Jackie Boughton: Positive steps

Social networks are simply events without walls. Jackie Boughton, head of sales from DNC Wembley, considers the marketing war-chest in the aftermath of recession…

Venue marketing can be a challenge at the best of times but the last year or so has thrown up its own particular challenges. However, the future looks good, particularly if you believe the growth predictions by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and it is time once again to review our marketing war-chest and ensure our long-term plans are robust enough the meet the demands of the changes that the future will bring.
During the recession it has been vital to continue marketing, and whether you are a venue, agency or supplier – marketing through a downturn impacts your position at the start of the upturn. But, if we are all honest about it, most of us will have had to make a few cuts here and there to meet budget restrictions or fall in line with sales expectations.
So, what should we as an industry and venues in particular, be thinking about for the future of our marketing campaigns? Well, two words spring to mind above all others – personal contact. The events industry is and always has been about people and meetings. Relationships are vital to our ongoing success and this should be reflected in our marketing strategies. People prefer to work with people they know and like – so the big question is: how do I make sure everyone knows and likes me?
The answer is those two little words mentioned earlier – personal contact. We can all buy advertising, sponsor events and shout about what we do. However, all we really succeed in doing is raising awareness of our name – now I am not saying that is a bad thing; but strategic marketing and sales certainly have a lot more to offer. Three mediums work particularly well when it comes to building personal relationships with current and potential clients. They all offer a chance to know the real you through engagement in discussion.
Firstly there is a technique we should all know a little about… events. Conferences, exhibitions, experiential events, team building days, a quiet lunchtime drink… the list goes on. Ultimately however they are a chance to gather, meet people and spend time talking and sharing. There is no better way to understand and engage with people. For those unsure about spending on their own events, as an industry they are many opportunities to meet face to face: There are exhibitions such as International Confex, EIBTM and IMEX; there are association events from the likes of MPI, Eventia, AEO and the MIA – the list goes on.
Secondly, there is PR and media relations – through articles such as this, news stories, letters and comments we can express our ideas, talk passionately and create debate about key industry issues. I am not talking about puff pieces and advertorial – just simple old-fashioned editorial. The press is a powerful tool when it comes to the sharing of ideas and few people use it correctly or take the right approach.
There are countless other mediums that provide avenues for discourse and personal interaction but the third I would like to mention is… social networking and Web 2.0. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject by any means but it is clearly here to stay. From Twitter and Facebook to blogging, digital media is growing at an exponential rate and we are all hard pushed to keep up. Radio 4’s today programme described this month’s election as the social media election, certainly President Obama showed its power last year and the event industry is already taking note. Forget for an instant the technical elements and detail, instead focus on the ethos behind social networking… it is a chance to engage with individuals in real time without the need for a physical meeting space. Social networks are simply events without walls and they should be our prime focus for business growth over not just the next few months but right now.

I could go on but I need to keep a few secrets to myself…