accept’.
His favourite corporate hospitality event was a golf day at Muirfield
organised by Scottish and Newcastle.
Randall went through a period earlier in his career when he would go to
the opera and ballet, even though he loathes them. Now he is far more
choosy. ’I think it’s important to find out what a journalist is really
interested in,’ he says. ’A huge amount of money may be wasted because
the chairman’s interested in speedway and he assumes everyone else
Randall recommends thinking carefully about the composition of
’I tend not to go to events flooded with journalists. If I’m the only
journalist there, I think there’s probably going to be something in it
for me.’ He particularly likes groups with a mix of senior businessmen,
bankers, trade unionists and politicians.
Matthew Wright, showbiz columnist, The Mirror
Party animal Wright is frequently out until the small hours hob-nobbing
with celebrities. But he is very selective about the events he attends.
’I only go to things I expect will be exciting and will generate
material for the column,’ he says.
’There are lots of good parties, but few that really stand out. A really
good party is a rock and roll event where you get a mix of rock and TV
stars mingled with executives and the press and you down plenty of drink
and have a good time.’
One of the best Wright has been to was Polygram’s Lock Stock and Two
Smoking Barrels party. ’Although most of the actors were not big names,
the guest list was impressive. The venue was plush and there were lots
of beautiful people.’
Who is on the guest list is very important to Wright, and he’s critical
of PROs who try to sell an event by reeling off a list of celebrities
when he knows half of them aren’t even in the country.
ADVANCE PLANNING: RULES TO LIVE BY WHEN ORGANISING A PARTY
1. Plan, plan, plan
Always organise the event well in advance of the party date, giving
plenty of time to invite the right guests and ensure their acceptance.
Make sure all invitations are accurate, with names and addresses
correctly spelt, and give concise directions to the venue and an
itinerary. The pre-event sell is crucial to eventual success.
2. Brief thoroughly
Brief everyone from the hosting company and if you are using outside
facilitators, make sure they are a known quantity and are also
thoroughly briefed. Everyone should know exactly what his or her role is
at the event.
3. Set an agenda
To get the most out of the event, you need to go prepared and with an
agenda. The event should be seen as an extension of the working day
rather than just a jolly evening out. Focus on your goals.
4. Mix and match carefully
Select people with good social skills to act as your hosts.
Assign people to specifically look after the most important guests and
make absolutely sure they are never ignored.
5. Make guests feel welcome and relaxed
Greet guests as they arrive and offer them a drink. Give them a guided
tour if appropriate to the venue and introduce them to suitable,
like-minded people. Events are a bit like glorified children’s parties -
give guests something when they arrive and leave. Adults need to be
entertained, informed and looked after. Try to ensure celebrities are
not hassled by photographers and reporters. And make sure all guests are
able to get home.
6. Keep the conversation flowing
Conversation should be natural rather than forced. Use the event as a
common focus for conversation. Opinions about what you can and cannot
talk about differ. At pure entertainment events, some say shop talk is
taboo. Others maintain that no subject is off limits so long as it’s
appropriate to the event. Use your judgment, but always remember that
people want to understand why they’ve been invited to an event. Spend as
much time communicating with your audience as you can.
7. Have back-up
All equipment and personnel used in presentations and entertainment need
to be checked and back-up put in place in case things go wrong ... and
things can go wrong. Computers are notorious for not working at critical
times, and if you’ve booked a star name for entertainment, you need to
do everything you can to make sure they turn up and give a good
8. Be generous
Spend as much as you can afford, but spend wisely. Opinion formers are
used to fine food and drink, and they appreciate it.
9. Pay attention to detail
All the little things, as well as the big things, count at an event,
from name badges to flowers and, of course, entertainment. People
recognise attention to detail as an extension of the way you do
business. A well thought-out and well-run event reflects well on the
10. Follow up
Making the most of an event can mean using it as an opportunity to
arrange a follow-up meeting on a mutually interesting subject. It is
also a good idea to try to obtain feedback to measure the
cost-effectiveness of the event.