BRANDING: Companies must look to the unusual to be sure of getting their
message across to customers TRAVEL: Tailor-made trips are becoming the
latest way to get the most from staff and to reward client loyalty
ACTION: Outdoor pursuits with real consequences increase motivation and
can aid the bonding process
In the 1990s traditional events are being squeezed out as corporate
entertaining becomes more aligned with other marketing elements. Jeremy Slater reports
Corporate hospitality is not what it used to. Various changes in the tax
system and a more nervous approach to business has done away with the
opulence and largesse which characterised the market in the late 1980s.
Mid-way through the 1990s the ‘fun’ elements of marketing - entertaining
and sponsorship - have hardened up. It is no longer the case that a
chairman decides which local team the company is going to back this year
and his wife who chooses whether they will be at Henley or Ascot. Now
these elements have to work the marketing pound as much as sales
The market for corporate hospitality is estimated to be worth around
pounds 600 million in the UK. A major event is expected to cost at least
pounds 60,000 to the company which picks up the bill. So just as public
relations has had to move away from the gin and tonic brigade, so
hospitality has had to become a bit harder edged than champagne and
canapes on a sunny afternoon.
‘We don’t do much corporate hospitality in the classic sense of Ascot or
Henley,’ says Abel Hadden, managing director of Top 150 agency Daniel J
Edelman. ‘It has its place, but in the urgent 1990s the relationship
with the client is about how well you’re servicing their needs. In that
case dinner between companies is fine, but if you’re expecting to butter
them up with a beano then I think you can forget it.’
A point agreed with by Christopher Palmer-Jeffery managing director of
European Hospitality and Events. ‘One has to look at what is happening
in the marketplace. In the late 1980s people were spending huge amounts
on PR through hospitality because so much business was underwritten by
such events. Corporate hospitality was a merry-go-round on which so much
many deals where being made. But when the recession hit people were
embarrassed by the number of events they’d booked in advance because
they were still attending them while laying people off at the same
time,’ he says.
Corporate hospitality is becoming much more aligned with other marketing
elements such as sponsorship, PR or sales promotion and events like
Wimbledon are starting to be put out to grass.
‘Ascot and Henley are being replaced by more products to do with the
arts. I think people want to seem to be more thoughtful nowadays and
like their companies to be associated with a cultural image,’ says
Palmer-Jeffery. ‘The hosts are also becoming more adept at getting their
message across with, for instance, corporate videos being shown to their
clients before they get to the event.’
If you are a sponsor the possibilities for hospitality open up for you
as you immediately receive preferential treatment.
‘At Guinness we don’t tend to buy in much corporate hospitality,’ says
Roy Mantle, PR and sponsorship controller at Guinness. ‘A small number
use it, but on the whole we tend to entertain around the events Guinness
is involved in. We also join forces with the company in Dublin as a
route for our clients to the whole of Ireland.
‘Over there it seems that they have an event nearly every week with the
Cork Jazz Festival, the Galway Races and Galway Oyster Festival being
big pullers,’ added Mantle. ‘Also at the big social events such as
Henley you have much less chance of getting your message across. If you
bring clients to your own event it becomes like inviting them to your
home. It is much more direct and means people will be writing the name
Guinness in their diaries.’
Another way of ensuring your message and name goes home with people is
to hold a dinner or celebration in a more enclosed, but stunning
environment. Events at museums and country houses are also a measure of
branding. One such is the Imperial War Museum in Kennington, London.
Companies which have recently used the museum include Shell, DHL and BP
and it was the backdrop for the premiere party of the James Bond film
‘The place where we hold the events is a dramatic space dominated by the
atrium from which aircraft are suspended,’ says Fiona Eastwood,
corporate hospitality organiser at the Imperial War Museum. ‘Companies
find people at dinners will bond, because the museum is part of
For the more adventurous, Thorpe Park in Chertsey, Surrey is offering
previews of its latest ride No Way Out before the official public
opening on 1 July. The entertainment park has been open for 17 years and
offers a range of venues.
‘At Thorpe Park we have dealt with groups as small as 20 up to 7,000.
There are seven different facilities and many of them can be customised
to our clients needs,’ says Alan Randall, head of marketing at Thorpe
Park. He claims many customers from the white or brown consumer
electronic sector and says they come partly because of the technology
involved in the park.
However, not all in the events business think passive activities such as
client dinners or even being thrown about on a hi-tech ride are going to
really appeal in the present business climate.
‘Highly-tailored events are what’s needed,’ says Jerry Starling,
managing director of events company KPEE. ‘Corporate hospitality implies
tickets for things. That is like buying someone else’s advertisement and
putting your name at the bottom of it.
‘There is now a huge emphasis on customer loyalty. If you are going to
take someone away from their office it should be for something that is
very specific, highly branded and an excellent platform on which you can
communicate,’ he adds.
Starling uses as an example a top five video games company, which
decided to launch a new product in an old country house. Journalists
were invited to stay the night and see what happened. The game was
called Haunted House.
‘Actors and special effects were used to mimic what happened in the
game. The whole point was to make the event incredibly immersing and
make sure that people remembered it,’ says Starling.
If you think lolling round in a morning suit waiting for your horse to
come in is rather tame, there are plenty of companies which offer what
have generically become known as Outward Bound courses. It is at this
end of the corporate hospitality that team-building is a key concern.
For action adventure types there are also plenty of chances to be an
aviator. Acorne Air Sports is one company which offers flying with an
instructor and activities that can have a team-building purpose.
Acorne’s owner Richard Gyselynck has recently joined the Corporate
‘The CHA has ignored the action side of the business, but it is becoming
much more marketing-driven and realises this is as much the future as
tickets for Wimbledon,’ says Gyselynck.
And it is in tennis that you can find one of the most sumptuous
hospitality events of the year. The Hurlingham Seniors, at the
Hurlingham Club west London, pits amateurs against some Wimbledon greats
including Ilie Nastase, Roscoe Tanner, Stan Smith and Fred Stolle.
‘The difference with the Hurlingham scene is it is exclusive and
limited. It is not a bun fight and it appeals to senior managers who
have had enough of queuing for ages to get away from a Grand Prix or big
horse race,’ says Patrick Carr, managing director of events organiser
At the other end of the scale Granada Entertainment has recently opened
an indoor centre called The World of Coronation Street, which offers a
real Rovers Return experience. It is, it would seem, a case of you pays
your money, you takes your choice.
Case study: Outdoor adventure that is no playground
Eclipse, an outdoor events specialist, recently subjected five business
journalists to the rigours of their Lake District-based adventure
package. Among the willing victims was freelance journalist and PR
Week contributor Jeremy Slater.
‘To be honest I had some apprehensions when PR Week’s features editor
phoned me and asked whether I was reasonably fit. The feeling of
unreality was heightened when I was told I would have to jump off a 130
foot high bridge in the cause of good journalism,’ says Slater who
nevertheless agreed to participate on behalf of PR Week.
The five journalists participated in an activities package quaintly
dubbed ‘Apocalypse Wow’ which included kayaking on the distinctly chilly
Lake Windemere, Quad biking at Greystoke Castle, Land Rover driving, and
finally a jump from a disused railway bridge. The participants were
ferried between the various activities by helicopter.
Over the past year blue chip clients including BUPA, BT, Norweb and
Reebok have signed up for a combination of such activities, plus
abseiling, rock climbing, gorge scrambling and raft building. The
average corporate hospitality package includes one day of outdoor events
and two nights accommodation.
Increasingly the company is being asked to put together team-building
packages such as a simulated mountain rescue in which participants are
expected to rope themselves together and lower themselves and a
stretcher over a cliff edge. By comparison the journalists got off
‘The clients who come to us are people who have been everywhere else and
they are all finding race days and paint balling a bit passe’ says Simon
Wheatley head of marketing at Eclipse who says that while all the
activities are perfectly safe, many companies are attracted to the
thrill of perceived danger.
‘We give them the opportunity to try something they haven’t done before,
which they will remember rather more than their previous Henley
Regattas,’ he says.
The whole endeavour is apparently a highly-effective team-building
exercise, and standing around in wet suits in the freezing cold is
conducive to cementing client/company relationships.
‘It is a challenging, memorable and powerful experience,’ says Wheatley.
‘The participative nature of the activity we find leads to increased
motivation and commitment to get to know the person standing next to
you. You are all on a level playing field. It breaks down barriers and
people do bond more and see each other differently.’
As well as offering outdoor activities, Eclipse’s two country houses
include fully comprehensive, if informal, conference facilities and many
companies use the adventure packages as part of an overall conference
‘There is no artificiality about the exercises. The issues faced are
dynamic and the consequences are real, they know that if they mess up
someone will end up in the water, so they tend to apply themselves more
seriously to problem solving than they would sitting around a board room
When the activities were over, the adventurers followed the standard
Eclipse routine with drinks around a roaring log fire - an activity
which undoubtedly contributes to the client/company bonding process.
Travel: The latest incentive to get the most out of staff and clients
Few would contest the importance of motivation and recognition as a
valid part of a company’s marketing and communications strategy. With
the appealof vouchers and merchandise fading but with top performers
demanding some sort of incentive programme - along with the pension or
company car - companies are now prepared to make the statement that
travel is working for them.
Historically motivation is performance-driven, and performance is
directed towards the top rung of the sales ladder where competition is
aggressive and the fittest demand rewards. ‘The value of an incentive is
diluted with a large number of participants. You’re no longer taking the
creme de la creme,’ says Paul Ratcliffe, director of incentive house
Little wonder then that for those who are financially secure and can
take their sales skills elsewhere, the lure of a tailor-made trip is
more instrumental in sparking peer recognition than cash.
For employers, running an incentive programme can also be more
economical, both in the lead up to peak selling periods and in the
traditional lulls in the calendar. Generating enthusiasm among car
dealers to work towards a trip to New York or New Orleans can be far
more cost-effective than discounting or adding extras to a car, as can
encouraging self-employed insurance and pharmaceutical salespeople to
hit a sales target instead of offering financial benefits to the
clients. In the IT industry incentive trips are used to network and
reward loyal customers in the distribution channel. Technical Index
clients have river rafted the Rio Grande and explored Rio de Janeiro.
During the recession overseas trips were less visible but according to
David Hackett, chairman of the Travel Organisation: ‘Clients are moving
back into creative and exciting destinations. The purchasing department
is demanding value for money but the marketing department is getting
Tried and tested destinations in the US and European cities such as
Paris, Barcelona and Vienna will always be constants, but companies are
now looking for novelty, hence the increased interest in South Africa,
Zimbabwe, and Eastern Europe. Vietnam and Latin America are cited as the
next big sellers.
However, for pan-European businesses the need to identify a location
with good transport links with European centres outweighs novelty.
Although various European outfits are brought together for promotions to
discuss common issues, most incentives follow their own timescale and
run independently. If different nationalities are involved, an incentive
is generally run back-to-back with various groups over a number of
Since incentives have always been triggered by sales performances, the
move to reward non-sales staff for service excellence has been a slow
one and many PR companies eschew such schemes. Staniforth PR feels that
incentives against results is too difficult to quantify. Hill &
Knowlton, Sheldon Communications, Charles Barker and Shandwick follow
suit. Although Text 100 does not go as far as group travel it does run a
yearly chairman’s award - the employee who shows the highest level of
customer service receives pounds 2,000 to spend on travelling to any sub
office worldwide. ICAS has been operating an annual incentive trip to a
European destination for six years now. This year it has set three
financial targets, the highest resulting in a trip to Prague.
Breakdown: The cost of courting clients
Venue/activity Cost Telephone
Eclipse Outdoor Discovery 65-115 per head per 01539 444033
Apocalypse Wow package day minus accomodation
The Imperial War Museum From 1,850 for 350 at dinner 0171 4165394
From 1,600 for 500 reception
Thorpe Park From 30 per head including 01932 569393
Family theme park admisson and venue/catering
Acorne Air Sports 169-251 per person 01494 451703
Aviation participation days
The Hurlingham Seniors 229 per person 0171 9246400
ATP tennis championships
The World of Coronation Rovers Return Experience 01253 299555
Street Centre, tailored starts from 9.25 per head