Will's Week

Buy into a theme, not just a venue

Buy into a theme, not just a venue

Everyone’s looking for something different. Events are making a huge comeback as the most effective means of marketing, getting brands face to face with their audience.  In fact, brands have become the ‘audience’, no longer afraid of putting themselves out there and systematically listening to the market’s feedback.

In 2014, the market will be talking about your brand, whether you’re listening or not, so striking first with an interesting, exciting, engaging and meaningful event (or series of events) will be more valuable than ever before! So why not give your target audience something to focus on (and tweet about)? A date. A location. A concept. Why not give your guests something to look forward to? An event. Whilst you’re at it, why not create a brand buzz and give your delegates an idea of what to expect? The added dimension that social media and digital marketing brings is exponential. And measurable (see our LiveTECH session on measuring social media ROI if you need a helping hand!). A simple hashtag can give a particular event its own identity, especially if it’s a thought provoking and relevant word or phrase. Then it’s all about what you do with it…

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But how do you really stand out? I believe that, to a certain extent, the answer lies in a word that Walt Disney invented – ‘Edutainment’.  It’s easier said than done, but if you can create a buzz around an event based on three basic ingredients – a great venue, in a great location, packed full of great educational content – then you won’t go far wrong.  The event has to be both enticing, yet meaningful.  Guests will ask, “How am I going to benefit from attending this event”? “How am I going to justify my time?” and “Am I going to gain anything from being there?”

There are so many variables but there is a viable short-cut to achieving all of the above on a surprisingly modest budget.  And that’s through a ‘pre-themed’ venue.  That is to say, a venue that is designed to stand on it’s own in a fiercely competitive consumer market, without any external influence.  A visitor attraction.   

Commercial venues (restaurants and bars) and visitor attractions are increasingly identifying the corporate events world as a lucrative and viable focal point and, in line with the resurgence in events (and mainly smaller, more focussed and therefore more frequent departmental events) they are making it easier for corporates to ‘buy in’ to increasingly sophisticated packages which are surprisingly good value. Pre-themed venues are actively targeting the corporate world and that’s a great opportunity for corporates to do something different.  Indeed, at Londonlaunch.com we strongly feel that 2014 is all about doing something different and engaging with your client (and potential) client base in a memorable and meaningful way.

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Harry Potter studio tour

Of course, there are so many outstanding venues in and around London so there’s never any shortage of choice if you’ve got the budget and the express blessing of the FD to spend it. It’s such an old fashioned notion nowadays that ‘the first thing to be cut’ is the events and hospitality budget.  It’s been proven that it’s so massively short-sighted and counterproductive because what could possibly be deemed more important than getting in front of your customers and showing them how special they are to you?  All the while generating the opportunity for some valuable face-time in an age where a phone conversation is a novelty. 

Incidentally, don’t underestimate the power of a phone call. So much more can be achieved in a two-minute conversation than a twenty-minute email and you can end the call with no uncertain terms as to what the next steps are (or what the tone was – friendly, urgent etc?). In the trade, it’s called ‘Eat that frog!’ (see my previous blog entitled ‘Monkey Management’ for an explanation). The same goes for an event because you can set the tone and deliver a whole series of messages reflecting your brand’s personality to re-iterate that tone and the event is the ultimate mechanism for this, particularly as it enables you to achieve it in a fun and dynamic way.

But how would you go about achieving something on this level without a huge budget?  Well, you might be surprised.  There are some fabulous examples of venues, which quite frankly, go a long way towards achieving all of the above.

Imagine a place where the venue is an exciting draw in its own right, packed full of things for your guests to get involved in and engage with (and, therefore, each other) without having to hire it out and ship it in?

Ripley's Believe it or Not

Well, believe it or not, there’s one such place in Leicester Square! Ripley’s Believe it or Not is an iconic classical building right on the corner of Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue, housed within the famous London Pavilion and the neighbouring Trocadero.  This building is a magical place because it’s packed to the rafters with fascinating exhibits, which are not only thought provoking, but are also highly unusual and therefore engaging.  They have a variety of unique event spaces too – from a small theatre to a beautiful penthouse suite where everything is upside down (“our brand will turn your thinking on it’s head” springs to mind…) as well as a variety of pre-themed rooms or even the run of an entire multi-floored interactive museum if you so desire (although that does become quite expensive because they’d have to shut down the entire visitor attraction to accommodate you).

It’s a brilliant place from a social media perspective too because shrunken heads, matchstick galleons, teapots that pour upside down, men popping their eyeballs out and seeing how many office colleagues can get on the scales until you collectively weigh as much as the heaviest man in the world, all make for great photo opportunities!  There’s an equally weird and wonderful gift shop here too, so the goody bag opportunity is immense!

Londonlaunch.com staged the official corporate launch of this venue last year and I was able to ‘arrive’ in the main event space in the world’s smallest car (resembling a sort of over-sized yet even more hapless Mr. Bean!) much to everyone’s amusement and subsequently delivered my ‘Welcome’ speech from the world’s largest rocking chair! All highly visual and therefore, highly memorable. Especially as I over-ran, crashed into a crate and became trapped inside, only to be released by the maintenance crew who arrived with their toolkit after a few awkward minutes!

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Will arrives at Ripley's in the world's smallest car

Rainforest Cafe

Just round the corner is the surprisingly high quality Rainforest Café.  A common misconception is that it’s for kids. It’s not. Well, not exclusively. Here’s a little secret. Every attraction designed for kids, is equally designed for their parents because they’re the ones who are required to pay for the experience.  Again, as Walt Disney so rightly identified, things that appeal to our inner child make us think and act like one – and that’s the Holy Grail. 

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Rainforest Cafe

To recapture the essence of our childhood is one of the most powerful emotions one can conjure up and, if you can do this through an event, your guests will love you for it.  The beauty of the Rainforst Café lies in its sheer quality. World-class theming and impressive animatronics all combine to create a fun, surreal and immersive environment that can’t help but stimulate the senses and stir the soul.  Waterfalls and tropical fish tanks make for a surreal corporate dining experience as sporadic tropical thunderstorms rumble and flash-dance across the vine-strung jungle canopy overhead. It’s pretty impressive and well worth a visit with your colleagues.

Rileys Sports Bar

A little down the road there’s a new place in town. A place that taps into one of our rawest emotions, a place themed upon something that’s almost universally identified with in one way or another – whether it’s hard-core devotion or a mere passing curiosity into the more obscure or foreign aspects of the genre. Sports. Ironically, for such an evocative and lively topic, there aren’t that many true Sports Bars in the UK that do the sports ‘theme’ very well.

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Riley's Sports Bar

Of course a really professionally run and suitably hi-tech sports venue is perfect for events such as the (impending) World Cup and Wimbledon and can then span all sorts of sports that are less mainstream in the UK, although perfect for setting the scene – Ice Hockey, Basketball, Major League Baseball, The NFL, anything you like, but, what many people miss is the fact that the Sports Bar (and, in particular, this Sports Bar) is a great pre-themed destination in it’s own right.

The Americans are experts at this style of venue – it’s their staple and their cheerleading style of vibrant hostessing (service with a ten-mile perma-smile) lends itself perfectly to this environment. The brand spanking new Rileys on Haymarket seems to encapsulate this brash and bountiful style perfectly and, what’s more, it’s hi-tech and huge! With thirty-four screens (including the largest sports screen in London spanning the entire twelve-foot front window display) and split across two levels, Rileys has four bars, seven pool tables, three ping-pong tables, viewing for up to 600 people and ‘Pool Ball’ – a sort of human pool with football sized pool-balls and giant pockets! The four bars (on different levels) ensure that corporate groups can benefit from the atmosphere whilst keeping things private and exclusive.  In fact, another high profile new sports themed bar we must check out is Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs’ Café Football at Westfield Stratford…


Changing gear, just a stone’s throw away lurks another classic, dare I say ‘iconic’ pre-themed venue, Stringfellows. Although this venue is synonymous with certain things, it’s actually a bit of a misconception.  This is a venue that not so long ago Princess Diana would rub shoulders with the likes of Richard Branson along with countless corporate leaders, politicians, journalists and high profile A-list personalities.  That’s because Stringfellows was one of the first non-members’ late license establishments, blazing a trail for a wide variety of places in the West End today.


Will on Stringfellow's throne

Indeed, more and more corporates are gravitating back to this mecca of decadence on the London scene.  Revitalised (and tame in comparison) by places such as The Box Soho, Stringfellows is a beautifully plush and surprisingly stylish venue, suitable for a wide variety of events from corporate networking (we’ve done one for 100 guests and it was a huge success!) to a school end of term party (yep, guilty as charged – we placed one of those too!) and just about everything else in between. Perhaps surprisingly (and possibly with the resurgence of burlesque) Stringfellows is becoming increasingly popular to an ever-wider audience of boundary-pushing brands who appreciate that their guests are looking for something unique, interesting and a little more…erm…stimulating!    


Of course, the ultimate pre-themed venues are also some of the oldest in town. Museums. Always fascinating, perennially informative and engaging to all those who have a thirst for knowledge, the art of choosing the right museum is key. Greenpeace wouldn’t necessarily suit the Imperial War Museum, for an extreme example.  But there are plenty of fascinating spaces, which could be universally (if not specifically) relevant. The Science Museum is always interesting because there’s so much spectacular and interactive stuff to play with and what brand wouldn’t want to be seen as innovative, fun and bleeding edge?

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The Science Museum

The Cutty Sark is another as it’s a timeless classic, recently risen from the ashes,  embodying speed, elegance and, to a certain extent, market leading and ground-breaking naval technology (certainly in it’s day). Indeed, keeping with the Naval theme, HMS Belfast is technically a museum too and is a living, breathing iconic behemoth, in a state of semi-slumber on the Thames (albeit with her guns trained firmly upon London Gateway Services, twelve miles away!)

Pre-themed doesn’t necessarily mean ‘economical’ though, although it often does by default. There are a plenty of lavish and unique options too – from an abandoned tube station (coming in 2014) to a classically themed experience in a Stately Home such as Blenheim Palace, you can immerse your guests in a magical and unique environment which isn’t pretending to be anything other than what it actually is. An utterly authentic experience. 

Pre-themed visitor attractions such as the sensational new Harry Potter Studios are increasingly viable options for dynamic and memorable events and I feel like I want to mention Planet Hollywood too, mainly because it brings us back full circle to Haymarket.

See. Seamless integration.


Will Broome CEO