When the waves of raw emotion passed following the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April, the uncomfortable, yet practical realities of it all set in for many across the event industry whose work, naturally, occurs in the public domain and at high-profile events. How will this impact future events or sponsorships?
There haven’t been dramatic changes in legalities like insurance or in policy for approval processes following the marathon, likely because changes have been happening gradually ever since 9/11, and the Centennial Park bombing at the Atlanta Olympics before that. So, what are on the minds of event marketers now?
In activating its “Doomsday Preppers” series experience at the State Fair of Texas this October in Dallas (rEvolution, Chicago, handles), National Geographic Channel had to take a hard look at the risks involved in its activation strategy and then weigh them against its marketing objectives. At the end of the day, big venues offer the best opportunity to convert the most consumers, and while the network isn’t letting fear of risk dictate programs, it does—and did—go into the fair with security top of mind.
“We have to make smart choices and make sure we have the right precautions in place and that we won’t put anybody in danger, but we’re going to keep doing what we need to do to give our fans the opportunity to experience our shows and what National Geographic channel is all about,” says Hayes Tauber, svp-consumer marketing at National Geographic Channel.
Here, a closer look at three ways NatGeo assesses risk at high-profile venues in the post-Boston era.
National Geographic takes a hard look at each prospective venue’s security and communication plans across first-responding agencies to make sure security redundancies are in place that can hopefully alleviate the level of threat at high-profile events. But sometimes it might make more sense to move on than to get your heart set on a venue that’s too high-profile and therefore, too high-risk by city government standards. Brands for years activated in Faneuil Hall, Boston’s historic center, which, by nature, had a complicated approval process.
These days, due to its proximity to government and financial buildings, it’s even more complicated. While an iconic local program like the Boston Marathon might have carte blanche to the streets of its hometown, first-time mobile programs or pop-ups in the high profile locations brands want to target are too hard a sell. In some cases, it just might not be worth it to expose your brand to the potential problems.
There are more inquiries by city officials and venue operators than ever into the types of materials being used in an activation, from whether they are flammable to if they are structurally safe. Venues and cities have also been implementing their own standards for design. For example, they might disallow an open-air display or elements where someone could theoretically plant something unnoticed. =
This has all extended the procedure process, for the better, of course, but it does involve more paperwork and simply, more time—and time equals money. It’s why it helps to have an in-market source whether in an events department, in law enforcement, or a trusted and knowledgeable legal partner to help navigate the process efficiently. In Texas, National Geographic’s activation was completely closed in by walls and contained within a “manageable-sized footprint,” according to Tauber.
“As marketers it’s hard, because we want consumers to be able to approach us at any angle,” he says. “If we have to have more of an enclosure, we need to be more creative in designing what we’re putting in the field.”
Lest we all forget, Comedy Central’s “Adult Swim” in January 2007 launched a guerrilla-marketing campaign for “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” involving battery-powered LED placards that first responders in Boston mistakenly identified as improvised explosive devices, leading to a widespread scare and investigation. The takeaway? It’s worth examining the pros and cons of a stunt, or how the experience might be perceived. Take a moment to imagine the worst-case scenario and the potential damage it could do to your brand. And then avoid it.
“A good brand steward wants to put their brand in the best light and they know how tenuous that relationship can really be, and how quickly a brand can go from riding a great high of consumer sentiment, to one false move and you can really unravel years of goodwill,” says Tauber. “You want to make sure that you’re not putting your brand goals too far above the fact that, consumers, whether it’s at the Boston Marathon or the state fair, are going there to have fun and to see a great event and you have to be part and parcel with that and be additive, not intrusive.”