EM’s Executive Roundtable gets candid and on-the-record about the current state of the event landscape and where the industry is really going
The doors were closed. The coffee was poured. The conversation began.
EM’s inaugural Executive Roundtable produced in conjunction with event agency MVP Collaborative put a small group of high-ranking event marketers at one table and as usual it didn’t take long for the conversation to begin. Combining marketers from various segments—from retail and tech to financial-services and manufacturing—resulted in a conversation that was cross-category but universally intriguing. Fact is most event marketers share the same goals and frustrations no matter which bubble they’re living in. ROI may mean different things to different marketers but it means a lot to everyone. With 2008 right around the corner it’s rather timely that we present you with this unscripted and rather candid discussion.
REBECCA LEONARD: I am responsible for the event marketing function for two of eight brands at my company T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. Event marketing’s kind of the dumping ground for everything that nobody knows what to do with so event marketing sponsorships branded entertainment emerging media—they just say “You guys can do that right?” And we say “Absolutely.” So we have a very interesting portfolio. We were straight sponsorship until a year ago and I got rid of all of them and now our strategy is to mirror our retail environment. We’re an off-price retailer so we never really know what we’re going to have until we buy it which is about a month before it goes into the store. So our strategy as opposed to having ongoing portfolios or buying into large sponsorships is to constantly bring something new. Never do the same thing twice and you don’t know what’s going to hit until it hits. This is the way we differentiate from the JC Penneys and the Targets and the Macy’s and the Gaps and all the other competitors that we face.
JOHN ROBINSON: I run several of our events including the Drive & Learn program and our BEST display program which stands for Brand Enhancement Show Trailers. But then I also pick up a few other things that come along as far as marketing programs our calendar program most of the signage. I just set up a display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that runs for the entire month. I take care of all the logistics for our new product introductions as well. We’ve done a lot of events for many years but I think just like the industry it’s evolving. This is my second year here so I’ve recently discovered that there’s actually an industry for what I do. I don’t really have a department but the department I’m in we’re all kind of going in different directions. I have other people who help with the events but we don’t have an event marketing department per se. So it’s still evolving.
STEVE WAUGH: We find ourselves in an interesting position: We produce probably 5 000 events but recently the light went on among our executives—the value that events were bringing to the table from a real lead-generation win-revenue situation. I don’t think it had ever really been clear or we were sophisticated enough to really understand it and in the last year or so that has become very apparent. It’s nice to be the belle of the ball but the problem with that is there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it and we’re in the process of defining what exactly is winning what’s losing and figuring out how to do more of what’s winning and less of what’s losing which requires over-investment in some things and then under-investment in others.
Now spread that across the globe. So we’re spending a lot of time in portfolio analysis not just from an event standpoint but from an overall communications standpoint. What are we saying to our prospective clients in any particular country?
As you can well imagine there are some customers that would just be inundated with communication from IBM whether it be direct marketing or interactive or invitations to events phone calls being invited to events. How do we create some kind of a communications cadence? We are not there yet but that’s what we’re really pressing down on so that we’re not wasting what we’re doing but also not making people cranky by what I call over-touching them. That’s where we’re struggling now.
RIC PEELER: Events at Intel are somewhat decentralized meaning that I manage and run our headquarters marketing team for events and that’s called the corporate event marketing group. We do a wide range of activities but we also have events that are done out of our geographic regions. So I think collectively we’re probably not far from 5 000 but my team is specifically focused on our most important highest-value and highest-visibility activities. And there’s a big range of them. We do traditional trade shows; there are probably 15 to 20 key trade shows that Intel supports around the world with four or five industry killers in our space. We do sponsorship activation both through business-to-business hospitality as well as consumer activation. This year we’ve got two major corporate sponsorships. One is in Formula One with the BMW Sauber Team and one is with the World Series of Video Games which is an emerging e-sports property.
We also do product launches and a number of Intel-hosted industry events like the Intel Developer Forum where we basically invite the industry into an event that we have supported. And there are many customer event activities such as our channel executive conference which is an opportunity for our senior managers to sit one-on-one with the most important channel customers.
One of the things that we struggle with right now is how do we create a better linkage. This is the Holy Grail for event marketing—and it’s true not just for event marketing but the product marketing organizations—how do we create a better linkage between our marketing and brand-building efforts and direct revenue conversion. It’s a huge issue. I think all marketing is going to continue to be examined more and more. We know that there’s inherent value in getting your brand exposure. But specifically how does that impact the purchase trigger?
The second thing I’m really interested in is the growth of sponsorship. It’s potentially a very powerful tool and I’ll be interested to see how properties develop over time to allow for full partnerships so it’s not just slap a logo on and then you walk away but how do you actually develop properties together so that you can be blended as part of the experience. We’re very happy with how we’ve been able to do that for the World Series [of Video Games] which is a very small property. Our properties are integrated as part of the experience but as you start exploring bigger things such as sports sponsorships the question becomes how do you find ways to get your products integrated so that people have the authentic experience when they go in to enjoy the property?
TIM COLLINS: I manage a group called Experiential Marketing at Wells Fargo. We define that a little bit differently. It’s not just events. Events is one responsibility but we have sponsorships we have a lot of online responsibilities a lot of social networking. We have an online game we were the first brand at Second Life. We’ve got four corporate blogs things like that. As far as events are concerned we also are decentralized. We manage some events at the enterprise level that cross a lot of our different product groups. But there are a lot of regional events that are managed by other folks as well as some that are in the product groups. We manage about a thousand events out of my group each year and we have five different event programs.
For us the first challenge is decentralization. While it’s a great business model for us and we’re extremely successful it is really challenging to develop a level of expertise when you’re in Texas or whatever and you’re putting on an event as opposed to a more centralized organization that’s doing a thousand events. Then the second one is measurement. As a financial institution we measure everything down to the penny and our advertising is measured that way too so it’s not like [events are] being held to a standard that our advertising isn’t. But we have to always prove an ROI; we always have to have a business model that says “Hey we’re making money out of this investment.” That’s a real challenge because I haven’t seen any real way to get that dollar amount.
MARY FEHRNSTROM: I’ve really been focused on what events Cisco’s doing and how they tie back into the objectives we’re trying to achieve. I used to run customer events and this was a new initiative so now I’m a team of one. We were chartered on this based on the inspiration of IBM and what it has done with its event portfolio. So I’ve really looked at what Cisco is doing why is it doing it what is it getting out of it how do we link the different groups together. We’re probably close to that 5 000 events number too. We have had several global roundtables we’re doing portfolio work globally in each of the theaters. Asia-Pacific thinks that 80 percent of its marketing spend is in events. Emerging is 60 percent Europe is 50 percent. The U.S. is probably not admitting it’s more than 40 but it is saying it’s about 40 percent of the spend.
So when you look at it our goal is to figure out what is the efficient way to spend that money and is it really in event marketing. Then we’re being challenged with the fact that Cisco is the platform for life’s experiences and what does that mean in a Web 3 data world. So how do we create more of a rich experience which isn’t just event-to-event but is a more holistic viewing from a customer perspective so they can go online and see what the next touchpoint is. And we’re really looking at more than just a measurement strategy but a data strategy. Measurement’s kind of the output but we don’t always have the right inputs to create that story on the output. So we’re looking at that now globally and trying to create a global measurement strategy.
EVERTON CRANSTON: We support all events for the U.S. side but we’re in the initial stages. I’m looking for any experience and how to leverage our U.S. business model to support our global business model because the teams are looking for opportunities to save money and they’re also trying to bring a lot of resources in-house versus having vendors do a lot of our global needs. Because what we found is that cost and economies of scale are never going to be leveraged when you have individual brand teams doing and working different vendors on their own. So we’re trying to centralize a lot of these functions not make it a commodity because we don’t want to lose that creative element.
I think my biggest internal challenge is always going to come back to financial controls and how can we leverage our resources more effectively. And that comes around just doing things more creatively. We’re willing to spend more for creative. My creative budget is a lot bigger than my execution budget because that’s the unknown we’ve talked about. I’m willing to invest there if it’s going to give us a better result. So that’s what’s plaguing me right now—how do I leverage the resources that I have to expand it further and support a bigger customer base?
DAN HANOVER: Let’s talk about integration.
DAN SUNDT: Integration has been a real keyword. One of the perspectives of integration that we have is not so much that everything plays off a common theme or a particular tagline but that true integration is leveraging investment to hit several audiences several tactics simultaneously so that you’re not just leveraging a message you’re leveraging your actual investment to several touchpoints. So the question should have two parts: A is that relevant to your business? B what are the challenges in actually getting there?
FEHRNSTROM: That’s a big problem and challenge and opportunity at Cisco. I think that there’s integration at two levels that we’re working on. One is at the brand-strategy level. We’re never invited to the table. I just went to a meeting where they talked about integration and one of the things that hit a chord was the agency with the closest relationship to the highest-level event-marketing person tends to be the lead agency. So all the other agencies by that regard are then defaults—agencies that are given the strategy and then asked to contribute to it rather than sit at the table together and collectively build it. One thing we talked about at that meeting was that a good cmo who really takes integration seriously runs the business like a Hollywood producer. They’re looking at agencies and internal resources as talent and they’re figuring out how to leverage the right talent to really push the envelope.
At the event level we have found some really good tools that our agency has helped us work with. It’s called Strategic Experience Mapping. I don’t know if you do the same thing but it’s really getting all the players to a brainstorm meeting up front setting the objectives together and planning the customer journey across all of your targets. That has been really effective because it gets all the players to the table.
PEELER: To show you how important it is for us I reside in the business group that’s called the Integrated Marketing Group which is basically the team that handles all of our direct marketing—all of our advertising web communications events. Those are our three primary disciplines. But we report to our vice president of integrated marketing and so it’s absolutely essential: We will not go to market in any sort of meaningful way without making sure that we have an integrated communication. I think that things are so busy in the communications space there’s so much noise that if you’re not delivering a consistent unified message your job or your ability to break through as a brand is that much more challenging. So we’re absolutely trying to shoot that way.
What’s great about integration is you can play on it and use those assets across vehicles. As a simple example we have this Formula One sponsorship with BMW. Since we entered that relationship we’ve had presence and taken those assets and used them at events we’ve used them on the web we’ve used them on other vehicles to really provide a very consistent picture worldwide and it’s been very effective.
FEHRNSTROM: Does the vp of integration champion that? Is there any sort of integration Nazi who’s forcing all the groups to work together?
PEELER: Yes. She’s emphatic that we do that. And she’s created her organizational structure so that she no longer has traditional advertising managers. It used to be we had a corporate or a consumer or a business advertising manager and then we’d go to market with that segment. Now they are integration managers. So not only do they sit and manage the advertising portion of that team but they also have the market indications web team an event portion and there’s a concentrated go-to-market plan for certain campaigns.
HANOVER: Here’s an indelicate question: Is funding integrated? Because the funding of course is going to come with the brands and products. Does integration come with that? How are budgets negotiated?
PEELER: Typically our funding is split between our central headquarters efforts and our geographies. But yes Nancy who’s our vice president is given a certain amount of budget which she can allocate to her different campaigns and then within each of those campaigns she’ll determine where the allocation should be between media advertising the web or events.
COLLINS: For us integration is a little more challenging. We try to integrate at the top of the house and I think we’re pretty successful. But in a decentralized environment when you have regions doing a lot of their own thing and we have 82 business lines that if they don’t make it into the top-of-the-house calendar they still have to make their business goals. So in many cases they’re off doing their own things. We make the attempt at the top of the house. It gets more challenging the further down in the organization you go because they’re all off in many cases doing their own stuff. We provide a centralized function to help them make some decisions and we’re working on some strategy work right now. But we provide some activation tools for that. For example we did the activation program for the Seattle Seahawks that included an event outside. So it’s a little bit of a hybrid as you get out into some of our regions and some of the bigger sponsorships to provide tools for them and activation programs. But they make their own decisions; and they have their own money.
PEELER: We used to have a very decentralized model for sponsorships and we found that we weren’t successful in leveraging the total value of them. So that’s why we’ve gone back to a mandate that says we only do global activation. Are your local activations accountable to anyone or just to a local objective?
COLLINS: To a local objective. They all have business objectives; they have to open up so many accounts and have profitability goals. So they have to be held to those business objectives and they’re given a pot of money and they’re allowed to use that pretty much as they see fit assuming that they make those business objectives. And they’re pretty tight business objectives so they’re not spending the money frivolously but they’re only accountable at the local level not necessarily at the national level.
We’re involved in decisions—for example sponsorships that are $75 000 or above. We’re involved in evaluating those deals making
recommendations on activation all those kinds of things. It’s ultimately their decision but we’re involved in the process and it’s very very rare that they will do something that just doesn’t make any sense.
Under $75 000 we don’t really get involved. It’s just too much of an effort frankly given the risk and return.
ROBINSON: At Bridgestone pretty much everything that you see out there in the public comes through our office. But we have two companies: We have Bridgestone Firestone as the manufacturing company but then we also have our stores. That’s handled in a different office. So there are decisions that they make that we have absolutely no control over and at times they are going in a different direction than we are. But we’re working on getting everybody on the same track. We just hired a new advertising agency and we’re integrating all the brand messages including our show trailers where as we speak the final trailer is being done.
In the past we had very unique paint schemes on these trailers that represented both brands—half of it was Bridgestone and half was Firestone. Now they’re all Bridgestone as far as the visual on the outside and the inside stays the same—half and half. But the graphics that you’ll see on the trailers match our print advertising our television advertising and our message which is “It’s Bridgestone or Nothing.” So we’re getting our hands wrapped around more of the big picture.
HANOVER: Question for Steve and then we’ll get off integration. In a large organization if you come together as one big family to talk about next year’s integrated marketing campaign and everybody’s piece of it is it like divorce court or is it like a family reunion?
WAUGH: It’s divorce court. Hopefully to the customers we’re showing one big happy IBM but at the end of the day IBM sells a server at a time a service at a time software one at a time. And so when we push in together when we do integration not only from a segment standpoint but also across specialty across demand generation or interactive or advertising those dollars have to be pooled. It is instinctive that a dollar in a dollar out and if you’re controlling it yourself you feel much better about your win and your loss. But when you have to take 15 20 30 45 percent of your budget and put it in that common pot and let go—divorce court. Big divorce court. Is it the right thing to do? Our customers are clearly indicating to us that we have to talk to them in one voice. So it’s painful it’s brutal but it’s putting the customer first and then we’ll do all the fighting behind the curtain. But it’s more important to speak in the words that they’re going to hear instead of the way we want to speak.
SUNDT: Let’s talk measurement. We’ve gone from frequency to impressions and the quality of impressions and now there are engagement-based models that we’re trying to play with. It struck me a couple of months ago as I started to think more about what clients are actually looking for are we wasting our time with engagement-based models of return on investment and are we strictly going to have to start looking at revenue?
PEELER: I don’t think so. I think engagement is one of those intuitive things; you know that there’s a benefit from it. Consider the different types of touches. There’s a print ad or a 30-second ad. And sure if you see it enough you become aware of a brand right? If you have a webisode and you have some sort of web engagement where you actually play around with something on the brand site for two minutes—does that move you down to a familiarity and a purchase? Maybe. Then there’s the face-to-face stuff where you’re truly sitting down putting your hands on a trial sample or you’re in a retail store using some sort of direct engaging means. Intuitively you know that the stuff down here is worth a heck of a lot more than a 30-second ad and so there’s got to be some sort of scale that can help to quantify or delineate the value—and exactly what that is I don’t know. That’s what the industry is really struggling with.
But you know intuitively that a 10-minute conversation with a product trial is vastly more rich than an exposure to a 30-second spot while you’re getting your Bud watching a baseball game. So I don’t think we should give it away.
Now is it challenging? You bet. But you know what? The only thing that they can nail down in advertising is to show you’re reaching frequency. And even that’s not accurate because you’ve got TiVos you’ve got people who are going back to the fridge you’ve got all sorts of failures in that model. Even the revenue—all you can directionally do is triangulate when we put on spots and where we peaked. But that ignores pricing competition ignores all sorts of other factors. So we’ve got a huge nut to crack but I don’t think we should just say well it’s too tough. Let’s just go back to reaching frequency.
COLLINS: I will disagree with you in that we’re being held to measure everything including our advertising. We’re being held to OK how many accounts did we open what’s the profitability of this? So I’ve seen some of the measurement in sponsorships of return on objectives—that’s nice but I can’t take that to my cfo. So how many accounts did we open? What’s the cross-sell on that? What’s the profitability? How long did we retain them? Those are all the questions that are being asked. I can’t answer those by saying well I sat down with somebody and I was able to have a 10-minute conversation with 300 people. That doesn’t really mean anything for somebody that’s not in right now. You’ve got to have something that’s for the cfo.
LEONARD: We have two major objectives when it comes to measurement—media value and increasing sales from infrequent customers. That’s a conversation I think you need to have right away—what am I ultimately going to be measured on—before you ever pitch a single program or event. To your earlier question I don’t think it should be engagement revenue versus frequency. I think the real challenge is not to choose one not to pick a model for every single medium. You know if reach frequency continues to work for advertising God bless it. Engagement is the hallmark of what we do and it’s the most important thing we do but none of our companies are in the business of giving people experiences. We’re out to sell something.
Measure that tie that to long-term revenue not short-term revenue not promotional revenue but when you can build a model that ties it back and say if I engaged this person and I keep that engagement going by partnering with my online folks or whatever I can actually start to prove that I’m going to change their behavior over time. I’m going to increase their loyalty I’m going to increase their frequency of shopping or they’re going to open different types of accounts with us. That’s the key. Everybody is so concentrated on one versus another. We need to figure out how they both live in the same spot and then we’re cookin’ with gas.
CRANSTON: We’re doing a lot more measurement than we’ve done in the past —not only is it measurable it’s auditable. You can get instant customer feedback. So it’s not just oh yeah what did you do last year? No we can see the results because the customer experience translated into doctors’ prescribing habits and the memorability of the brands. I We’re getting those messages across; it’s just making sure they give us the funding to support it next year.
HANOVER: What’s at the top of the list for enhancements in 2008?
LEONARD: Continuing to engage people one-on-one but making sure that while doing that it’s giving us a national purpose so we’re supporting the whole chain at the same time. That’s really a very challenging thing on a small budget. That’s what I’m trying to solve for 2008.
ROBINSON: We’re trying to get some things in line for our national new product introduction at the beginning of the year.
I’m also hearing some rumblings of working with another department with car clubs and trying to integrate the events that we do now and trying to bring those two segments together and maybe set the bar higher. But there’s some uncertainty there on my part because I want to make sure we keep moving forward and maybe not everybody’s on the same page or in the same boat.
PEELER: I don’t think our strategy’s going to change that much next year. And so the two big things I want to see are increased efficiency and reduction of cost for the same execution. How can we do things that use existing designs other tactical elements to try and get more done with less while at the same time seeing incremental efforts on providing new and innovative experiential programs. Experiential engagement is a very big deal for us and it’s not just you know yes you’re there talk to somebody. It’s really hands-on activities that are done in a creative way that cause an emotional response a positive emotional response when people visit them.
CRANSTON: I see a lot of themes. Number one is budgets. Also strategy. I think we’ve been involving ourselves more in our overall marketing planning needs. In the past they never involved us. Now we’re part of that ‘08 planning meeting. I can tell you to the nickel how much I’m spending this year and how much I need for next year but why are we spending only on certain things? So that’s where I want the leadership to look.
Want more? Click here to get the exclusive web-only extended interview.