FOCUS: CORPORATE HOSPITALITY - Learning to play the fame game/The days of indiscriminate mass celebrity turnouts are coming to an end as PROs target specific opinion formers to lend their events a greater level of prestige. Nick Purdom reports

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.

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

recent Budget.

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.’


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.


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.

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