Event staffers today come in every stripe and skill set and it’s up to you to pick the right one for the job. Do you need them to tweet, post and Instagram from the fair, festival or trade show floor? And if so, how big should their personal social networks be? Do they need to talk product features and benefits like an expert, or do you actually need a real expert to talk to your attendees? Or, how about this crazy idea… do you need to pay brand ambassadors at all, or can you use your event to inspire a group of bloggers, brand fans or tastemakers to spread the goodwill for you?
We’ve put together a handy roundup of the industry’s top seven staffing options, a breakdown of who uses them, plus tips on how to select and hire for your next event.
Staff Type: The Volunteer
The Role: An “unpaid” community influencer who supports an event before, during and after. These folks can be Facebook fans, industry bloggers or loyal customers.
Who Uses Them: More than 100 volunteers helped run the Sept. 2012 National Family Pack Walk in Washington, D.C., put on by Warner Bros. Consumer Products, the Scooby Doo franchise and Cesar Millan of TV’s “The Dog Whisperer.” The event attracted more than 10,000 pet owners to the National Mall to complete a 1.5-mile course and take part in activities that support the Millan Foundation’s cause of helping abused and neglected dogs. These “staffers” were assigned roles depending on their age, skill level and desired activities. Jobs included manning the registration table, keeping the peace among dogs and traffic flow (no poop-scoop duty required). For their trouble, they all received a free t-shirt. Agency: Grand Central Marketing, New York City.
How You Find Them: Grand Central Marketing suggests tapping into an existing brand fan base or, if there’s a charity tie-in, post to philanthropic sites such as Idealist.org or OneBrick.org. Reach out early and often and, to avoid attrition, send direct communications. If you want the event and your base of volunteer staffers to grow, offer them their choice of on-site tasks. Cause-based volunteers are passionate people that champion the success of an event, but only if their energies are tapped right. So remember to follow up with them, thank them and keep them in the loop until the next event. Since volunteers are unpaid, it is also imperative that brands carefully outline the responsibilities—and terms—when reaching out to potential participants. It’s all about the pre-show communication with this type of staffer.
Staff Type: The Road Warrior
The Role: To manage a big investment, such as a vehicle or mobile tour, and be on the road and engaging at activations for long periods of time.
Who Uses Them: A&E network History hit the road last summer for its first Cross Country Cookout, a nine-city tour of American festivals featuring the Ultimate Smoker and Grill truck. The concept tapped into the American backyard barbecue, with the goal of getting viewers and fans to think of the network as a brand that goes beyond the screen. At each stop, attendees could play bocce, interactive games and meet stars of some of the network’s most popular shows. Online, the tour had a dedicated FourSquare location so fans could check in to win badges and follow the action on Twitter at #CrossCountryCookout. The tour is re-launching this May. Agency: Civic Entertainment Group, New York City.
How You Find Them: Scottsdale, AZ-based staffing agency EventPro Strategies says if you don’t already have a network of contacts to rely on to find this type of seasoned staffer (many agencies are hired to staff these longer-term programs because they do), you can turn to online resources like Facebook or LinkedIn, where there are closed groups for potential staffers in this line of work. These groups already do the vetting, so it saves time in weeding out the wrong candidates. One example of a closed group is the Clutch Media Tour Staff and Managers Group on Facebook, which has more than 300 members. Members must have tour experience or a Commercial Driver’s License to be able to join. When you have narrowed down your list of candidates, provide them with a detailed, day-by-day idea of what you’re looking for—essentially, answer all of their questions before they have the chance to ask them. A longer program means more for the potential staffer to agree to, from room accommodations to tour responsibilities, and this speeds up the application and contract negotiation process.
Staff Type: The Social Media Maven
The Role: To be an agent for the brand in a live format that also spreads “the gospel” about the product across social networks
Who Uses Them: To extend its Super Bowl 2013 advertising buy, SodaStream, maker of home carbonation systems, turned to social marketing to launch “Fizz and Football.” The campaign put the product in the homes and social networks—online and offline—of 1,000 consumer-hosted Super Bowl parties. These hosts were selected from a pool of 35,000 followers of handling agency, House Party. They set up individual party pages, invited friends to their home, handled planning and promotions. A week before game day the hosts received a free machine along with syrups and other premiums. As required, the hosts shared photos, videos and posts across social networks throughout the night. Agency: House Party, Irvington, NY.
How You Find Them: This particular program relied on House Party’s existing pool of wannabe “hosts,” but the strategy can be applied across the board. The main idea: to find a social media maven, you must be a social media maven. Brands (and agencies) should maintain a distinct and consistent voice on social media and resist the urge to push marketing messages on would-be mavens. In doing so, consumers and potential staffers who have equally consistent voices and a genuine affinity for the brand will latch on. In the above case, extensive surveying was used so, ask questions that divide potentials by the identity of the brand, demographics and interest levels. Look at their “reach.” How many friends and followers do they have? Do they live by social currency?
Staff Type: The Pretty Face
The Role: To reinforce and represent the personality of a product, to be captivating on-site and motivate consumers to engage
Who Uses Them: During Spring Break in Panama City Beach, FL, and South Padre Island, Texas, BIC hosted The BIC Shave Experience. Licensed barbers and cosmetologists offered to shave men and women on-site, whether it be simple touch-ups or, for men in particular, the more bold option of getting a symbol shaved into their chest hair. The footprint also included activities, such as a Hungry, Hungry Hippo-style game. Staff worked just outside the booth to engage spring breakers and draw them in. They applied branded temporary tattoos and were essentially charged with being outgoing and upbeat to promote the “go-for-it” theme of the activation. Agency: Brand Connections, New York City.
How You Find Them: Burbank, CA-based staffing agency Models on Demand says it’s not always just about the pretty face—brands want someone with personality and social skills who can engage, rather than just stand there. The best way to find these people is to get out in the field and discover them. Attend events, get a feel for how different staffers for different brands engage and then reach out if you come across someone spectacular. Most “pretty faces” have degrees, resumes and have a keen interest in marketing to begin with, something that is increasingly becoming more important in the job process. Often, staffing agencies are set up like a typical modeling agency where model/staffers can apply, send photos and then go through an application process.
Staff Type: Premium Brand Ambassador/Trained Expert
The Role: These people are subject-matter specialists and act as the face of the brand at both consumer and trade events. As hosts and educators, they build credibility for the brands they represent and, on the b-to-b side, maintain relationships with customers, dealers, account owners and sales reps.
Who Uses Them: The Glenlivet is a single-malt whisky brand that utilizes a cadre of brand ambassadors as mentors to current and new consumers during signature events such as Nights of Passage and Dram & Discover. These events help create memorable moments and recruit apprentices into The Glenlivet Guardianship, a loyalty program for its most loyal advocates. During Nights of Passage events, for example, the brand ambassador presents an overview of the single-malt liquor category and guides a tasting experience that is less technical and more experiential. His look and style reflects the aspirational expression of The Glenlivet man—cool, sophisticated, subtly confident, authentic and genuine—but also takes into account the individual’s own personality.
Ian Logan, a native Scotsman who since 2004 has been the international brand ambassador for Chivas Brothers, which owns The Glenlivet as well as other premium brands, travels the world for the company. He also is curator of The Glenlivet Whisky School, which consists of several three-day courses held throughout the year at The Glenlivet distillery. Agency: Grow Marketing, San Francisco.
How You Find Them: Ahhh, this is the question of the hour, and Grow Marketing, which provides premium brand ambassadors for premium accounts such as The Glenlivet, isn’t about to give it up that easily. “This is our secret sauce,” they say.
Staff Type: Product Expert/Developer
The Role: Experts rule when it comes to staffing a trade show booth. After all, attendees really don’t want to hear another pitch from marketing or sales. They are much more impressed by the inventors, product designers and intellectual property owners behind a brand. Think Steve Jobs, who was the epitome of that, or Martha Stewart.
Who Uses Them: Product experts and developers were at the core of many of the exhibits at Macworld/iWorld 2013 where attendees eagerly soaked up as much information as they could about new apps, software and programs for their iMacs and iPhones. HP not only brought in its top Apple support personnel, but also two of its experts to discuss its print technologies and staffers from its environmental program to answer questions about sustainability, such as how to recycle, which products use less electricity and how to reuse the plastic in its cartridges. MacKeeper, a security software developer, brought its computer scientist from the Ukraine to interact with attendees. The creative director at Adobe was on hand to discuss its technology.
How You Find Them: You don’t have to be a high-tech company to tap into this staffing trend. Your next best resource could be as close as your executive roster or your R&D department. And from what we hear, these people love to get out of the office and mingle with users of their products as much as the attendees enjoy meeting them.
Staff Type: Customer Service Ambassador
The Role: Customer service reps are pros when it comes to relationship building. Their role is to have conversations with attendees, not so much to service them, but to engage with them and get to know them better, learn how they use a product and make sure they are getting everything out of it that they can.
Who Uses Them: American Express uses its “customer care professionals,” those intrepid individuals on the other end of phone who answer billing and service questions, at as many events as possible. Last year these invaluable staffers enhanced the attendee experience at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City, the US Open for golf and tennis and the Ryder Cup.
At the US Open for Tennis at Flushing Meadows, Queens, in New York City last year, American Express customer care professionals answered questions not only about its cards and peoples’ accounts, but also about the venue and the event itself. The customer care professionals were housed in the brand’s main sponsorship footprint and in booths located throughout the grounds. In one case, they helped retrieve the keys of a card member from a cab he took to the event; in another, it printed the tickets for someone who didn’t even purchase them with an American Express credit card. “There was a surprise and delight, it was something they didn’t expect, and that makes all the difference in the world,” says Valdy Dobrila, vp-customer experience at American Express World Service, its customer service organization.
How You Find Them: Look no further than the ranks of your customer service group. American Express uses the events as a form of recognition for those that have a legacy of success. “What a difference it was seeing the customers’ faces and being able to read their body language and facial expressions,” Dobrila says. “It meant a lot to them.” And it will mean a lot to your brand, too.
–Sandra O’Loughlin, Rachel Kirkpatrick Boucher