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
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.’
HARVARD PR: SHOWING CLIENTS A TASTE OF THE HIGH LIFE
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
The success of the flight simulator was such that Harvard PR plans to
repeat the event with another client.
VIRGIN RADIO: ENTERTAINMENT WITH A TRIP TO THE ZOO
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
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