FOCUS: CORPORATE HOSPITALITY - Taking part has its own rewards - The concept of corporate hospitality may be under threat from the Law Commission, but for now the sector is enjoying good business

Spectator events - once the mainstay of corporate hospitality - are losing ground to participation events, according to exhibitors and visitors at this year’s Confex.

Spectator events - once the mainstay of corporate hospitality - are

losing ground to participation events, according to exhibitors and

visitors at this year’s Confex.

The annual meeting and events industry exhibition, held at London’s

Earls Court in March, saw more exhibitors than last year - including a

considerable growth in the corporate hospitality sector of the show -

confirming the overall interest in and importance of the meetings


According to Chrissy Cottle, director Travel and Leisure, Shandwick, the

PR consultancy responsible for Confex, companies at this year’s event

were on the look-out for innovative ideas to carry their message to

their target audience.

’Initial indicators confirm that Confex visitors continue to consider a

visit to the exhibition a vital means of sourcing corporate hospitality

services and products.

’Over 40 per cent of visitors to last year’s event organised corporate

hospitality events and the general consensus seems to be that it is

increasingly important to involve clients and/or staff in events rather

than invite them as mere spectators,’ she says.

Charles Webb, the Corporate Hospitality Association’s (CHA) new

chairman, says it is easier to invite people to a traditional spectator

event, while it is harder to match a range of clients to a participation

event, because not all clients will have the same interests.

Taylor Lynn Corporation’s director Liz Taylor says that corporate

hospitality must create a sense of occasion. ’It only works effectively

when the guests know why they are at an event,’ she says. ’It must leave

a lasting impression.

There are only so many murder mysteries you can go to.’

However, leading murder mystery company, Murder on the Menu, combines

dinner with cabaret whodunnits. Director Terry Victor says the event

gives people an opportunity to relax while solving a problem. ’It

marries both spectator and participation events where people can laugh

together,’ he says.’It is an effective team building exercise and is a

puzzle that has to be solved.’

ACE corporate event management’s marketing director Chris Hill believes

the last eight or nine years has seen a backlash against big events,

such as the Henley Regatta, because they are expensive and offer nothing


However, spectator events remain the first choice for the majority of

corporate hospitality consultants. One major advantage they have over

participation events is that they can provide exclusivity. The idea of

taking a client to something to which they would not otherwise gain

access is a still a big draw to many companies. The World Cup and

Wimbledon are examples where getting prime seats or even tickets is next

to impossible.

Some companies are going one step further by arranging corporate-only

events. This year’s exclusive tennis event is the Mulberry Classic,

organised by the Quintus Group. Managing director Peter Worth, who

decided to cater exclusively for the corporate hospitality market five

years ago, says: ’The event works very well because it is very difficult

to get access to tickets and it is a place to be seen.’

One area which is increasingly attractive to corporate hospitality

organisers is events on the water and boat trips are increasing in


British Waterways represents 21,000 miles of canals and waterways in the

UK, excluding the River Thames. British Waterways media and

communications executive John Davis says there is an increase in demand

for boats being used as restaurants or for day trips.

’Water is scenic and relaxing, which allows people to focus on whatever

message they want to get across,’ he says. ’There’s also a captive

audience because there’s no way of getting off the boat.’

The National Waterways Museum at Gloucester has seen an increase in

business year-on-year. The land area around Gloucester Docks can be used

for recreation and the boats cater for meals or trips.

’Water and the land that surrounds it gives people the ability to relax

in surroundings where they might not otherwise find themselves,’ says

Tony Conder, curator of the National Waterways Museum at Gloucester. ’It

is up to the company to decide what they want to achieve.’

Boat trips also afford flexibility and creativity in delivering a

company’s message. One boat company which prides itself on its

flexibility is Bateaux London. Focusing on the quality end of the

market, Bateaux London has a restaurant service which works with clients

to create the perfect hospitality setting.

Last summer, the defence company Thompson Thorne Missile Systems wanted

to invite Ministry of Defence (MOD) employees and MPs to view its latest


Thompson knew that they would find it difficult to entice visitors to

its headquarters outside London, so they approached Bateaux London to

help. They hired a boat to be docked at Westminster Pier right across

from the MOD’s offices and lowered a flight simulator into the boat.

’Companies may know what they want to achieve, but they may not know

what to do,’ says Bateaux London’s corporate sales manager David


’We are only limited by imagination.’

While the market for corporate hospitality is flourishing, there is a

cloud on the horizon in the shape of the Law Commission. It is looking

at modernising the law on corruption to include certain forms of

corporate hospitality. For example, corporate hospitality is acceptable

if it furthers an existing client’s relationship.

However, the Law Commission believes it ought not to be acceptable if

corporate hospitality is used to attain business. The Corporate

Hospitality Association’s Webb says that only a very small proportion of

people are out to seek new business.

Spence Allan’s managing director Don Spence adds that corporate

hospitality does not make the audience buy the product. ’It helps in the

process but it won’t make the decision. The bottom line is that business

comes first and the social side comes second.’


PR agencies often have to anticipate the wishes of a client when

deciding on what kind of corporate hospitality to offer.

For hi-tech agency Harvard PR, the decision is simple: think


On one occasion it decided to match a prospective computer games client

with an event which related to the company.

’We wanted to take the client somewhere which it would remember us by,’

says Harvard’s group PR director Gareth Zundel. ’In PR, differentiating

ourselves from our competitors is the key to everything we do.’

Instead of wining and dining the client at the best restaurants in town,

Harvard chose to take client members on a Boeing 747 airplane flight


But why would people who work in the games industry want to be

entertained outside of the workplace with something that they do


’Because a great deal of people in the games industry are games players

themselves,’ says Zundel. ’They are the people who like to take their

profession home with them at night. So we brought them to test the

ultimate computer and video game.’ Zundel also believes that corporate

hospitality for a client which is relevant to their business serves

additional purposes - sending a message that the host company is

thinking creatively about the business.

Zundel says organising lavish hospitality as a form of cold-calling will

not work. Not only might it fail to impress the client, it could even be

seen as an attempt, in effect, to bribe the company.

’When we do corporate hospitality, we are creating a memorable bonding

experience in that we are trying to enhance the relationship. ’We are

offering value and expect nothing directly in return,’ he says. ’To

expect that hospitality will deliver is crazy. If you start plugging the

company to create a relationship, it will not work because it will be a

turn off.’

The success of the flight simulator was such that Harvard PR plans to

repeat the event with another client.


Even though many UK companies engage in some form of corporate

hospitality, very few go as far as incorporating an entertainment area


Virgin Radio built its headquarters in Soho’s Golden Square in early

1993 with the intention of incorporating a central area for its

employees and clients. The idea belonged to Virgin Radio’s first chief

executive, David Campbell. He wanted to create a unified company culture

where there was no division between, for example, the DJs and the sales


The area on the third floor became known as the Zoo. It is surrounded by

several radio studios and a boardroom and can hold around 70 people.

There is a cafe area with a cappuccino maker, a bar, a refrigerator,

computer games, a television, a sofa and four or five cafe-style large


’It is very family-like, which I think is the secret to Virgin Radio’s

success,’ says Virgin Radio’s deputy sales director Lee Roberts, ’The

strategy of the Zoo is to have fun at home (the office) and to convey

that fun to our clients and visitors.’

The Zoo is used to entertain Virgin’s clients, such as advertisers or

sponsors. It also hosted Virgin Radio Rock Trivia nights in 1995 and

1996 and, as a favour, Virgin allows its sponsorship clients to hold

receptions there.

Last October, Beamish was one of the first clients to sponsor Chris

Evans after his move to Virgin from Radio One. Beamish held a reception

from 7am and served pints of Beamish throughout the day.

The Zoo is also used as a room for musicians to perform sessions either

live or recorded for DJ Paul Coyte’s weekday evening show. Employees can

come down and watch the performance by performers such as Oasis, Elvis

Costello and Sting.

Roberts admits that big-spend clients are rewarded with something a bit

more special. Virgin has taken them on sports-related corporate

hospitality trips. For example, Virgin invited selected employees and

advertisers to the England v Poland football match in Poland last year.

It has also taken some clients to South Africa to see the British Lions

Rugby Tour, and others to see concerts by the Rolling Stones and U2.

’For us, corporate hospitality is more of a thank you to our clients,

employees and visitors,’ says Roberts. ’Our corporate hospitality

creates the idea of fun and helps position Virgin as a consumer and

trade brand.’

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