Corporate Hospitality

By The Drum, Administrator

April 11, 2003 | 8 min read

On a Roll’s Club-Class Party Bus

I’ve got a mate – a merchant banker mate. He just got back from a few days skiing in the Rockies via a stop-off in San Francisco. A jolly. He’s off to Florida for a quick 18 holes next month, all in the name of corporate entertainment.

Whilst much of Scotland’s marketing and media industry may not have the budget to hire a private jet to speed off to sunnier climes, all in the name of keeping the clients sweet, there are many other ways to leave a favourable and lasting impression of your business. No longer is the greasy sausage roll and flaccid, de-crusted ham sandwich, washed down by a plastic glass of white, the staple diet of the entertainee. Clients have become accustomed to the good life.

Corporate entertainment is a valuable, well-oiled marketing tool when done well. A spanner in the works, when not. In Scotland – with such a wide and impressive portfolio of locations and activities to choose from – there should be no excuses. Corporate entertainment accounts for an ever-growing proportion of marketing spend, and offers a unique opportunity to target specific groups of people – whether customers or employees – to develop productive long-term relationships. But the pitfalls are many, and it is all too easy to spend the money without getting the desired result.

Sheila Samuels, managing director of 88 Events, is often tasked with making sure that budgets are utilised to their full potential, be it with a huge budget or something altogether more modest: “We can create an intimate boardroom dinner or we can throw a gala dinner for hundreds of people, working to a six-figure budget. Everyone wants something different, and it is often to add that ‘wow’ factor that we are drafted in.”

Last year 88 Events helped organise the official corporate hospitality for the Champions League final at Hampden for UEFA delegates and team representatives. Three rooms had to be dressed, one for the VIPs, one for the VVIPs ... and one for the King of Spain.

“We worked very closely with the police and the venue to pull it all together,” says Samuels. “That is perhaps one of the most taxing jobs that we have ever done.”

However, the most interesting job that she has been tasked with was one involving models caked in mud. But, due to client confidentiality, she refuses to go into much more detail.

“Eighteen months ago the market really fell,” continues Samuels. “All the Americans cancelled events, many refusing to travel. But since then the market has grown stronger and much of the business that was lost was just postponed rather than cancelled. Really, the market is currently as strong as it ever has been and our business is expecting to experience its strongest year since launch.”

However, Alex Van Klaveren, managing director of On A Roll Entertainment, disagrees. Although he acknowledges that the money is still there, he feels that now the emphasis is very much on value: “Everyone is cutting back. Packages have to be made more affordable. Yes, the big companies are still looking for quality, but that is what they value. Smaller businesses are also looking for quality, but they are often more budget orientated. Still the emphasis is on looking good and feeling good. The entertainment really has to do the job intended.”

Van Klaveren, as part of On A Roll Entertainment, launched the Club-Class Party Bus in October last year. A double-decker, completely renovated bus in the style of a 70s glamour plane – “air-hostesses” and all – offers VIP nights out in cities all over the UK.

He is finalising negotiations to offer a tailored package to Scotland’s racecourses, where the bus can park, pitch a marquee and clients can enjoy the race from their very own VIP area – in the centre of the course in some cases.

Van Klaveren says: “Corporate entertainment should be an essential part of every marketer’s budget. If you are not doing it, then your rivals are. Entertaining is really one of the most memorable ways of making contact with your clients, peers and colleagues, both present and future.

“It gets people face to face in a neutral territory and, with an event on in the background, there is always something in common other than business to talk about.

“More and more people are now realising how important it is but, more importantly, they are also realising how affordable it can be.”

Gordon Hodge of the Glasgow Science Centre agrees: “Budgets have shrunk and organisers now have to justify every penny that they spend. Often people want an all-singing, all-dancing event, but don’t want to pay through the nose to do so. So, if you can provide something unusual then the budget is often easier to justify.

“However, the domestic market for corporate events is really capitalising, now companies are less keen to travel abroad. Certainly, as a business, GSC has been pushing its corporate entertainment capacity more heavily than before. Charitable trusts, historically, don’t make much money so entertainment is quite a lucrative market.

“Budgets today are more of an issue. The money’s still there, there is just less of it. You still need to be able to create an impact that will help the guests remember the experience, though. Hotels are nice. But that’s just it. Once you are there, really you could be anywhere, in any hotel, in any city in the world. The only differentiating factor is the choice of buffet. Dressing and theming the venue can cost a fortune. The exhibits, buildings and atmosphere at GSC does all that itself free of charge.

“But the building is still new and we are still learning what it can do. Because of this we remain flexible and are open to new ideas. Of course we will suggest events, but if a customer wants to push the existing boundaries then that is something we are eager to do.”

Cathy Owen, sales manager at Langs Hotel, says that she puts a great deal of value on corporate entertainment, both in terms of building her business and building the business of others: “Often we will have clients in when we are looking to win business, but also as part of a longer-term, relationship-building programme. I think that budgets are becoming more justifiable. For an event to be a success you only need a couple of people to write about it or book orders. But to do that you need to create the right mix of people, and stand your event out from others, in terms of both quality and creativity.

“One thing that we have noticed, certainly in the past, is the lack of quality entertainment tailored to the female market. Too many people still book a corporate box at the football or play a round of golf. We have started introducing SPA packages and, more recently, pyjama parties for female clients, which have been a huge success.

“Really, it is the flexibility that people crave. You have to be able to develop ideas. A restaurant doesn’t always have to be a restaurant; it can be a catwalk. Many venues are policy and procedure orientated and don’t stray away from the norm. Because we are a new, independent hotel, we try to accommodate clients’ demands wherever possible or come up with something completely new.”

Not everyone wants the same thing, however. Every client is different, yet the one thing that remains constant is a yearning for differentiation.

Frances Sutton, marketing director at Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth, says: “Different clients require different things. We are at an advantage, being one of only three venues in the capital that can hold more than 500 people for a gala dinner. Furthermore, the glass walls and exhibitions provide an added visual attraction and talking point.

“Edinburgh is a great conference and corporate entertainment city, but you do find that many people tend to be in the same circles, so attend the same functions. Because of that, organisers do like to find something that is unique and will create a memorable and long-lasting impression for their guests.”


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