THE HUMAN SIDE OF BUDGETING: INVESTING IN BRAND AMBASSADORS
Too often marketers involved in building the budgets associated with event staffing treat their brand ambassadors merely as part-time labor. However the best staffing programs go further by investing in the people that will act as brand ambassadors.
If you view your brand ambassadors as a temporary commodity you are missing the definition of their role. The key to the concept is investing—and we’re not just talking about investments of the financial nature. In order to get the best out of your event staffers investments in time and brand messaging (plus a realistic financial incentive) are necessary for success.
Pop quiz: Who would rather have working your event: a teammate or a temp? Event staffing firms will tell you that empowering your people ups your chances for success. If you give your staff a role and make them feel like they’re part of a plan they’re going to do everything they can to make it the best they possible can. If you haven’t seen it you might be going about this procedure the wrong way. Great staffs are the byproduct of five types of investments by brand marketers:
1. AN INVESTMENT IN QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
First and foremost there must be a commitment to ensure the brand ambassadors represent the highest quality individuals. “More brands are moving away from simple samplers and paying a few dollars more per hour for a more qualified more personable smarter staffer ” says Lawrence E. Hess president and CEO of Encore Nationwide. “Assembling this higher quality staff sometimes requires more effort in the recruiting process but the investment of energy is worth the work.”
Marketers looking for a more polished more conversational staffer should check three things when getting involved in the selection process.
- Educational background. Does the prospective brand ambassador have a college degree and/or relevant professional certification? An educated staff would be preferable especially if the brand ambassador is called on for in-depth explanations.
- Relevant skills. If the event demonstration involves software having a staffer who is knowledgeable with computer and Internet usage would be advantageous. Or if it is a sports-related promotion having a brand ambassador who can talk sports would benefit the event.
- Professional references. If the potential staffer has worked on previous events don’t be shy about asking for references. A quick follow-up to confirm that person’s work record can guarantee the right choice is being made—or closer to the realm of worst case scenarios prevent the wrong person from being hired for the job.
Ultimately there should be a general philosophy that only the best people should work for your company. Note: not the cheapest but the best. More often than not the best people will not be the cheapest—in the world of event staffing the cliché about getting what you pay for is not off-base.
2. AN INVESTMENT IN TRAINING
In the world of staffing time is of the essence. It takes time to select the staff. It takes time to plan for the program. It takes time to turn people into brand ambassadors.
If you don’t put in the time your feet on the street may miss a beat. One of the most common mistakes in the event planning budgeting process is the failure to build training time into the program. More often than not the brand ambassadors are expected to show up on the day of the event and get an on-site crash course briefing for what is expected of them. On the surface the approach is quick painless and doesn’t require much of a cost investment. But in reality the minimal savings from this last-minute tactic could be lost in a variety of ways.
It would actually be wiser to fit your budget with advance training time for your brand ambassadors. Rent a conference room or go to the event site the night before hand out the uniforms to your staff and then train them on their responsibilities for the next day. Part of this training should include a full role-play session to see how they react to both typical and atypical consumer interactions.
“This is the best strategy for two key reasons ” says Hess of Encore Nationwide. “One it alleviates the stress which goes into crash-course training and it ensures the staff will know where to show up how to dress and how to perform. Two nothing is left to surprise: no one will get lost on their way to the event no one will be improperly attired and no one will be caught off-guard when dealing with the public.”
3. AN INVESTMENT IN MESSAGING
When social scientist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “The medium is the message ” he was not thinking of an event marketing staff. But McLuhan’s landmark statement can easily apply here since the brand ambassadors are literally the medium for getting a message across.
The message can be relayed by way of the brand ambassador in what they are saying to the consumer and how they present themselves. The verbal message ultimately impacts the entire event so the event staff needs to be prepped on the most commonly asked questions and the most succinct answers. There is always the risk of the off-beat or obscure question for which an easy answer does not immediately come to mind. Therefore the event staff should be trained on how to answer the trickier inquiries (perhaps by providing them with cards that include a phone number and/or web site where all questions are fielded). Under no circumstance is the brand ambassador encouraged to bluff or fake an answer—that’s the ultimate wrong message!
The physical message is just as important as the conversational one and in this aspect uniforms are a crucial element in brand messaging. Invest in an actual uniform as it inevitably links individuals as a single body of action. A mere t-shirt doesn’t quite achieve the same effect.
Furthermore uniforms guarantee there is no conflicting brand message being sent out by your event staff. One of the most successful events that Encore Nationwide ever conducted was a Listerine campaign with an event staff dressed from head-to-toe: socks pants shorts t-shirts turtleneck fleece vest down jacket hats gloves and even sunglasses. Obviously it empowered the staff to work as the Listerine team but it also gave the brand ambassadors increased visibility (it was impossible to miss the Listerine fashion statement) and it prevented distraction since the event staff wasn’t showing up with other brand logos on their hats or gloves or sunglasses. The uniform investment paid off with total brand completely throughout the entire promotion.
4. AN INVESTMENT OF DOLLARS
We couldn’t do a story on investing in staffing without talking about your budget. Pay ranges for high quality general staffers runs $17 to $25 per hour and $30 to $45 per hour for regional managers and touring crews. To figure out the total costs take the number of people working the event and multiply that the number of hours in the event (and factor in if applicable the number of events being produced).
Companies are recognizing that a better conversation is worth a few dollars more. Staffing agencies are still pressed hard on price but less than they were a few years ago. Many are building databases of more professional people who demand higher hourly wages. Higher hourly wages bump the prices for the client. It’s that simple.
Encore Nationwide isn’t shy about paying higher hourly wages than many of its competitors. This makes perfect business sense. After all millions of dollars can be spent producing event programs but all of the creative work and manual labor which goes into the process ultimately rests on the interaction between the brand ambassador representing the program and the consumer who is being pitched.
5. AN INVESTMENT IN STAFFER FEEDBACK
Last and by no means least is getting the brand ambassadors to report back at the end of the event with their observations comments and suggestions on possible areas of improvement. If anyone’s feedback is important it’s the staff who worked the event and who enjoyed first-hand reactions from their target audience.
Before these people sign off from the program get their insight on what worked and what didn’t work. Ask them as many questions as you can—unless you were working the event with them And feel free to ask for their advice on how they would enhance future events based on their just-completed experiences.
THE FINAL WORD
With a motivated and focused brand team the event can proceed without hiccups. Thanks to proper training all salient sales points can be raised and all possible consumer inquiries can be answered. Thanks for the team’s uniform the marketing message cannot be lost or distracted. And because of the proper financial incentive the brand team has the motivation to do their jobs to their fullest.
For the budget-minded this might come across as requiring extra money for the event. But in the long run the payback can go beyond the initial expenditure. Remember that the old adage about how you have to spend money to make money? Believe it or not there’s gold in that statement!