Monday, 30 November 2009

A decade to be done with?

As we enter into the final month of the Noughties, most events businesses will be glad to see the back of the opening decade of the 21st Century.

For many, it began with the irrational fear that the Millennium Bug would wipe computer systems off the face of the world. It will end with the very real threat that event budgets, purchasing power and creative execution will never be the same again.

In event terms, the Noughties will be remembered as a decade when humans were given the power to stop talking all together. Instead, we could tweet, poke, MSN or Skype. How event management companies adapt and integrate this communication revolution into their face-to-face strategies will determine their success in years to come.

In world affairs, the Noughties introduced us to terms like global warming, tsunami, Jihad and Jedward. At first we were too scared to travel, then we were too green to travel and now we are too cash-strapped to travel.

'Staycation', 'carbon footprint', 'procurement' and 'phoenixing' are all words that event and incentive planners would rather consign to the archives. Instead, these words are now cemented into language by Wikipedia editors and for a while, resulted in pretty decent Scrabbulous scores.

In Milan last week, I chaired a conference round-table discussion between event agencies from France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal. In front of a European audience of around 200 suppliers, venues, agencies and planners, we discussed if the events industry would ever be the same again.

The outcome across Europe, as you may expect, was not wholly positive but, there were some things to look forward to once this decade of death and destruction is done with.

Hardship brings forth collaboration and entrepreneurship so creativity will win out in the end. Client relationships are more important than budgetary spend and so, business will grow more personal as networks grow ever more promiscuous. The economy will recover (the majority forecasting green shoots towards the end of 2010) and reckless bankers will be prevented from ever bringing us to the verge of bankruptcy again. And, despite all the options to the contrary, people across Europe still prefer to do business face-to-face. Besides which, here in the UK we have the Olympic Games to look forward to!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Westfield welcomes the BT Visit London Awards

Whilst most of the country were out celebrating the discovery of Guy Fawkes sitting on twenty barrels of gunpowder in a cellar under the Houses of Parliament, London’s tourism and events industry came together at Westfield Shopping Centre to celebrate the 2009 Visit London Awards, sponsored by BT.

Staging an awards ceremony in the heart of the capital’s newest retail centre, with the shops remaining open until mid-way through the awards, was always going to draw a crowd.

But what if guests disappeared during the pre-awards drinks reception to grab a bargain? Had we been asked to don black-tie just so store security could recognise and return us to our seats should the urge to begin our Christmas shopping early grow to strong? And what would have happened if one of the actual shoppers that stopped to peer down on us from the balconies above had suffered a fit of excitement at the mere sight of host Neil Fox, outstanding achievement award winner Tony Hadley or cater Rhubarb’s amazing sticky toffee pudding?

I suspect that, at times, the 700 guests gathered at tables in a basement mezzanine area at the heart of Westfield, probably felt a little exposed to an over excited housewife throwing her La Senza purchase off the balcony in the direction of Foxy.

Heavens forbid, a depressed shopaholic X-Factor fan should have decided that this was the perfect moment to end it all and, in the same final breath, extract revenge for Britain’s Got The Pop Factor….And Possibly A New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice.

Thankfully however, the shoppers on the balcony above simply looked on with mild curiosity as London’s attractions, people and businesses were rewarded for their hard work and dedication.

This was my first visit to Westfield. It’s a truly modern and first-class retail complex and made for a uniquely fitting setting for the annual leisure and business tourism awards. I can’t wait for Westfield Stratford to open closer to my doorstep in 2011.

Congratulations to all the winners of the 2009 Visit London Awards. The full list is outlined below:

Outstanding Achievement Award
Sponsored by BT
Tony Hadley, lead singer of Spandau Ballet
Visitor Attraction of the Year
Kindly supported by Visa
Gold: National Maritime Museum
 Silver: ZSL London Zoo
Bronze: Imperial War Museum London
Best Tourism Experience 
Sponsored by Smiles of London
Gold: National Maritime Museum for International Year of Astronomy 2009 at the Royal Observatory Greenwich
 Silver: Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms 
Bronze: BBC Tours
Best Consumer Event of the Year 
Sponsored by Cake
Gold: Greenwich+Docklands International Festival
Silver: Winter Wonderland 
Bronze: Westminster Council for West End Live
Best Corporate Event of the Year
 Sponsored by Conference & Incentive Travel
Gold: ExCeL London for The London Summit; Growth, Stability & Jobs
 Silver: The Brewery for Glaston-Brewery
 Bronze: Maybourne Hotel Group for Event Organisers Party at The Berkeley 6th April 2009
Business Venue of the Year 
Sponsored by Confex Group
Gold: ExCeL London 
Silver: Natural History Museum 
Bronze: Cavendish Conference Venues
Small Hotel/B&B of the Year 
Sponsored by SML Marketing & Events
Gold: Bingham 
Silver: The Colonnade 
Bronze: SACO Holborn/SACO Serviced Apartments
Large Hotel of the Year
 Sponsored by OMD
Gold: Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel 
Silver: InterContinental London Park Lane 
Bronze: The Athenaeum
Budget Accommodation of the Year
Sponsored by visitlondon.com
Gold: Generator Hostel London 
Silver: Palmers Lodge Boutique Backpackers 
Bronze: Think Apartments Limited
Outstanding Customer Service Award
 Sponsored by British Airways
Gold: The Operations team at The Cavendish Hotel London 
Silver: The Meetings & Events team at Royal College of Physicians 
Bronze: Nicholas Babbs at National Maritime Museum
Sports Tourism Award 
Sponsored by BT


Gold: England and Wales Cricket Board for ICC World Twenty20 England 2009
 Silver: Arsenal Football Club, Emirates Stadium for Emirates Cup 2008 
Bronze: Chelsea Football Club for Chelsea Football Club Stadium Tours & Museum
Sustainable Tourism Award 
Sponsored by Heathrow Express
Gold: Cavendish Conference Venues
 Silver: ExCeL London 
Bronze: The Cavendish Hotel London
Accessible Tourism Award 
Sponsored by OpenLondon
Gold: St Martin-in-the-Fields
 Silver: Greenwich+Docklands Festivals 
Bronze: The British Postal Museum & Archive
Best Gastronomic Experience 
Sponsored by London Restaurant Festival
Gold: Bingham
 Silver: Paternoster Chop House
 Bronze: Vinopolis
Marketing/PR Campaign of the Year
 Sponsored by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R
Gold: Natural History Museum for Darwin Exhibition 
Silver: Historic Royal Palaces: Tower of London and Hampton Court Palaces for Henry 500 - Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill and Henry VIII: Heads and Hearts 
Bronze: Westfield for the launch of Westfield London
People's Choice Awards
London Evening Standard's Best Family Fun 
Wicked – The Musical
London Evening Standard's Best London for Free Experience 
Natural History Museum
Kiss 100's Hottest Music Event
 West End Live
Magic 105.4's London Hero 
Emma De Souza

Monday, 21 September 2009

Keeping Britain Talking

Keep Britain Talking is the awareness campaign run by VisitBritain to encourage business in the UK to keep communicating through meetings and events, and also to support the UK meetings industry by holding those events in the UK.

I played my part this week by jumping on a double-decker routemaster bus with the Business Tourism and Event Solutions teams from Visit London.

The purpose of our extreme bus ride was to have a lengthy meeting, lasting from Paddington station to the Birmingham NEC, whilst promoting the new Visit London business branding along the way.

The Global Radio Big Events Bus also served to remind those pointing and taking photos of us as we navigated our way out of London, that there's a host of quirky meeting spaces available to event planners in the capital.

Keep Britain Talking is the campaign theme for National Meetings Week, which runs from 21-27 September. It coincides with the NEC exhibition Event UK so, the bus has another role to fulfill this week as it turns into Visit London's exhibition stand.

During National Meetings Week, key partners and supporters will be getting across the message that the meetings and events industry in Britain is worth more than £22billion. Around 80 million people attend 1.5 million conferences held annually in the UK and business visits and events account for some 5.3million jobs either indirectly or directly.

Check out the video embedded below for more information or go to the Keep Britain Talking website.

Friday, 11 September 2009

London Twestival turns up the tweets

London Twestival (or @LDNTwestival as it’s more commonly referred to on Twitter) took place last night at Vinopolis (or @vinopolislondon - you get the idea).

The wine attraction near London Bridge in Borough Market, gave over its four main cavernous event spaces so that the tweeting masses could party in aid of ChildLine.

More than 700 Twitter users bought tickets through the micro-blogging website, with all the proceeds going to the UK’s free 24-hour helpline for children in distress or danger.

Everyone involved with the Twestival event gave their time and services free of charge and the result was a party, rich in content and flowing with free booze.

Fresh from their tour supporting U2, The Hours joined a line-up of bands that included Newton Faulkner and Sound of Rum.

For the £15 charitable donation, guests could experience zones dedicated to arts and crafts, face-painting, DJ sets and collaborative story telling. Free drinks all night were supplied by Magners Pear Cider and Barefoot Wine.

Vinopolis is no stranger to hosting bands with the Friendly Fires and Scouting for Girls having played the venue in the recent past. But, this was a conveyor belt of talent performing on its main stage throughout the night.

Vinopolis excelled itself and transformed the overall Twestival backdrop with its stunning in-house lighting capabilities. Twitter folk are, by nature a sociable bunch. This is one event that will be talked about online and offline for a long time to come.

For more of my photos from London Twestival, check out my Facebook Album.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

London's warm-up weekend of sport allows two Olympic venues to shine

A school basketball court is the scene of my most embarrassing moment. I had just scored after coming on as a sub following a time-out and was standing under the basket, my 16-year-old arms aloft, wondering why no-one was celebrating my amazing dribble and dunk from the re-start. The reason no-one was sharing my elation was because the time-out had, in fact been half-time and the teams had swapped ends. I’d been sent into the game unaware and had promptly scored in the wrong basket.

No surprise, that was the end of, not only my basketball career but also any future interest I may have developed in the game. I should add that I went on to achieve at every other school sport but I never returned to a basketball court, until last week.

Game On at the O2 was a four-nation tournament that began on Friday 14 August. It kick-started a Warm-up Weekend of sport that would be the UK capital’s first real test for two 2012 Olympic venues.

Whilst Turkey got the tournament underway with a comfortable 85-69 win over Israel, my Melbourne accomplice was still crying with laughter as we'd swapped the opening game for happy hour on the O2’s entertainment avenue and I’d told her of my embarrassing school tale.

I tried to distract her from recalling my teenage sporting failure by asking how she thought London would measure up as an Olympic host city in 1076 days time.

I was heartened to hear that, compared with her own 2006 Commonwealth Games host city, she believes London already has a much cleaner and more reliable transport infrastructure. I elected not to tell her that the Jubilee Line would be closed from Green Park to Stratford the next day for engineering work, thus significantly reducing the chances of a high-turn out for the tournament’s final day.

The game we’d come to see was Team GB versus Poland. So too, it seemed, had most of London’s youth Polish community and the sounds of ‘Polska Polska’ reverberated around the arena.

We took our seats in amongst a band of passionate Polish supporters who, throughout the game, depending on which team had the ball, kept up their cries of ‘Defense!’ or ‘Polska!’.

When taking free throw penalties, both sets of supporters tried feverishly to put the opposing team off by booing. It proves, in my view, that ‘extra man spectator tactics’ is simply a part and parcel of sports banter worldwide and it only added to, rather than detracted from the overall atmosphere.

It didn’t help the Team GB cause however as their line-up, apparently depleted through injury and unavailability, could only match the Poles until half-time.

A 17-0 run, wrapped around the half-time break, set Poland up for a 70-56 victory. If only my school had put on a half-time show, half as good as the dancers and slam-dunking trampolinist that entertained the crowds at the O2, maybe I’d have paid more attention to what stage of the game we were in all those years ago.

Unsurprisingly, with its wealth of experience for hosting major events, the O2 (or the North Greenwich Arena as it will be referred to during the Olympics) sailed through its 2012 test. It’s already a world-class venue and will prove a fitting arena for 16,500 artistic gymnastic fans and 20,000 basketball supporters in three years time.

The next day it was the turn of Hyde Park to test its Olympic credentials.

One of the Royal Parks of London, Hyde Park is more famous for its Speakers’ Corner than it is for holding large capacity sporting events. In 2012 however, it will stage both the Olympic Triathlon and the 10km Open Water Swim and have grandstand seating for 3,000 spectators.

On Saturday, 15 August 2009, it staged the London leg of the ITU Dextro Energy Triathlon. Participants swam the Serpentine before cycling 40km and running 10km in laps around a park that was created to satisfy Henry VIII’s passion for hunting.

Britain’s 21-year-old Alistair Brownlee was the sporting hero of the day as he stormed to victory, underlining his status as an early gold medal favourite for London 2012. Earlier, in the women’s race, Britain’s Helen Jenkins was edged out into bronze medal place after a dramatic sprint finish.

For me though, one of the most inspiring aspects of the day, on a par with the British triathlon performances, was the aerial broadcast footage, beamed onto big screens and aired by global television networks as it followed the athletes as they made their way around the course.

Hyde Park is a lush green space surrounded by famous London landmarks. On a sunny day, and filmed from either the air or ground, it makes for an amazing setting. When you consider Hyde Park alongside other Olympic backdrops including Horse Guards Parade for the Beach Volleyball and Greenwich Park for Equestrian and Modern Pentathlon, the picture of just how stunning the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will look on a global television stage begins to really take shape.

Monday, 13 July 2009

There ain't no party like a Smirnoff party

You know it’s a going to be great party when you have to visit the Fortune Teller to find out the location of the secret garden room and, all of your earlier wardrobe choices, made for a night out at superclub Matter become irrelevant as you rummage around in the dressing up box for a fish-net glove, top hat and a fake mustache.

This was Smirnoff’s U.R The Night party, held at the O2’s nightclub last week. The party’s content was devised and voted on by the fans of its Facebook group, who had been sending in their ideas by the bucket load for a chance to win free tickets.

The results, as you may expect, ranged from the clever to the comical, stopping off at inspired and good-fun idiocy along the way.

After a visit to the dressing up box, guests could either sit in the tattooists chair or head straight to the DIY cocktail bar, where you could create your own Smirnoff-based jumping juice.

A digital graffiti wall enabled guests to upload their masterpieces to Facebook in one click whilst a make-up station resulted in the art appearing on your face.

If you found yourself standing next to one of the KGB agents hiding behind their newspaper, you would be given a secret mission. If you stood next to an usherette you’d end up with another item of clothing to wear.

In the club’s second room, The Underground Rebel Bingo Club staged a game of...er..bingo, which then turned into a game of swapping clothes. The room was finally taken over by Bristol club night, Monkey! Flash! Light! and everyone was given a torch for a night vision rave.

On the main stage, Little Boots and the Pet Shop Boys provided the headline half hour live sets whilst DJs Tom Middleton and Hot Chip kept the crowds jumping until the wee small hours.

It was a truly ridiculous evening that will have won the brand a lot of fans. It continues the Smirnoff Experience series, which has already appeared in Moscow, Shanghai, Paris and New York. The events celebrate originality in nightlife by bringing to life original concepts, forming one-off collaborations and championing original drinking experiences.

Congratulations to the team at RPM for making it happen and if anyone wants any of their stuff back, I appear to have an oversized Hawaiian shirt, a sun-visor, top hat, white feather boa, red fish-net glove and a lot of fun memories from a truly original club night.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Talking social media at Summer Eventia

Brighton played host to the Eventia Summer Conference this week so I headed to the south coast for three days of stimulating sessions on events industry trends, fun networking and a community programme that saw delegates painting a local school’s playground. (see more of my photos included in C&IT's 48 hours at Summer Eventia slideshow)

I was also there in my capacity as an events industry speaker. At 9.30am on the conference’s second day, I joined Simon Burton, MD of Exposure Communications and Rob Shimmin, MD of Shimmin.biz, to talk-up the benefits of social media to businesses.

The session drew a lot of interest from an industry that is still quite slow to embrace the opportunities presented by an ever-changing media landscape so I’ve decided to use this blog to repeat and expand on some of the key points.

Firstly, the events and hospitality industry needs to stop thinking of Twitter as a social tool for online conversation and start viewing it as a marketing and business channel that can be used for: amplification, community building, feedback, research, awareness and to build brand advocacy amongst business and consumer audiences.

Statistics that show how Twitter has transcended basic social networking include:
  • The total minutes spent on Twitter rose by a staggering 3712% from April 08 to April 09. (Neilson)

  • 88% of marketers say they are using some form of social media to market their business with Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn and Facebook, in that order, forming the top 4 social media tools used (mediaplanner.com)

  • The average age of a twitter user is 35-49 (Neilson)

  • Twitter has more than 32 million users, an increase from about 2 million a year ago

  • Some Internet measurement services show that figure increasing 50% to 100% month over month. (Wall Street Journal)

  • Twitter is now growing at a mind-boggling 2,565 percent

  • Twitter reached more than 13 million people in the US during April 2009 and that’s just on its website (i.e. - not counting 3rd party applications and mobile) (Mashable)

  • The top two brands mentioned on Twitter as of May 2009 were Starbucks and Google

In a media rich and time poor environment, more and more people are selecting channels to allow for filtering of vast quantities of disseminated information. People want a lot of information instantly but need to find ways to focus on what’s useful or interesting or relevant.

This means that if an audience has a genuine interest in your proposition and has chosen Twitter as the key channel by which to filter their information, they are more likely to engage with your messages and click through on provided links than they are to engage with, say a newsletter that appears in their email inbox daily, or a piece of direct marketing that’s landed on their doorstep.

My example of the potential reach of Twitter made during the conference session:

I recently did a marketing consultancy exercise for an events industry client which involved live Tweeting from an event they were staging. They wanted to know the worth and potential reach of Twitter so that they could decide how to use it as an effective communications tool.

During the course of the event (one hour), I sent 10 Tweets with relevant key words and Hash tags:

  • The Tweets were Retweeted 17 times across the world

  • The furthest away was Retweeted in New Zealand

  • Of those 17 Twitter accounts that repeated one or more of my messages, the potential reach was 18.109 people


  • We exist in a world where content is accessible and free. The days of being able to control or manage that content are long-gone. Seeking the removal of online messages will now legitimize and simply bring further attention to any negative sentiment.

    Brand communication strategies have to focus on engagement. And the engagement needs to be long-term, from senior players in the business (rather than PRs) and abide by basic ‘Netiquette’ principles.

    By banning social media from your business, not only are you making a statement about your brand’s unwillingness to engage, but you’re also cutting off a key research tool that allows you to see what others are saying about your business in real time.

    Do you know your brand’s perception according to the Twitterverse?

    Footnote:
    Remember, just as so much content is free, so too are the applications that allow you to broadcast or access this information.

    I’ve recently discovered AudioBoo - a free iPhone application that allows you to record five minute segments of speech before immediately publishing online.

    Here is five minutes of Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future, predicting the future trends for the events industry at the Eventia conference:

    Listen!

    Sunday, 14 June 2009

    Celebrity Wine Tasting with Oz Clarke

    This weekend I joined around 150 wine enthusiasts at London’s Vinopolis for a celebrity wine tasting, hosted by Oz Clarke.

    For those that don’t know, (and I confess I didn’t) Oz is best known for his recent television wine adventures with James May.

    As I’d not seen his television appearances, I didn’t know what to expect. What I quickly discovered was a wine expert who gets his message across via a not so subtle blend of directness, wit and audience banter, combined with an expansive knowledge that spills out in unique rambling non-pretentious monologues that had the whole audience gripped from the moment he began talking.

    The session, during which Oz focused on five wines selected from his new book, was only meant to last one hour. An hour and a half later, audience members were still asking questions, eager to press another story from this walking wine encyclopedia.

    So what did I learn? Well, amongst other things, I discovered:

    Dom Perignon did not invent champagne:
    In 1662, almost 40 years before the Benedictine monk, an English physician called Christopher Merrett presented the Royal Society with a paper in which he had documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine in its bottle to create a second fermentation. This is the method for making champagne.

    A Chilean Merlot is a safe bet because it’s not really a Merlot:
    It’s a Carmenere (at least its blood-line stems from former French Carmenere vineyards used to make fine vintages such as Rothschild’s Chateau Lafite.)

    In 1850 the valleys around Santiago were planted with vine material from Bordeaux including a lot of Carmenere mixed in with Merlot. After phylloxera wiped out most of the French vineyards, the French opted to replace Carmenere with the more robust Cabernet Sauvignon or traditional Merlot, (Carmenere ripens several weeks after Merlot and often produces yields lower than Merlot and the French were desperate for guaranteed harvests).

    Chile meanwhile was relatively isolated from international wine markets. Carmenere to the rest of the world became an old forgotten or extinct wine grape.

    As more Chilean 'Merlot' found its way onto the world markets during the past 20 years, someone noticed the 'Merlot' had stronger and spicier flavours than Merlot from anywhere else in the world. In 1994, Professor Jean- Michel Boursiquit of Montpellier's school of Oenology identified the Chilean 'Merlot'. Using DNA mapping he showed the world the Chilean 'Merlot' was really Carmenere and was identical to Carmenere vines found in France.

    The difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay:
    Sauvignon Blanc is recognisable by its green flavours such as pepper and gooseberry. The Chardonnay has a more golden colour, possessing more oak, mature flavours such as nuts and honey.

    I also learned that Oz Clarke is a fantastic orator and would be ideal for after-dinner speaking. If you'd like to discover him for yourself, he returns to Vinopolis on Saturday 10th October for another celebrity wine tasting. For more information visit www.vinopolis.co.uk/meettheexperts

    This is Oz explaining why we no longer drink Chardonnay:

    Tuesday, 9 June 2009

    The British Music Experience at London's O2

    For anyone that hasn't yet made it down to the British Music Experience, here's a case study I wrote for Visit London after the O2 staged an evening to showcase the Bubble's latest interactive exhibition along with its Finale events space.

    What was the event?
    On Wednesday 13 May, more than 150 corporate planners flocked to London's newest events space and interactive exhibition, the British Music Experience (BME) within The O2 entertainment complex.

    How is the BME set up?
    Hundreds of artists feature in the exhibition from The Beatles to Iron Maiden, from Cilla Black to Elastica, and from David Bowie to Motorhead with in-depth looks at musical genres from Skiffle to Reggae, from Rock n' Roll to Blues, and from Punk to Grime.

    The BME uses RFID technology throughout, meaning that traditional tickets are replaced by a Smart ticket which allows visitors to activate the interactive elements of the exhibition and also to register further interest in specific features.

    The exhibition is split into nine zones around a central core that explores, amongst other areas, the history of playback, transmission and dance music.

    The core's Dance the Decades feature allows guests to learn one of 12 dances from the past 70 years including The Twist, Disco, The Loca-Motion, Voguing and even Rave. A virtual dance instructor shows off the moves and a swipe of the Smart ticket on the Smart ticket sensor point outside the booth, allows guests to record their own choreography and become a virtual dancer in their own video.

    Around the core's perimeter, the zones are split into music decades beginning with 1945-62 and going right through to 1993 to present day and a glimpse of the future. The Gibson Interactive Studio, also situated on the core's perimeter, offers visitors an opportunity to play on various guitars from the Gibson family, Singerland drums and Baldwin digital pianos, plus a mixing desk and vocal booth. Visitors are given step-by-step video tutorials on beginner, intermediate and pro-tutorial settings.

    How would the BME work for event planners?
    O2 Head of Sales Caroline McNamara explains: "When event planners hire the 347m² Finale Space, their guests get to tour the phenomenal exhibition before ending up in the events area. Within this Finale Space, we can host 288 people on round tables, 350 people for a conference or 400 for a standing event. The audio-visual technology available allows corporates to create a special visual experience across the walls of the space, and we also offer a BME corporate or individual exhibition membership scheme."

    What happened during the showcase evening?
    Guests gathered for a drinks reception in the Finale Space, which is available to hire seven days a week and can be transformed into a variety of set-ups in just one hour.

    Food was provided by Compass Group and guests were treated to an introductory speech by Curator Paul Lilley before heading off to explore the exhibition.

    Lilley said: "Britain has been at the creative forefront of the worldwide music industry for well over half a century now so it's always struck me as strange that there has never been a British music museum. Popular music is often thought of as something disposable, great entertainment or escapism. It is all these things but it's also something more, a part of who we are and our history. This is why it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to the British Music Experience, here at the world’s most popular music venue.

    "Museums collect, preserve and interpret. We have collected and preserved iconic memorabilia but, where we differ to other museums is in the interpretation. The BME is an experience and its Smart ticket system allows guests to get involved with many of the exhibits and take a part of the experience away with you when you leave. You can download your guitar playing or singing. As you go around you can learn dance moves or explore music time lines. You can interrogate the Thatcher years or look at how music playback and broadcast have changed over the decades. It is a combination of the most cutting-edge memorabilia with this high-end, state-of-the-art interactivity. What a perfect backdrop for an event."

    What did the corporates think of the BME?
    Reaction from those client event planners who attended the BME open evening was overwhelmingly positive. Jennifer Campbell, Senior Consultant at Style de Vie Unique said: "It's an excellent venue and I loved the fact that corporate hire of the Finale Space included access to the exhibits. It is a fantastic space for live events but also stylish and effective for private hire - just the type of venue we'd be interested in using from a bespoke perspective."
    Linda Wadkin, PA to the Chief Executive of Courthaulds said: "It's amazing, I don't want to go home. It's really interactive, I love the smart tickets and I can't wait to recommend it to my bosses as an events space."

    For details on hiring the O2 Bubble featuring the British Music Experience for events click here

    Monday, 25 May 2009

    Magazine cover designed using iPhone app

    It’s enough to make Vincent yank off his ear, Tracey to throw her soiled knickers around her bedroom and Banksy to vandalise his local street corner. Artistic expression has entered a new age and now needs nothing more than a £2.99 iPhone application to produce something worthy enough for the front page of a top US magazine.

    Artist Jorge Colombo took an hour to fingerpaint an intricate Times Square scene using Brushes on his iPhone and The New Yorker magazine has deemed his handy work front cover material for its June issue.

    According to sources that know, landing a New Yorker cover is the kind of honour that would define an entire career for many illustrators. So how exactly did Colombo achieve it?

    Conspiracy theorists point out that the Conde Nast publication has been running full-page iPhone App Store ads on its back cover for weeks now. But however the deal was struck, you can’t argue with talent and the art world has found a new canvas.

    Check out how the magazine cover was painted below.

    Tuesday, 12 May 2009

    Experience Marketing Conference line-up: Part 2

    My 2009 Excite! conference agenda has gone live. Having spent the past few months putting this programme together, I'll be chairing both days at Earls Court on the 24th and 25th June. Thanks to all the confirmed speakers for agreeing to take part, and impart what promises to be some great insight. The seminars are free to attend. To register for Excite! visit the show website.

    24 June
    10.30am
    The true test of experience marketing

    O2 Head of Events John Worthington and Sledge CEO Nic Cooper (pictured) discuss the value of experience marketing in a recession. With many above the line marketing budgets slashed, what are the benefits of bringing brands to life? How should sponsorship be effectively leveraged? And what are the experiential pitfalls to avoid in order to see a continued rise in event budgets?

    11.30am
    What’s the point of Twitter? Developing more integrated campaigns using social media

    Social media Viking and Head of Information Architecture, London at Agency.com, Kai Turner has been crafting digital brand experiences for more than 13 years. His agency was responsible for Mars brand Skittles using a live Twitter search feed as its website home page whilst Kai himself has launched successful Twitter and Facebook campaigns and designed the British Airways Great Britons social website. Kai will deliver a greater understanding of social media channels and how they can be used for more integrated event marketing campaigns.

    1.45pm
    Getting a return on your event marketing investment

    ID Client Services Director, Nicola Jordan explains how experience marketing delivers Return On Investment by showcasing the tools used and methods developed during the agency’s 15 years staging live campaigns.


    2.45pm
    Launching live!

    EA Head of Retail and Experiential Marketing Penny Humphrey and Circle Agency Managing Director Claire Stokes provide an exclusive insight into staging a long-term live product launch campaign using creative brand experiences and celebrity involvement. This exciting launch planned by EA will take place just one month before Excite, so delegates will be the first to discover how it went and what results were achieved.

    3.45pm
    What next for automotive?

    In the absence of a British International Motor Show and a tough climate for the worldwide sales of cars, what future role will experiential play in automotive marketing strategies? Was it the correct decision to cancel a biennial London motoring exhibition? What are the alternatives for engaging dealers and consumers to drive brand advocacy and the sale of cars worldwide? Jamie Gladstone, creative director at Imagination, Michael Wyrley-Birch, client services director at TRO Group and Robin Carlisle, managing director of Mobile Promotions (pictured) discuss the future of automotive events.

    25 June
    10.30am
    Experience marketing makes good business sense

    The strongest business brands are those forging a unique, engaging, and personalised relationship with their customers. Think Apple, IBM, Cisco, P&G. These brands know that creating and sustaining authentic, interactive, and consistent brand experience is the key to brand integrity, strength, and longevity. George P Johnson explores how leading brands are increasingly using experience marketing as the cornerstone of their overall brand strategy. Vice President and Managing Director EMEA Kim Myhre will share case studies on how brands are using both live and online experiences to drive business success.

    11.30am
    Clearly Smirnoff

    RPM's Dom Robertson (pictured) and Rob Wilson explore how experiential can work at the heart of a brand's communication platform by presenting Smirnoff's Original Nights, a truly integrated programme. This session is a must-attend for client event organisers keen to discover what an agency expects from the agency / client relationship. It will provide a strategic insight into managing the expectations of both the client and nightclub / bar promoters. Discover how RPM works with PR, above-the-line and digital to create this series of brand-owned Smirnoff consumer experiences.

    12.30pm Close

    Thursday, 16 April 2009

    Tweetup at SEA Life London Aquarium

    I co-hosted the first Events Industry Tweetup earlier this week at the new SEA Life London Aquarium. It was a great evening with an unexpectedly high turn-out of more than 100 event professionals.

    On arrival, guests marveled at the sharks, swimming beneath them as they ventured across the Shark Walk. They could then communicate with scuba divers in the tank, watch the Green turtles from the new glass Ocean Tunnel and network with fellow Twitterers including deceptionist Sav, and look-a-likes Marylin Monroe, Madonna and David Beckham.

    Myself and fellow host Peter Kerwood also used the event to announce the launch of our online Twitter directory. By registering your Twitter name on www.eventweeps.com, it'll make it easier for others to find and follow you.

    Thanks to everyone that made the Tweetup such a fun night. It was fantastic to meet so many of the personalities behind the twitter profiles and interesting to hear the stories of how Twitter has benefited business and network connections.
    Follow me on Twitter for other crazy schemes and tweet updates. For more photos from the evening, click here.

    Friday, 10 April 2009

    Experience marketing conference line-up: Part 1


    Following the success of last year's Excite! conference, the good folk at Exposure Event Creations have asked me to pull together the experience marketing seminars for this year's event, taking place at Earls Court from 24-25 June.

    I wanted to improve upon last year's programme by consulting with key agency heads and getting buy-in from brands who advocate live marketing strategies.

    With over half the programme now complete, I can safely say that it's shaping up nicely. O2 head of events John Worthinton and EA (Electronic Arts) head of retail and experiential marketing Penny Humphrey are both confirmed speakers.

    O2's Worthington will team up with Sledge chief executive Nic Cooper to discuss the value of experience marketing in a recession. Whilst EA's Humphrey will take to the stage with Circle Agency managing director Claire Stokes to provide an exclusive insight into staging a long-term live product launch campaign using creative brand experiences and celebrity involvement.

    A high-profile product launch, planned by EA and currently under wraps, will take place just one month before Excite! Delegates will be the first to discover how it went and what results were achieved.

    Other highlights of the 2009 Excite! conference programme so far include a session entitled, “What’s the point of Twitter? Developing more integrated campaigns using social media”.

    Kai Turner, from the agency responsible for Mars brand Skittles using a live Twitter search feed as its website home page, will deliver a greater understanding of social media channels and how they can be used for a more integrated approach to event marketing campaigns. Thanks to the British Interactive Media Association for its support of this session.

    Tackling the issue of experience marketing Return on Investment will be ID client services director, Nicola Jordan. She will showcase the tools and methods used by the agency over a 15-year history of staging live campaigns.

    I'm now waiting on confirmation from a major drinks brand and to find out if the head of brand experience for a major automotive client will get permission from his bosses to fly to London and take part in a panel debate on the future of automotive live marketing strategies (I have a good feeling he'll be there).

    Confirmed panelists for the debate, planned in the wake of the cancellation of the British International Motor Show, include Jamie Gladstone, creative director at Imagination , Michael Wyrley-Birch, client services director at TRO Group and Robin Carlisle, managing director of Mobile Promotions .

    More details of confirmed speakers and seminar times will be announced shortly. In the meantime, put the Excite! dates in your diary because it's shaping up to be nothing short of exciting.

    Sunday, 29 March 2009

    Las Vegas: A city of contradictions

    I’ve been to Las Vegas a few times but never really scratched beneath the surface. After all, what could I expect to find? A lot of sand and the decaying corpse of Bugsy Siegel, the american gangster who convinced his mobster associates to build the Flamingo, the very first Vegas casino?

    The Flamingo opened unfinished in 1946. Within two weeks, the gaming tables were $275,000 in the red and the operation collapsed in January 1947. On the night of 20 June, 1947, Siegel was assassinated in Beverly Hills. Bugsy Siegel was played by Warren Beatty in the 1991 film ‘Bugsy’ and his character has been the inspiration for, among others, Moe Greene in The Godfather.

    On this trip however, I had more reason to look beyond the poker rooms and the sounds of the slots. I’d been assigned to write a business travel article on a city that President Obama had specifically warned bailed-out US corporate business not to visit on the taxpayers’ dime.

    What I found after a ten-hour flight with eight UK corporate event buyers, was a city that’s been cut but not wounded.

    Las Vegas is full of contradictions. Everyone from Wall Street to our limo driver has been speculating that MGM Mirage, the Strip’s biggest casino operator, could be facing a bankruptcy filing if it can’t renegotiate better repayment terms with its lenders covering some $7 billion in loans, and yet the company is forging ahead with the massive $9.1 billion CityCenter resort, due to open at the end of this year, next door from my suite at the Bellagio.

    Hotel occupancy across Vegas is down, but compared with the rest of American C&I destinations, it’s still in pretty good shape.

    Hoteliers queued up to tell me about their environmental policy (one even discussed it, with no sense of irony, as we stood on the balcony of a penthouse suite at night, gazing out across the cityscape, lit up 24 hours-a-day like a Christmas tree). And yet, every element of CityCenter has been carefully thought through from a sustainable perspective, from the use of reclaimed water to on-site power generation.

    The city’s annual gambling revenue of $8.4 billion is exactly the same figure attributed to the economic impact that conventions contribute to the Las Vegas coffers. This has meant a rise in on-Strip properties such as the Palms and Mandalay Bay offering non-gaming outlets attached to the casino hotels and off-strip resorts such as Red Rock and Green Valley gaining increased prominence.

    Again, the CityCenter project, located at the heart of casinoland will also feature luxury non-gaming hotels including Las Vegas’ first Mandarin Oriental and Vdara Hotel alongside Aria, a 61-story, 4,004-room gaming resort.

    For me therefore, Las Vegas will always be a crazy place that has been responsible for some bizarre and monumental memories over the years. But the Nevada city in the desert is now gambling with creating a greener, more sustainable future with emphasis on a business offer that can be distanced from the casino experience.

    The leaflets advertising girls delivered 24-hours a day are still distributed along the Strip like confetti but the marketing message ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ has been replaced with a tourism strategy that now promotes the city as a short-break destination.

    The message that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is now striving to get across is that it’s no longer just a city built on gambling losses and sin. Las Vegas is trying to secure its future by alerting winners to the fact that Vegas, now more than ever means business.

    Saturday, 14 March 2009

    Nightmare on Tooley Street

    An event which sees guests happily pay £60 a head to sit in complete darkness, in the cold dead of night with only make-your-own tea, coffee and biscuits for catering, would seem implausible. And yet, Ian Shillito has made a success of this same formula by adding one vital ingredient - the very real possibility of experiencing paranormal activity.

    On Friday 13th, I joined the London Paranormal society as it staged A Nightmare on Tooley Street, the hunt for ghostly goings-on in the London Dungeon.

    Ghost hunters from across the UK gathered at the museum of historical horror hoping to experience for themselves paranormal activity sometimes reported by attraction staff. Beyond the mutilated dummies, torture equipment and dark corridors are stories of children in the plague area, a silent figure appearing between the dummies in the mortuary or gliding around the Great Fire of London exhibit.

    General poltergeist activity has been encountered when doors rattle, open and close, whilst knocks and raps are heard, especially in the Jack the Ripper area.

    Armed only with my wits (somebody forgot to mention to bring a torch!), I accompanied Group A to its first hour-long vigil - a table tapping experiment in one of the Dungeon rooms.

    My fellow ghost hunters and I joined our host around the table and delicately placed finger tips on the wooden surface whilst one of the London Paranormal team set up amplified microphones and room thermometers to check for sounds or changes in temperature.

    I soon realised I wouldn’t be needing the torch after-all as guests were instructed to turn out the lights and our host began calling out for any spirits to come forward and make themselves known.

    It didn’t take long for scrapes and knocks to start replying from the darkness. Suggestions from our host were greeted with agreement and confessions from around the table of feeling cold or touched.

    One person to my left even came up with a name for the spirit as if she’d been psychically informed that he was called Mikey. I wondered if actually he was calling out my Twitter name (@mikeyfletch) as I’d been updating followers on the micro-blogging site as to the ghostly goings-on, but I decided to keep my thoughts to myself.

    After an hour of standing in complete darkness, in the company of Mikey, who we established was a child because his little hands had been placed on the hips of our host, I had experienced tingles, shivers and a desire to find a toilet.

    When we returned to the coffee area to prepare for the next vigil, other groups had witnessed moving tables and whispering voices. Something was definitely going on here - apparently we’d arrived during rush-hour for the ghost’s nightly commute around the venue.

    I wanted to experience the moving table phenomenon for myself but first, my group would spend another two vigils sitting in complete darkness with the temperature dropping, this time experiencing nothing but the clairvoyant readings of Ian Shillito on my fellow guests as we awaited more ghostly activity.

    On 17 February, 1941 the arches in which we were sat were being used as an air-raid shelter when they received a direct hit by a bombing raid, killing 68 local people. The bodies of two children were never recovered. Could one of these children have been Mikey?

    To be honest, I was beginning to no longer care as tiredness and the cold began to take over. Perhaps sensing the growing apathy from our group, Shillito went off to check that the room with the wandering table was free for us to move into. This, I decided would be my final furore before I made my own ghostly exit. Unsurprisingly it did not disappoint.

    The spirit with a penchant for interior design sent vibrations through the table and into my fingers before flipping one end and physically moving the entire table a good two-feet across the floor.

    The showpiece concluded with two loud knocks on the wall directly behind where those ghost hunters not able to get a seat at the moving table were sitting. A very considerate spirit to ensure that everyone in the darkness could experience his presence.

    I guess it's this table tipping experiment that has formed the basis for my conclusions. If you want to guarantee seeing the big five animals in the wild, go to the Masai Mara - it’s set up to ensure tourists get what they pay for. With a strong dose of suggestion provided by London Paranormal’s team, together with some unexplained goings on, a London Paranormal ghost hunt will also guarantee a successful night, but only for the avid believer.

    Tuesday, 3 March 2009

    Events 2012 & Beyond: Full conference report

    The first official conference to focus on the opportunities for the events industry around the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games took place at Earls Court's conference centre on the opening day of International Confex.

    Events 2012 and Beyond was organised by Visit London and VisitBritain in conjunction with the Events 2012 Development Group, and produced by UBM Conferences.

    Chaired by BBC Breakfast host Bill Turnbull, the day promised insight from key Olympic stakeholders and first-hand advice on the opportunities that 2012 will present to the UK events industry.

    The enormity of the task ahead was outlined by Greater London Authority Director of Marketing Dan Ritterband. Drawing on his experiences of being in Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, he confessed that the Chinese missed a great opportunity to enhance the overall visitor experience and feel of the city. He then urged the UK events and hospitality industries to ensure all opportunities to maximise the visitor experience were seized upon.

    "At this point in time London is ahead of the curve compared with past Olympic host cities. The logistics of holding the equivalent of 38 World Championships across 17 days are huge but for us, this is the opportunity to position London for the next 50 years. It's important that we improve our level of service, our professionalism and show our ability to put on big events," he explained. "We need visitors to have a fantastic experience whilst they're here. London should be a place they're going to want to come back to. We know that visitors love to come to London, and we need to raise our game on the business and events side of things as well. We need to get the message right and bring the whole city with us in the lead up to 2012."

    Ritterband was the first to take to the stage after opening remarks from David Sharpe, Events 2012 Development Group Chair and Managing Director of the London Eye. Ritterband was also the first of several other speakers to urge the industry to sign up to the city's Fair Pricing and Practice Charter to ensure that unfair venue hire and supplier cost hikes do not feature in London's Olympic legacy.
    "Any profiteering during the Games will be to the detriment of the city for the next 50 years because if people feel they've got stung in what they already perceive as a relatively expensive city, they're not going to want to come back," Ritterband said.

    The first indication of the opportunities that will arise in the lead up to 2012 was outlined by Visit London Commercial Director David Hornby and VisitBritain's Head of Business Visits and Events Joss Croft.

    Providing a sense a scale, Hornby stressed that the Games would be more digital than ever before and content would be broadcast across multiple platforms. This was later reiterated by Davies Tanner PR Managing Director Robert Wright in a session on how the media will change over the next four years.

    Hornby then broke the Games down into numbers – 205 nations, 147 Paralympic teams, 10,250 athletes, 100 sponsors, 26 international federations, 560 domestic sporting bodies and 26 test events that will take place in the summer of 2011 and spring 2012.

    Croft gave the statistics a wider context. "The Games are the world's longest commercial with the biggest global television audience of 4.7 billion viewers," he said. "The UK volunteer programme will start in 2010, the 2012 torch relay will take place solely in Britain, and we expect 34 official live sites around the country providing big screen Olympic viewing parties. We will welcome the world, engage the customer, extend our reach with new partnerships, win new business and leave a lasting legacy."

    The plans for live sites were later outlined by Mike Gibbons of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG). Supporting Ritterband's earlier comments about Beijing, Gibbons told delegates that there had only been 17 screens around the Chinese city. "There will be 21 permanent big screens around the UK by April 2009 and more than 30 by 2012. It will be a ten-year legacy providing an interactive opportunity for brands and requiring content all year round," he said.

    A real coup for the conference was securing two Olympic top sponsors to join two major Olympic agents in describing to delegates what their requirements and expectations of London 2012 will be.

    Daryl Jelinek, General Manager, London 2012 Olympics for Coca-Cola and Barrie Howard, Vice-President Global Sponsorship, Olympic Office for Visa International shared the stage with SportsMark and Sportsworld Group UK.

    Coca-cola recently extended its eight-year Olympic Top Sponsorship until 2020 and is already planning its London hospitality and events programme for around 8,800 guests.
    Jelinek said, "We will use the Games to inspire change and our strategy will be based on sustainable activity. Venues and suppliers need to be 'gold medal' planning and putting standards in place that will align with sponsor's requirements on pricing, flexibility, quality and sustainable solutions."

    Visa's Howard told delegates that the moment the torch relay begins in Britain, the Olympics will ignite and a raft of event activity will ensue. SportsMark Director Olympic Operations Walter Dobrowolski, who manages client programmes for Olympic Top sponsors concurred. He stressed that corporate guests will visit London for short day-long itineraries, whilst Sportsworld Group UK Director Len Olender urged delegates to be focused on relationship building for the next 18 months as his ticketing and tour operator wouldn't be ready to start purchasing until 2011.

    Some Olympic contracts are ready to be awarded however. Mike Mulvey, Chief Executive of the London Business Network, which manages the CompeteFor.com website urged the events industry to use the portal as an official route to market. To date, 59,000 businesses have registered with CompeteFor.com and 18,000 of them are based in London.

    One way suppliers can stand out when competing for Olympic work is to ensure full compliance with the sustainability guidelines published by LOCOG.

    Head of Sustainability at LOCOG, David Stubbs told delegates that the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games would be the most sustainable games to date and all venues, suppliers and event solution providers will have to demonstrate a high level of sustainable practices to win official contracts. "Sustainable and ethical sourcing of goods and services for 2012 will change event industry procurement forever by setting new standards," Stubbs said.

    Mark England, Director of Olympic Operations for the British Olympics Association set out Team GB's medal aspirations to win 60 in 2012. Drawing on his experiences of Beijing he told delegates that all 205 nations and their Olympics Associations (NOC) will need to acclimatise before the Games. This will result in an influx of activity prior to 2012 with the NOCs gravitating towards their embassy locations in central London.

    The rest of the day was made up of question and answer sessions in which the main concerns for delivering a successful Games were discussed. These are transport, pricing and security. On the issue of transport, Visit London's Hornby added, "There is some real ambition within Government bodies to use and maximise the river’s potential for transportation in the run up to 2012."

    Towards the end, delegates were given a glimpse of future plans to bring other major sporting events to the UK. England 2018 Commercial and Marketing Director David Magliano presented England's World Cup bid and told the conference how we are better prepared and have learned lessons following the failed bid in 2001 to host the 2006 competition.

    With Visit London's Hornby promising that the Events 2012 and Beyond conference would now be an annual, possibly bi-annual event staged during the next three and a half years, it is certain that the UK events industry will also be better prepared for what’s in store when the greatest show on earth comes to town.

    Wednesday, 18 February 2009

    A few days in the Algarve leads to award-winning article

    At a dinner held at the Portuguese Embassy in London last night, the Association of Travel Organisers to Portugal hosted its fourth media awards. The awards, nominated by ATOP and representatives from the Portuguese National Tourist Office, recognised the work of the media in the promotion of Portugal throughout 2008.

    I was nominated in the category Best Travel Trade Article along with TTG magazine and ABTA magazine. Other categories included Best Newspaper Article, Best Consumer Article and Travel Writer of the Year.

    I’m delighted to announce that I won my first journalism accolade since turning freelance. The article entitled, ‘Coastal Splendour’ appeared in Luxury Travel magazine last April after I’d spent a few days touring the Algarve’s five-star properties and luxury spas.

    The result was completely unexpected and a real surprise. The awards organisers did a really good job in hiding all indication that my nomination had been successful whilst hosting an enjoyable dinner in sumptuous surroundings. I’d therefore like to use my blog to thank everyone involved in the nomination and judging process and to show my appreciation for the trophy and prize hamper full of Portuguese food and alcohol. Result!

    Thursday, 12 February 2009

    What's the point of Twitter? Building our brand online

    As individuals, many of us embody a brand that we develop online. Maybe yours is an extension of the firm you represent or you have a professional reputation you’re keen to enhance. You may simply strive to be popular within a social group or you'd like to be talked about in positive terms.

    What was referred to in the days before social networking sites as status, credibility, reputation or popularity, has now evolved into something millions of us nurture online every day.

    This evolutionary development began in August 2003 with the launch of MySpace. In the UK however, the importance of a site where friends could share, message and stay connected took longer to filter into our conscious day-to-day lives.

    It wasn’t until September 2006 and the availability of Facebook to anyone with an email address, did we really begin to evolve our online brand image.

    Facebook is now the world’s default social network with 17 million unique users in the UK and 250 million unique visitors worldwide.

    The speed at which it has developed is best seen when comparing page views with MySpace. In May 2008, the sites were about the same size. Facebook has since more than doubled and currently attracts 84 billion worldwide monthly page views, compared with 57 billion for MySpace.

    In the UK, one million of us connect and nurture our professional brand personas via Linkedin, whilst 3.5 million of us share our brand visuals by posting photos on Flickr.

    The majority of 18-24 year olds still use MySpace, whilst Facebook is more popular with 25-35 year olds. Unsurprisingly, it’s the 25-54 age bracket that connect via Linkedin.

    But now, there’s one more ‘not so new’ social networking tool that has infiltrated our evolved and conscious need to connect online and develop our brand identities.

    Twitter, the micro-blogging service has been around since March 2006 but was used predominantly by tech developers to share ideas. It allows users to post up to 140 character updates via text, email, Twitter’s website and a host of third party applications.

    As a journalist, I first discovered it as an extra online feed to track breaking news and eye witness accounts of major events. The often mundane chit-chat that occurs between followers and recipients was of little interest and I didn’t feel the need to take part.

    That changed when a digital PR challenged my perception of Twitter and asked if she could prove to me its power and effectiveness as an online communication tool. She persuaded me to set up my own Twitter page and then she posted a tweet to alert both her followers and the open ‘Twitterverse’ that I was someone worth following.

    The initial result was instant, and overnight I gained a small audience of followers. I was intrigued that if a crowd of strangers were following my brand communication (Tweets) based on a referral, what could Twitter do to build online communities?

    After all, Jonathan Ross was using it to keep his fan-base, plus the Daily Mail interested whilst he served his suspension from the BBC. And other celebrities soon saw the power of being able to communicate their brand on a more social level and have been signing up in their droves ever since.

    One of my first tweets was a request for events people to reveal themselves and Kate O Neil from Cocktail Stars answered my call.

    Since then, we’ve built a network that includes, among others Conference and Incentive Travel magazine, Visit London and Simon Burton, the founder of industry social network Event Crowd. Others have joined following a blog post by head of marketing for events at Merlin Entertainments, Peter Kerwood on Event magazine’s website. And by twittering key words, agencies such as Jack Morton and George P Johnson in the US have found me and opened a global channel of live marketing conversation.

    I’ve proved to myself that Twitter also works as a crowd sourced Q&A tool. I did this by posing research questions to the Twitterverse instead of turning to Google. The Tweets have resulted in worthwhile help and advice from complete strangers every time.

    The fact is that people who Twitter are more likely to engage with one another both online and in person. This can lead to business conversations, referrals or opportunities we would otherwise have missed.

    In fact as I write this, more than 175 cities around the world are hosting Twestivals, bringing together local Twitter communities in face-to-face environments for one global evening of fun and to raise money and awareness for Charity: Water.

    We are still the early adopters of Twitter but its growth is predicted to be faster than Facebook. As a powerful new way to communicate, track conversation and converse with others, what benefits could it deliver for your brand?

    Sunday, 1 February 2009

    Agencies invited to help shape Excite

    The last time eight experiential agencies all sat together around the same table, it was probably something to do with the ill-fated Live Brand Experience Association, set up in December 2004 to try and maximize the impact of live activity as part of the overall marketing mix.

    The association limped on for two years, before folding due to insufficient interest in a membership fee structure and to this day, experiential marketing is still a discipline with no dedicated collective voice.

    It was heartening therefore when the leading agencies each accepted my invitation to come together at the offices of BEcause to discuss content and an involvement in an experiential conference I’m putting together for June.

    Last year, as part of the Exhibiting Show held at Earls Court exhibition centre, I chaired the debut Excite conference. This year, due in part to the overwhelming success and interest in the conference element, Exhibiting Show organiser Simon Burton has rebranded the exhibition as Excite and repositioned it to be more focused on live brand experiences.

    My role is to now produce a day and a half worth of educational content that will assist brand managers to develop live event strategies and help agencies to share best practice and achieve growth in this economic recession.

    The 2009 Excite will take place at Earls Court’s Brompton Hall from 24-25 June. Last week’s initial meeting was a great success and I’m confident that the conference will be a true reflection of a collective input from the live marketing sector. I am keen to continue receiving content suggestions and expressions of speaker interest from brands or event agencies specialising in brand experience. If you would like to get in touch, please email me at the address listed on my blog page.

    Friday, 16 January 2009

    Salmon smokery opens with event space overlooking Olympic stadium

    One of the first signs of a 2012 legacy was official opened today by London Mayor Boris Johnson. H.Forman & Son's salmon smokery relocated to Fish Island in the Lea Valley after a compulsory purchase order, served by Boris's predecessor, forced it from its original site to make way for the Olympic stadium.

    Following a four-year battle over land, H. Forman & Son's impressive new home now overlooks the development of the Olympic Stadium from the other side of the River Lea.

    The multi-purpose factory will carry on the traditions of the 4th generation family owned salmon smoker, established in the East End in 1905. But it has now added an on-site restaurant and two event spaces with capacity for 200 and 600 respectively.

    After my visit this morning to hear Boris's unveiling speech (embedded below) and to sample the smoked salmon delicacies on offer, I can testify that the new home of H.Forman & Son has unbeatable ringside views of the Olympic park. Excuse the pun, but it's a great leap forward for the regeneration of the East End and the first stage of what event organisers can expect from unique and unusual venues in the area. Former Mask managing director Arthur Somerset is handling event enquiries.

    Monday, 12 January 2009

    Pizza with Mad-on-a-Brink

    One of my many resolutions for 2009 is to continue meeting interesting, creative and inspirational people. After all, that's what has largely kept me ambitious and focused throughout my journalistic career and it sure makes the world a more intriguing place in which to hang out.

    I got off to a good start at the weekend at a pizza party hosted by Evelyne Brink. Regular readers of this blog will remember Evelyne as the Madonna impersonator who had a short-lived starring role on the BBC's The One and Only show back in January last year.

    Her party guests included actor, magician and screenplay writer Leon Metcalfe and Angelina Joly look-a-like Sienna Taylor. Leon, as it turned out, has recently starred as the mentor character Terry in a stage-based version of Boy A, written by my mate Jonathan Trigell. Small world, full of coincidences eh?!

    For the event organisers out there, both Evelyne and Sienna Taylor are available to hire as Madonna or Angelina-alikes. Check out Sienna's website here .

    Evelyne's latest project is Mad-on-a-Brink . It sees the material girl writing comedy including a parody of Madonna's 1992 hit 'This used to be my Playground'. Check out the video for 'This used to be my Husband' below. I'm happy to pass on all comments and feedback.