Once upon a time in an Event world far far away there used to be printed marketing collateral, mainly brochures, inserts, flyers and other rather expensive and time consuming products.
It is 12 years since I first had the battle with my MD on a boat in Ibiza (the glamour of events pre Millennium). “The brochure is no longer required” I debated. In the end I conceded we produced a flyer style brochure that pointed clients to our new web site. This was my last printed brochure.
Only today I was speaking to some of my colleagues about the merits of online marketing and how SEO optimisation, with lots of social content via pictures, videos and blogs is far more a necessity than a brochure that costs thousands and is out of date in a few months.
I don’t even have a filing cabinet anymore to store them in, I am sure we can all recall the oversized brochure that had become a surrogate child to a marketing executive, it was their pride and joy when the freshly printed brochure arrived ready for dispatch.
However, when it was dispatched it usually arrived all screwed up because it had not fitted through a letterbox or had printed inserts added as the brochure was already out of date. I do hope there is no body still printing these now?
Today the website is your shop window, data can be updated on a daily basis, (although you would not think that looking at some venues websites). As a rule of thumb a website needs to be updated at least every quarter, when did you last update yours?
Keeping the site topical and relevant i.e. writing a blog on topical issues has benefited the traffic to our website and ensures Merlin Events is always in people’s minds.
To put it in perspective when did you last use a printed holiday brochure? Is the printed brochure dead or is it undergoing major treatment in A&E?
Shared parties have become part of the business mix for unique venues in London. Initially the product offered to a client was a higher standard than some of the marquee companies.
However since 2008 it became obvious that clients were mainly interested in ‘cost per head’ with an average budget of £80 plus vat. Venues found it difficult to compete with large operators such as ‘Best Parties Ever’ and ‘Concerto Group’.
Last year when I carried out mystery shopping I was able to buy a three-course meal in a large venue with unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks and entertainment for about £60 plus vat in central London. What a bargain!
I can only think some of the operators were running at cost last year?
When I first entered the market of shared parties it was to offer a truly unique experience in one of London’s top venues with premium wines, catering & entertainment. As price has become more central to the decision I no longer operate the shared parties directly but utilise a third party (Corporate Entertainment) and caterer (Dish) as they can operate on different profit margins.
It certainly was not a great year for making a profit from shared parties unless you were very much driven by volume and very low prices which is a model that has worked for a couple of operators very well. However with price being driven down, quality of the food, bar and entertainment can suffer.
Price used to indicate the quality to be expected, which is no longer necessarily the case. This is an ideal situation for our clients IF they know the suppliers and the quality of the product. If not they need to be guided by an event professional or use well established venues with a rigorous supplier list.
Would you sacrifice quality for quantity?
As the banking industry lurches from one miss selling scandal to another, the event industry dusts itself off after what could be called a challenging period. However, with some positives London 2012 really did show that the events industry is a business and not some kind of hobby that can be directed from a spare bedroom.
A few years back I recall our industry had its own incident with agencies marking up client’s invoices and taking their standard 8% too. It was rich pickings for some agencies, never mind the client felt they had been taken for a ride. The next few years saw a real clamp down with agents having to prove they were getting good rates from venues etc. With these changes we tried to become more transparent sending a full breakdown of prices and specifying the agent commission.
Now it’s 2013 and I am still amazed that transparency is not what it could be; I still feel if you think your product is good value for money then you should be declaring your said worth to the client and not hiding it in inflated costs.
Here at Merlin Events when a client rings for a quote we build in the entire costs and send it back to them within four hours. The quote will have all integral items; venue hire, red carpet, security, furniture, drinks package of premium wines, food package (unless specified), hostess team, furniture, lighting, sound system and screens for branding. In fact our quote includes what you need to host a party.
Why do venues quote a basic hire then clients need to contact numerous suppliers to gain a basic quote?
Some venues do not even quote what’s required to make the event happen i.e the cost to hire a star cloth that is required to divide areas and then charging the client to take it away again. Really? It seems to me a lost opportunity, for we end up with clients being on guard as they feel we are not being up front with them about what the party will actually cost. I know new clients to the industry are overwhelmed with organising an event so why do we make the whole process even more complicated?
Do we make it more complicated or does choice really give the client control? Do we have supplier lists because that’s what has always been done?
Next year at Merlin Events we are hosting a promotional event called Events to the Future. We will be highlighting future trends in the Event Industry and also looking at the emotional attachment clients seem to have to retro brands. Read More
Brands with a long history in a location are sometimes so integral to the location that the brand and location become one. For event venues the chance to move to another location is deemed as a benefit most of the time, new market, new venue etc. Read More
The venue has been booked the catering may have been chosen, now what else do you need to give your Christmas Party Magic? It’s too easy to book a hotel or a marquee, and to then rely on a theme which may consist of some back drops and few props and usually an impressive dance floor but not much else. It’s too easy and safe to fall into the trap – what have we done in the past. Is a sit down meal right for an organisation with mixed age groups or would themed food shows and pockets of different entertainment that appeal to a cross section of guests work better?
I find clients still like to play it safe as they don’t want to upset the CEO. However in my experience, once clients jump out of their comfort zone they never look back. Drinks reception, a seated dinner, dancing and getting drunk may have worked in the past. Now I think clients need to appeal to all guests, there are so many different dietary requirements and non- drinkers of alcohol due to lifestyle and religious beliefs. This is why added extras of some classics such as fortune tellers, games and mind readers and magicians can add experiences that all guests will enjoy.
This brings me on to our Magic Month we are running with Sternberg Clarke during October. Take a look on our Merlin Channel to see how 3 magician’s have created their tricks to integrate with our highly themed venues: http://www.youtube.com/merlinevents. We will be running a competition to win a magician at your office soon.
Keep an eye out for our next blog which will have some great offers for guests during the Autumn and Holiday season.
Let us know, what entertainment have you used that has worked really well for Christmas?
Having been in the events industry since about 1992, I can recall in 2002 I was exhibiting at Crème a secretary show, Confex, RSVP, World Travel Market and EIBTM along with a few sales missions to the U.S. This was a time when I stopped printing costly, big, glossy brochures that went out of date the week after print. Merlin Events changed to a magazine format that ran for 5 years; some of you may remember it ‘Eventspiration’. The internet was getting faster and we had just uploaded a new website which was becoming, along with word of mouth, our key source of business.
2011 saw the explosion of social media, with Facebook and Twitter generating over 4,000 followers and LinkedIn gaining in excess of 3,000 connections, all of which are industry contacts. I can talk to the entire global event network in five minutes! The world global market is truly a local market.
At Merlin Events we still create ‘experiential experiences’, hosting one event at each venue annually that highlights a theme and showcases the best of Merlin and our suppliers. The only difference is these events have become more technical and require an even bigger talking point. What I am trying to say is the industry is younger, more dynamic and has moved on.
Now back to my question; the only part of the industry that does not seem to have evolved much are exhibitions. I’m confused to the need; do clients really have the time to wander around a hall looking at shell schemes and the same suppliers and venues year in year out? From an exhibitor perceptive you want your stand to be an extension of your brand. I’m not sure a 2 x 1 shell stand with a pop up offering a boiled sweet and a raffle with a weekend for two in Derby is a brand extension that is positive. The last time I exhibited (about 4 years ago) my stand had a bar, screens, wax figures, paparazzi photographers and cost over £10k. These days I turn to Google for research or to buy anything and it is far easier on my feet! Yes exhibitions are a way to meet with both peers and clients I hear you cry. Really? Do you have to go to an exhibition hall to meet up with clients?
Do venues/ suppliers measure the real ROI of exhibitions?
One of the first questions my team will ask a client is “what is your budget?” Yet so many respond with “oh we don’t have one” or “I would rather not tell you”.
Firstly, I find it unbelievable that clients are actually contacting venues when they do not have a budget. What a waste of everyone’s time!
Secondly, if they did give us an idea of the budget we can help them to meet this by providing a bespoke quote offering solutions to keep the event costs in check, for example using our venues on a Monday, Tuesday or Friday when we can offer a £15 per head discount off each package.
I had a client call yesterday for 100 guests for a dinner with a budget of £15,000; what could we do for them? Giving us this information cut out all the cat and mouse games and the client received a quote meeting their budget within two hours. The more commercial venues like ourselves at Merlin are able to be dynamic with costs and during this challenging time will go the extra mile to secure business.
I feel venues and agents need to be slightly firmer with clients to ascertain budgets before proposals are written, venues held etc. This would save everyone work and allow us all to operate in a more constructive, transparent manner.
Is there a reason to contact suppliers before a budget has been decided?
I have spent the past ten years employing two placement students each year. We have found investing in these young people has had the most positive effect on the student and on the team as a whole.
At this point I would like to point out unlike X Factor we pay our placement students a “living wage”, currently £18k per annum. I am not looking for cheap labour or a telephone monkey. I expect hard work, dedication and enthusiasm, in return Merlin Events offers a structured training programme that covers event operations, sales and marketing.
Some of our past placement students are now running some of the most iconic attractions, further proof that investing in talent benefits the entire industry. I do appreciate people may say it must be more work having people changing each year but the benefits of having fresh energised people makes up for the training. Furthermore, because we have done this for so long we now have a structured manual and handover which is almost seamless. Anyone who has a de-motivated team will, I am sure, agree once a team becomes de-motivated it’s very difficult to reenergise.
How do we find our placements? We advertise via universities and hold an audition day to find the people with the ‘Merlin factor’. The day is stressful and very rigorous for the students but it ensures that Merlin Events has the best students available and that the students selected fit within our unique culture. Why companies still interview for 30 minutes then call back twice is beyond me. I want to see them engage with other people, how much information they take in and how they communicate on the phone.
Do you think our pay is right – would you pay more or less?