Promotional vehicles: Brand driven

We have all heard the term promotional event vehicle, but what does it really mean, what is available and how do you navigate through the options and regulations? Here, Andy Butts, managing director of Gorilla Marketing and Events, takes you through the maze…

How would you define a promotional event vehicle? It is usually a be-spoke or modified vehicle that represents a brand in the desired manner, predominantly at outdoor live events. Used by major brands they are highly effective marketing tools and can deliver a truly immersive experience. They can range from car conversions to vans, small trucks to articulated lorries, buses to new builds, almost anything is possible. Some vehicles expand once on-site to provide a much larger footprint than the original vehicle and most are built to utilise a minimal setup crew and to be self-sufficient in transit.

If you decide that a promotional vehicle is right for your brand, you have two main options – to hire or make an outright purchase. A few companies in the UK hire trailers and smaller exhibition units, which you can rebrand. There are also some unique structures for hire – in particular, some interesting double deck articulated trailers. Hiring larger vehicles can be expensive and needs a budget of up to £10,000 per day, as well as the cost of branding and crewing. The advantage of hiring is a lower initial capital outlay and no storage or maintenance implications. In general, hiring is more suited to one off events.

If budgets are tight, you could consider refurbishing an existing vehicle. There are a few key event/promotional trailer traders in the UK and e-bay is normally great for second hand purchases. Vehicle refurbs generally involve older vehicles, so make sure you understand what will need to be stripped back and repaired.

So, what if you choose a bespoke build? The biggest advantage is that you will have a vehicle designed to suit your brand, perfectly. Initial costs may seem high, but when spread across all of the events in a campaign, you may be surprised. A bespoke vehicle can contain additional equipment designed and built to reduce your on-site costs – a generator, roof covering, barriers and staff welfare area for example.

A major factor in getting a vehicle that delivers results is the briefing process. Ensure your brief is clear and comprehensive. Include example images of things you have seen on other vehicles or at other events that appeal to you. If you don’t want to give away your budget, provide some options – one (cheap), two (medium) and three (expensive). And allow for a 10 per cent contingency for bespoke production because there are usually unforeseen additions to the brief. For custom builds, budgets can vary greatly, simple modifications cost upwards of £5,000 with large bespoke trailers in the order of £750,000. An adequate budget is essential to get it right, and right means looking right, working right and being safe, but more of that later. It also needs an operational budget. Make sure you understand running costs and storage, maintenance and repair costs. It is essential that your vehicle is in perfect running order and its appearance is critical because you are representing the brand.

So, you have commissioned a bespoke vehicle, what are the key considerations? One thing is certain; the time from brief to result is longer than the other routes. Simple modifications typically take up to four weeks, depending on parts availability, whereas large builds can take between 12-18 weeks depending on complexity.

Choosing your supplier

If this is your first build project make sure you do your homework. Find out who has built vehicles for a similar application, who has track record and who has the resources to complete the project. If subcontractors are being used, make sure your designer is talking to them from the outset, you don’t want a project that has been signed off at design but which cannot be produced. Then prepare your brief.

It is essential to consider exactly what you want from your vehicle, include all the features and set up variations required for maximum flexibility. Start by thinking about what features you need to make your vehicle stand out? What technical features need to be included? And, once your vehicle has been built you will need to consider the legal requirements for owning and operating the vehicle, so better to be prepared?

Firstly, make it stand out, everyone likes to be on an elevated platform. It makes them feel like a VIP so roof gantries or raised platforms work well. Continuing with height, including frames and base mounts for flags and banners allows the brand to be elevated further. Another great branding feature is an awning, which will increase the footprint of the vehicle and give a large surface area for graphics.

It is worth having a built in power source, they reduce expensive site costs and, if you can afford the initial investment, it will be worthwhile if you are including some sort of lighting for night time set up. Another great feature are screens and TVs whose mounting points and power will need to be planned into the build. Mobile Internet is always popular but it can be tricky to deploy and expensive. Generally it involves the use of a satellite dish and a permanent up-link to the satellite on a monthly subscription. On certain vehicles, it may be advisable to include living space for the driver. But whatever you do, never cut back on safety recommendations, you are only as good as your last event, and accidents can be fatal to reputations.

Once ready, send your detailed brief including all brand assets to your tender list, and keep the list short if you want a good response.

But what should you expect in return? The designer / builder will respond with feasibility and cost, and once agreed the project can get underway. 3D models often win contracts but make sure that the company using them can deliver the finished product. If your build includes complex electrical or hydraulic systems you need to have all relevant paperwork, and question the supplier about ongoing maintenance guidelines. Give sufficient lead time for detail design and sign off processes, fabrication time and staff training. Once you have chosen a supplier, you should receive CAD drawings showing the position of key elements, which will also have to be signed off, then let your supplier get on with building the vehicle.

In readiness for the arrival of your new promotional vehicle there are operational considerations to be factored in. Who will be driving and operating your vehicle? Will they be agency or staff? If it is to be internal staff, they must be fully trained to operate safely, and remember, you must have one fully trained and knowledgeable staff member on-site at all times. You also need to consider what driving licence is required? What maintenance checks should be carried out and how often to meet legal requirements? What insurance cover do you have, the vehicle needs to be insured for full replacement value, in storage and on the road?

Once you have your vehicle and you plan your first event, make sure you have a test setup day. There is nothing worse than looking less than professional on site at the critical moment. I would always recommend using a trained crew for any technical roles, you will make greater cost efficiencies by keeping your vehicle on tour with the same crew, generally the more people that setup your vehicle the more damage to the components resulting in high maintenance costs and wasted time.

Finally, there are legal requirements to be considered. If you are purchasing a larger vehicle, you will need to understand how to register the vehicle, where it will operate and who will operate it? There are two options for larger vehicles – they can be registered as commercial vehicles, which require six-week checks, fleet management and an operator’s licence. They can be registered on other licences depending upon how the vehicle is to be used. However, there are a lot of restrictions within these categories and not every application is successful. A good supplier will be able to help you through the process. If you are operating across Europe you will need to make sure that all fabric materials used on your structure are tested to a European standards and you will need to have certification to prove this. BS certification will not always be enough.

When operating larger vehicles there is a very serious safety element that can’t be overlooked. I have found that it is always worthwhile including costs for Health & Safety documentation and training. However, it is the client’s decision if they want this included. Across Europe, there is a general increase in the requirement for documentation for medium to large vehicles. Events are being forced to be stricter and if you don’t have the appropriate paperwork you may not be allowed to set up.

Whichever route you choose, be proud of your finished product. There will always be new ideas and improvements you will want to make once you begin to use your vehicle. After all you have just started a journey along an entirely new road and it will be an adventure.