Monday, 26 April 2010

What I did on St George's Day

Apparently, it was more by luck than judgement that the inaugural British Inspiration Awards fell on St George’s Day. No matter, as this new set of awards were such a success that an annual event is surely now on the cards and deserves its place in the diary alongside England's Patron Saint.

The brains behind the idea for a set of awards celebrating the best of the UK’s creative, artistic and scientific talent is the UK managing director of Nintendo, David Yarnton and Simon Harvey, managing director of Barrington Harvey Public Relations.

I confess, I’ve been to many an awards ceremony in my time and seen far too many fail to live up to expectations due to poor production, an unprepared host or dire catering. Before walking through the wrought iron gates of the Brewery, I maybe feared the worst, that this event wouldn’t have the pulling power in its first year to attract the people it was looking to celebrate and it could just be a very nice lunch, with lots of ‘sorry they couldn’t be here’ acceptance speeches at one of London’s leading events venues.

I’m glad to say how wrong I was (apart from the bit about a nice lunch. An imaginative menu of blackened salmon, welsh lamb followed by ring cake and huge portions - apparently a trademark of the Brewery’s event catering).

The British Inspiration Awards not only attracted 350 paying guests but it also saw Philip Schofiled, Ant & Dec, Michael Eavis, Elisabeth Murdoch and host Richard Madeley tread the red carpet. Entertainment came from the pipes and drums of the Welsh Guards, hip hop dance troop the Smash Bro’z, the Graffiti Kings and Sheffield indie rockers Reverand and The Makers.

The set and stage was a far higher quality than one would imagine for a debut event, mainly because someone had had the vision to recycle it over two consecutive events (possibly the real reason for the date decider). And if anyone is looking for a professional host, edgier that his onscreen persona and surprisingly funny, then I’d happily recommend Richard Madeley.

As for the winners, well, Philip Schofield collected a design award on behalf of Sir Terence Conran, Matthew Bourne collected his award in person for his contribution to the arts and Ant & Dec presented a special recognition award to Glastonbury festival creator Michael Eavis.

Other winners included Elisabeth Murdoch (Television), Nick Park (Film), Sir George Martin (Music), Alexander McQueen (Fashion), Sir James Dyson (Innovation & Industry), Baroness Susan Greenfield (Science & Technology) and Ian Livingstone (Interactive Entertainment).

Congratulations to everyone involved for an excellent idea in support of some worthwhile charities. I know where I’d like to be celebrating England’s dragon-slayer next year.

Photos by Rick Bronks.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Integrating Social Media into Conferencing & Events

Last week, I gave an after-lunch talk to marketing and events professionals, hosted by the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. The feedback was positive so I thought I'd post some of the key insights and tips on a couple of events industry blog sites. The posts have since been tweeted and re-tweeted so many times, I must have struck a positive chord with event planners. So, I've decided to post my talk highlights one more time, here... I hope you find it useful.

My talk went something like this…

I firmly believe that online marketing and communication channels such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and FlickR are enabling event planners, venues and suppliers to develop longer-term interaction with event attendees.

These online tools are allowing us to grow the conference or event beyond the physical and to keep people talking about their experiences and our event content long after the last delegate has left the building.

Social Media is nothing short of a communications revolution. It’s a means to amplify our messaging, build community, gather feedback in real time, ask questions of our audiences, research our markets and gain business referrals from our new online friends and followers.

One-way marketing messages, whereby a newsletter or piece of email marketing is sent out from an email address that says DO NOT REPLY are becoming obsolete. The communications revolution is all about Conversations, User Generated Content and Interacting with the online community.

We can no longer control what is said online by people attending our events so we need to understand how to engage with the conversations that are already happening, build loyalty amongst followers and provide good Social Media Value.

So I’m just going to give you a few tips on how to start thinking about integrating Social Media into your marketing or event strategies.

If you’re not using Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, the best way to understand their benefits is simply to start using them socially. Once you get to grips with the simple mechanics of growing online conversation, such as Hashtags, Fan Pages, Tiny URLs, TwitPics etc, you can then start to see how it can be applied to your every-day business or event planning needs.

When integrating Social Media into Event strategies, consider how it can be used to engage with delegates or attendees at an earlier stage. A lot of exhibitions now use Twitter as a free marketing tool to communicate the latest confirmed speaker, or encourage registration sign-ups. But what about creating user groups on LinkedIn or Facebook and crowd sourcing what topics delegates wish to hear about or allowing them to vote on panelists, or even something as simple as the theme of the gala dinner. By engaging your audience at an earlier stage, you will secure their buy-in and reduce the number of no-shows or drop-outs.

Every event has a website but, by creating multiple event pages across different online streams you’ll be casting your net wider and enhancing your search engine optimization at the same time. This is especially true if you then link your blog, Facebook Fan Page, YouTube Channel and LinkedIn discussion group back to your website.

In the run up to the event, launch Twitter competitions awarding free registration or tickets. A simple way to do this is just to ask people on Twitter to Re-Tweet a chosen message. A winner can be then drawn from the pile of Re-tweets that appear in your @Replies Folder. This is a good way to track the reach of your marketing messages across Twitter and to see who is willing to engage with the event. Maybe you can reward the most loyal advocates in some other way at a later date.

During the event, launch a HashTag on Twitter and encourage people to use it so that attendees and remote watchers can follow what’s happening. Putting a HashTag before a word simply creates a link to a new page. This page then shows the full conversation stream of everyone who has used that chosen HashTag – enabling a simple way to follow a particular conversation subject.

If you then stage an unofficial Tweet up (networking event for people engaged with Twitter), it’s a good way to spread the word of your chosen HashTag and get likely content creators motivated and excited.

Broadcasting the conversations that people are hash-tagging, by running a live stream on a big screen on the main stage at your event, is perhaps a risk too far. Human nature dictates that somebody at some point will publish something offensive. But, why not use smaller screens in seminar rooms to help facilitate real-time Q&A sessions whilst the speaker is presenting?

You’ll find that some audience members will be able to answer the questions before the speaker does. If this is deemed too distracting for the speaker then technology offered by companies such as Crystal Interactive allow audience members to text in questions during the presentation, which are stored and can then be shown on screen and answered during an allotted Q&A slot.

Your aim with Social Media should be, to spread as widely as possible, content generated, either for the event by those directly involved, or by participants, advocates and remote watchers.

There’s so many web-based applications available to allow you to stream video, share speaker presentations, merge all Hash-tagged Tweets into PDF documents, create graphs and charts to measure the Return on the Objective of HashTags, launch user generated photo galleries, broadcast audio and so much more.

If you’re not doing any of these things, just think how much more engaging your events could be – if only you’d invested the time in discovering what free Social Media can do for you.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

London Restaurant Festival unveils its plans for 2010

Plans for the 2010 London Restaurant Festival were unveiled to celebrity chefs, restauranteurs and food critics at The Club at The Ivy this evening (13 April). As this two-week festival is my new Events for London project, I was also in attendance, drinking Mumm champagne in amongst the throngs of foodies and quickly realising that, apart from Ramsay, I wouldn't know a celebrity chef even if he started a food fight.

What I can tell you however, is that The Club at The Ivy is incredibly swanky. Oh and I can also give you the low-down on this, the second outing of an event, created in 2009 by restaurant critic Fay Maschler and her business partner Simon Davis (along with Visit London and Single Market Events).

So, this year’s festival, which runs across the capital from 4-18 October, will be held in partnership with American Express. Festival menus will be rolled out across an anticipated 800 different restaurants across the capital, enabling visitors to dine out for as little as £10.

As well as the Festival Menus initiative, supported by official booking partner, five major events were revealed at the launch, planned to run across the fortnight.

Covent Garden’s Piazza will be transformed into The London Restaurant Festival Supplier’s Market and will see a range of famous restaurants showcase their produce, cooking techniques and flair via live demonstrations (you'll also be able to buy stuff).

Returning for a second year and extended into Shoreditch and Soho, The London Restaurant Festival Gourmet Odyssey will see diners travel across the capital to sample a different course from one of three chosen venues. The Merlin Entertainments London Eye will turn one of its pods into a ten-seater ‘pop-up’ restaurant, hosted each night by a celebrated chef. The London Restaurant Festival Big Food Quiz will offer foodie-fanatics a chance to test their knowledge during a three-course meal at a top London eatery. And The London Restaurant Festival Awards will form the grand finale and take place on the 18 October. The awards are exclusively open to participating restaurants and will be largely focused towards highlighting the best Festival Menus of 2010.

According to the organisers, more than 350 restaurants have already pre-registered to take part in the event. To achieve the target of 800, restaurants and chefs are invited to pre-register at

And there you have it. I will no doubt be blogging more updates as and when I know them but if you'd like to follow my London Restaurant Festival Twitter feed, find me at

PS - London Restaurant Festival tickets go on sale at the end of June.