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10 Years of Event Marketer

The year is 2002. “American Idol’s” debut fever is spreading across TV sets all across America. The second installments of the “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of The Rings” trilogies are duking it out at the box office (as nerds everywhere rejoice—in Elvish). And somewhere in Berlin, Michael Jackson is dangling his son Prince Michael II off a hotel balcony with a blanket over his head.

Despite the year’s distractions, two guys with an idea, two full heads of hair and a dream are hunkered down deep in the basement of a suburban home in Connecticut getting ready to launch the first issue of Event Marketer. The industry was just a baby then—an add-on to the advertising
campaign or the after-party after the annual sales meeting. But even in its infancy, experiential marketing showed promise as a few pioneering brands began shuffling dollars towards live events and playing with the notion that face-to-face engagements might just get you more bang for your buck than a 30-second ad.

So samplers started hitting the streets. Spirits brands started activating on-premise. B-to-b brands explored life outside of the hotel conference room. And mobile tours began tearing up the pavement from the streets of New York City to the avenues of L.A. In every corner of the country, the discipline was being born, one mile and one moment at a time. And Event Marketer was there.

This month, as we mark our 10-year anniversary as the magazine for the makers of brand experiences, we take a long walk down memory lane to chronicle the ups and downs (but mostly ups) of the past decade. Indeed, the industry has grown up since 2002. Hairlines have receded (for one of the guys that started out in that basement, anyway), movie trilogies have ended and MJ has left us forever (RIP), but event marketing keeps singing. And making its mark.

Thumb through the years below, and enjoy our restrospective.

2002: In the Beginning

The year it all began

Fact: The initial explosion of event marketing spending can be traced to early 2002. A recession is rocking corporate marketing budgets and chief marketing officers begin looking for alternatives to ineffective above-the-line spends. The marketing industry begins to face the cold reality that while advertising may provide reach and frequency, it’s not really reaching anybody with anything substantial that frequently.

And so it begins. Event campaigns, labeled for years as either “non-traditional” or “below-the-line” programs, begin to take form. Mobile truck builders start to notice an uptick in orders. Event staffing companies see a substantial increase in requests. And the phones at trade show exhibit houses and b-to-b meetings agencies start ringing like never before. Indeed, change is happening, people.

Early event campaigns are relegated to a few markets or regions. The age of the national program has not yet arrived. But as brands begin to test event marketing, they realize that the connective potential of face-to-face marketing is undeniable—consumers can’t change the channel, click to another website or tune it all out. Even b-to-b buyers are tuning in to meetings and trade shows. It’s clutter-free access to target audiences and as marketers begin to see the potential, they start to believe the potential.

The age of event marketing is here… and this is not a trend. Click here to download the PDF.

2003: Growing Up

Marketers begin to commit to experiential strategy

If 2002 was the Year of the Event Test, then 2003 is quickly becoming the Year of the Event Commitment, as marketers across the industry develop dedicated event budgets and start to get serious about the discipline. They are beginning to adopt the term “experiential marketing.” Event budgets at some companies are doubled… or even tripled.

With the newly increased funds come bigger programs, and national campaigns are developed and deployed. On the consumer side, the mobile marketing sector is the fastest growing spend category, followed by retailtainment, street marketing and sampling. On the b-to-b side of the fence, corporate events, launch events, press events and trade shows all get increased spending.

With all the action comes some attention, as the clear tidal shift across marketing portfolios begins to take form. Not only is event activity growing, but it becomes clear that face-to-face programs are literally being funded by dollars formerly relegated to media budgets. Translation: Advertising cuts are fueling event industry growth. Click here for the PDF.

2004: Growing Pains

Measurement is premature and tech is years away, but events are evolving

Dedicated event marketing departments are being born and staffed, and although many are years away from implementing true “event strategy,” they start to embrace a measurement mentality amid chief marketers demanding to know what they’re getting out of face-to-face programs. For some, measurement is premature and unobtainable. For others, ROI numbers are substantial and a preview of better metrics to come. “Unfortunately, measuring results from event marketing is still very much a guessing game,” says HP event manager Bob Major.

Event programs begin to evolve from “one-shots” into true “campaigns” that span 25 or even 50 markets and in some cases, six or even 12 months. Initial objectives of campaigns are to “touch” a target audience and create an “indelible brand impression.” It’s the softer side of experiential, and marketers don’t know that in a few short years they’ll care more about sales and “likes” than they do about “share of heart.” But hey, everything starts somewhere, and this industry is starting to heat up.

It’s still a no-tech era, so experiential marketing campaigns lean on brand ambassadors, exhibits, signage and location to draw people in. Sure, it’s clunky, but it’s working. And as the year goes on, events get a little smarter. Events near retail stores start setting up inside the stores to push sales. Exhibits at trade shows invite top prospects to more targeted, intimate (and relevant) VIP functions off the trade show floor. Corporate events focus more on content distribution than the evening reception starring Kool and the Gang. (To be clear, we dig Kool. The Gang? Meh.) Click here for the PDF.

2005: Technology Emerges

Markets are growing and technological innovations add dimension to events

Things are looking GOOD. Consumer confidence is on the rebound, and economists are forecasting 3.5 to four percent GDP growth. Marketing budgets are up but event budgets are notably beginning to post substantial spend increases. And so it begins, the growth years—when event budgets would grow 20-30 percent annually through 2008. With increased spending, however, comes increased accountability as agencies become strategic resources rather than tactical crutches.

Wireless and other emerging technologies present new opportunities to add dimension to events. Marketers beam messages to cell phones within 50 feet of their trade show exhibits or blast thank yous to people as they exit. Reactive media, which allows people to trigger their own experience by their physical actions in a fusion of video and touchscreen technology, is big at EuroShop this year.

Events are getting an upgrade as live programs create experiences and generate demand. Brands such as Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, Real Simple magazine, Nickelodeon’s teen channel, The N, and Fisher-Price head to the mall to connect with consumers via special events, music performances, demos and fashion shows. Big players in the beer category likewise are replacing national programs with face-to-face executions and building events around business objectives. The folks at Miller Brewing prove that a high-touch approach is a successful strategy.

And then, in August, Katrina comes, sending the New Orleans’ convention business into a scramble and leaving the city a shambles. But with time, effort and investment, like all good things, it will come back. Click here for the PDF.

2006: Boom Town

Agencies pop up and beef up, spending keeps rising and new campaign launches come fast and furious.

At CES, exhibitors prove that the digital lifestyle has gone mainstream. The best booths engage first then inform second, using sizzling design to dazzle the senses and brand-driven communications to infect attendees with their message. Canon’s working model-train village, Creative Labs’ female staffers in futuristic mini-dresses and white wigs and Garmin’s 15-foot inflatable hand add flair to the show floor.

EM’s IT List shows once and for all that event agencies are becoming integrated solution providers and that procurement is taking greater control over vendor solicitation and selection. Accountability is rising as marketers are forced to produce tangible results. ROI, the industry’s eventual long-term life policy, is only now beginning to show its face. Still, event spends are up, and more marketers are executing more campaigns.

The result? Industry clutter is on the rise as traditional marketing agencies and hundreds of start-ups chase the dollars flowing into experiential. So, live campaigns are going to new places to reach new faces. It’s less about going off the beaten path and more about finding new channels to connect with consumers. Watch for the trend to explode in 2007. Speaking of going off the beaten path: Xbox finds an airport hangar in Palmdale, CA, the ideal setting for the 30-hour launch event for its Xbox 360; Toyota goes outdoors to sponsor a Bass Pro fishing tournament to reel in its target audience; and adidas ducks into a Chinatown basement for a temporary showroom for its new apparel collection. Click here for the PDF.

2007: Evolving Effective Efficiencies

The iPhone arrives, the b-to-c extends its reach and b-to-b discovers new platforms

Apple rings in 2007 by unveiling the iPhone, creating a stampede for the high-tech gadget of the year. The event marketing world gets techy, too. Event photo vendors are on the smartphone bandwagon, inviting customers to use their own camera-equipped mobile phones to snap photos and email them to a designated website, then log on to retrieve their shots. And now, having a website is no longer just a nice add-on to an event campaign—it’s an expected part of the mix. HP staffers create a robust site, hp.com/blogs/sundance, that extends the impact of its sponsorship of the film festival, and Toyota’s site, toyota.com/fjtrailteams.com, boosts the reach of its off-road events for the FJ Cruiser.

On the b-to-b side, new event platforms are hitting the market each day as virtual trade shows and conferences come to the fore. Besides Cisco, which jumped into online events in 1999 when its road show schedule topped an unwieldy 1,200 stops, brands such as Cruise West and Xerox are going virtual with weekly consumer webinars, online training programs and webcasting. Event registration gets streamlined with software programs that allow attendees to create their own agendas and perks such as early-registration discounts.

Marketers are evolving the medium on both sides, creating live programs that are becoming exponentially more efficient as they’re becoming more effective. They have fine-tuned their spends and created effective strategies for getting more out of their event budgets. In sum, event marketing is on the upswing. Lexus and Red Bull create exhibits that borrow their look and feel from big city art galleries for a sophisticated ambiance; Stoli, UPS and Mountain Dew turn their brand heritage into retro-cool events that turn on consumers. Just like the iPhone! Click here for the PDF.

2008: The Crash

The year starts on the up and up. and ends in panic, and the industry shows its mettle

To say it is a year of big changes for the industry is an understatement. It starts out innocently enough—cool mobile technologies and social media are expanding the reach of one-time events. Brands are still spending big and going all out at trade shows and on tour. And green initiatives are inspiring marketers to spend a little more for an eco-friendly halo. And then [insert menacing music here] it all changes.

The banks, the auto industry, the housing market and, as a result, the entire economy blows up and falls out, driving marketers to look with more scrutiny than ever before at their spending (what’s left of it) and their strategies (if they have one). Everyone from President Obama to members of Congress seems to have it out for the industry, blaming event professionals of every kind for the type of waste and excess that contributed to the economic fallout in the first place.

In just a matter of weeks, everything shifts forever toward more focused and lean programs that make measurable results the key to the future health of the industry. As a result, of the events of this year, virtual and hybrid platforms become both viable and necessary. And using them to help prove the value of events, along with a rock solid ROI strategy, becomes the imperative for all. Click here for the PDF.

2009: Virtual Invasion

Layoffs and budget cuts abound, Cisco goes all-online and reinvents virtual, and LEGO proves that all isn’t lost

Take a breath. The first few months of 2009 are filled with layoffs, budget cuts and cancellations, but the industry keeps on keepin’ on. Cisco kills its gigantic sales conference and replaces it with the all-virtual GSX… and shows every wannabe virtual event how it should be done. Social media becomes more and more crucial to every campaign out in the field, thanks partly to its more cost-effective buzz-building potential. Campaigns are more targeted, both in terms of appealing to specific demographics like moms or by getting bloggers and online influencers to do the heavy lifting for the brand, as Ford did with the Fiesta Movement.

The sea change makes everyone a little sea sick, until LEGO shows up with its Experience Tour. And marketers discover that there is a light at the end of the tunnel—because if LEGO can see the benefits of a new campaign launch after being away from the industry for six years, then any brand can and should get back out there.

Even though the higher-ups will forever want more and better results out of every campaign (as well they should), at the end of the year some of the spend starts to come back, as the hyper-focused campaigns deliver in bigger ways than anyone could have imagined. Click here for the PDF.

2010: Tighter and Smarter

The crisis is behind us, the iPad is here and a new beginning dawns for events

It’s 2010 and the decade that almost killed us all is over. It’s a new beginning and the top of the pops is Apple’s brand new game changer, the iPad. As every tech-savvy consumer scrambles to get one, every brand marketer is dying to get a taste of its cool factor by putting the device front and center at every event they can. The fear of
virtual events is subsiding, too. No more talk of all events being canceled “for all time” is heard around the water cooler.

But things are different than they used to be. The days of flying an entire sales force to Monaco for the Grand Prix, and incidentally having a few meetings and trainings, are over. Instead, companies opt for hybrid and satellite models, keeping most of the attendees at home or in-office, and turning the travel into an incentive for exemplary performance.

Bar codes are paving the way for RFID and, soon, NFC technology, while mobile apps are just now showing off how powerful and exciting they will become in the next few years. It’s an exciting time, because it’s only the beginning. Click here for the PDF.

2011: Expansion Nation

A year of building momentum for live events culminates in Activision’s epic Call of Duty: XP launch

If necessity is the mother of invention, then 2011 goes down as one muther of an inventive year. As the economy begins to gain slow momentum after the budget-crushing storm of 2009 and 2010, event marketers rebound, too, working smarter with less and going where they’ve never gone before. These “Comeback Kids” include auto industry marketers like Cadillac, which updates its golf portfolio to include hip culinary events designed to introduce itself to a new generation of Caddy buyers.

Working smarter in 2011 also means finding untapped audiences. Unique consumer preferences, passions and behaviors begin to drive entire programs, like the launch of Microsoft’s Kinect, the entertainment brand that goes beyond male Xbox enthusiasts and gamers ages 13-24 and instead targets families and “hypersocials.” The pre-sale strategy sells seven million units in the first 60 days.

The beleaguered trade show industry shows signs of a comeback, too, thanks to new high-tech tools and data collection strategies. In the spirit of “what’s good for one is good for all,” Philips partners with show organizers to create an immersive educational experience outside the booth that showcases its products in true-to-life, operating room environments. Comdex even makes its big comeback, this time as a 100-percent virtual show.

And while most event marketers are spending 2011 strategizing about how to bring their real-world portfolio online, Activision’s Call of Duty: XP launch event turns the hybrid trend upside down by transforming the world’s largest video game property into a life-sized brand experience. It was one of the biggest events of 2011 and a game-changer for the industry, proving that even the most non-tangible brands have a place in experiential marketing.

2012: In the Now

Budgets are coming back, but the extravagance has been replaced by strategy. It’s a brave new world

Just because budgets are making a comeback doesn’t mean budget-busting experiences are, too. Small is the new big as FedEx activates phase two of its first-ever pilot program to reach Gen Y consumers. The grassroots program—a first for the big budget sports sponsorship spender—focuses on community cultivation, face-to-face events and support for small business owners. The killer app? A deep research effort that matched the unique “need states” of small business owners with free expertise, services and networking opportunities both online and through a series of live events. The program is so popular that its members now practically run it themselves… a major trend in 2012 and just what FedEx intended.

Fast-forward to July and the industry convenes in London for one of the world’s biggest global experiential platforms, the 2012 Summer Olympics, this time held on some of the smallest square footage of any major sponsorship event. EM is there to capture the highlights (Coca-Cola, Cisco, P&G and Cadbury, to name a few) and the lowlights (why, Panasonic, why?) and preview a few of the trends taking off in late 2012. Our fave? Coke’s brand pavilion—a fan experience that transforms the architecture of the structure into a 35-minute interactive music-making journey. Event marketers have made clever use of the exteriors of many a building and mobile vehicle, but few, if any, have made such impactful and interactive use of the architecture itself. Click here for the PDF.

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