Why Leading Brands Take a People-First Approach at Their Events
By the time an event, exhibit or activation has come to fruition, most event marketers have crossed every T and dotted every I. Or so they think. They may have approved signage, demoed the interactives, selected the premiums and hashed out the hashtag, but many often overlook event staff or brand ambassadors—expecting they’ll show up to the front lines of the experience and, after light reading and a pep talk, knock it out of the park.
Among the staffers we interviewed for the inaugural Brand Ambassadors of the Year program “training” and “guidance” from managers and brands consistently bubbled up as a top desire among the group. Good people can mean the difference between a breeze-through of a footprint for a premium and an experience with a message or product, which is why three leading brands have taken a people-first approach to their events.
Intel, famously known for its personable event staff, has developed a formal trade show staff training program under Victor Torregroza, program manager-brand and reputation marketing at Intel, who spent years in the hospitality and service industries. When he entered the trade show world, he noticed that so much effort was put into the physical experience, but not so much into the human experience—what he calls a lack of “people first.”
“We live in the land of lines, whether you’re going to the bank or through the security line at the airport, waiting at the restaurant, and so you’re going to remember good service, you’re going to remember that person who checked you in at the hotel, and you’re also going to remember the bad,” says Torregroza. “I brought forward the basics to Intel, whether it’s eye contact, listening, qualifying. These have worked really well at our activations, especially the trade show environments like CES, which is a huge investment, and so we put that extra effort into training.”
Intel has taken a “snackable” approach to training. The brand serves up three virtual training sessions before events like CES that cover the basics of staffing, like how to deal with the press, on up to basic social media for those who might tweet or post from their accounts while they’re representing the brand; and etiquette—listening, eye contact, posture and body language.
“For CES, this training takes place before Thanksgiving and if they miss them, they can make them up, but we can track it and make sure they do,” Torregroza says. “Then, we do another re-group on-site, which is fast, easy and memorable and then we do role playing, engaging, disengaging, cross-selling and offer tips they can put into action right there on the show floor.”
One way Intel measures the effectiveness of the training is through a “secret” observer dressed like a CES attendee in business attire (staff knows about this in advance) who visits all of the stations in the footprint and offers up constructive feedback that is shared with the staff every night and morning. It helps identify, transparently, who’s doing great and who needs to “take it up a notch.”
Between the Ford and Lincoln brands, about 150 product specialists are deployed to work the stands and other events during the auto show season. Ahead of it all in January, Ford brings them to Detroit for an intensive training session. Participants receive online training modules and information about the products to complete before arriving for the deep dive.
“The role of the product specialist has evolved over time, in that they really know these products top to bottom, inside out,” says Garett Carr, global auto shows and events manager at Ford. “Ours is a comprehensive program and not inexpensive to do, but given the investment that we have in auto shows and these people, we really want them to be the physical embodiment of our brand—they are our representatives on the stand.”
Training covers communications, products and what they’ll be speaking about on the show floor, services that come with the brands and brand values. On top of experts leading the program, brand managers and voices from other parts of the companies are brought in to speak, as well as outside speakers to talk about different industries and best practices that apply to the auto space. Training also involves team-building and ride-and-drives at a test track where staff have the opportunity to personally test the vehicles on display that year. At the end of the week, there’s a test. And, as the season progresses and the brands roll out new products, they participate in follow-up training to keep up to date. It’s a continuous program.
“I truly believe you can only develop a training program if you know what you want to get out of it and have established objectives and metrics for success, and work backwards from there,” Carr says. “The more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it.”
Six years ago, in her first gig in the sampling space, Jessica Kornick noticed that as a group of B.A.s, nobody seemed committed to what they were doing and treated the job very much like a temporary one. When she worked her way up into a management role as field manager and then regional manager at Nestlé, Kornick decided to develop a training program that emphasized culture and personal growth among the more than 200 field staff that run some 8,000 sampling activations for five Nestlé brands each year.
“The standard has been that these jobs are treated as seasonal and we’ve created an environment for people to behave in that way, but I do believe that every single person wants something more from these gigs, and to create tracks for growth within this industry,” says Kornick, experiential marketing manage-strategy, people and culture, at Nestlé.
Training is now offered through the Experiential Center of Excellence at Nestlé. For brand ambassadors, a day-long training takes place in the program launch market and covers operations, problem solving, testing methods and ideas, and team work. It also involves getting to know B.A.s on a personal level, understanding their career goals and passions. Two other bicoastal leadership programs are offered for field managers and leadership development. Speakers include guests from brand teams and trained regional managers who speak on topics ranging from empathy to collecting feedback from the B.A.s to emotional intelligence. The atmosphere is casual with group circles versus rows of chairs.
“People are surprised in this training and, not to give a dramatic visual, but in just about every training session there is emotion and people crying and connecting and the word I hear at the beginning and at the end when we do exit surveying is that this feels like a family,” Kornick says.
And if the goal of experiences is to emotionally connect consumers to their brands, it pays to have staff who feel emotionally connected to each other and the brand they’re representing.