It’s funny isn’t it? You spend a decade going to thousands of the most lavish, sensational, exotic (and sometimes even erotic!) events and when you’re asked to recount the most exciting thing you’ve ever experienced, it’s always something so small and simple that it makes you question spending such vast sums on anything elaborate at all. It’s like a viral video. Sometimes the simplest stuff gets the most clicks. Or, a song. The best ones are written on a piano or acoustic guitar in five minutes or less. Every time. You can just sense the authenticity, the raw under-production, the warm Marshall stack valve amplification, the sheer reality of it. For want of a better phrase, it’s all about ‘keeping it real’. Or, putting it in another slightly more elaborate way, capturing the collective imagination through an intergalactically awesome idea, without costing the earth. Easy for me to say…
Entertaining place settings
Now, as you’d expect, I’ve seen some cool (and massively elaborate) stuff in my time but, in my case, the single most memorable experience was at a small private wedding in Scotland about eight years ago. And it was so simple, yet so inventive that, to this day it’s probably my most memorable event experience.
Picture the scene. A hundred friends seated in a marquee on the lawn of a small castle, on an un-characteristically warm and sunny Glasgow evening when, half way through the wedding breakfast, something completely unexpected happened! Starting with a muffled titter and a distant murmur, the ‘S and D’ (surprise and delight) rapidly spread like wildfire. Of course, one of the best things about it was that it was completely ‘organic’. To my surprise, it was all about the place settings. That’s it. Our hosts (the groom used to be the drummer in my band – he of bath over-flowing and Eaton Square flat flooding fame which you may have seen in a previous blog?) had taken the liberty of scrawling a ‘secret’ and, hilariously, mildly abusive message about every guest on the inside of their place setting!
It ended up with every guest comparing and contrasting the levels of abuse aimed at them amidst a frienzy of excitement and amusement. Make people laugh uncontrollably via brutal honesty via special delivery and the experience is completely unforgettable. So simple, yet brilliant! Oh, and I can’t remember what mine said. (Well, I can but it’s too rude to include! Hey, there’s a song there in less than five minutes – told you!)
Personalised and unexpected
This reminds me of another similar episode when I looked under the bed before checking out of a particularly cool boutique hotel, only to come face to face with a ‘place setting’ card which, instead of a name, screamed “Thank you for looking under the bed! We can assure you that there’s no grime under here, unless of course you’re looking for your smelly socks!” Genius. I nicked it (as they clearly intended one to do) and it’s now sitting on my desk at home!
In other hotel news, we used to have a larger than life (literally) family friend called Bob Payton. He was a huge American dude who founded the once legendary ‘Chicago Rib Shack’ and often bibbed-up my parents and I, entertaining us with hilarious stories of equally larger than life proportions over dinner in his 80’s mecca which was gloriously lacking in finesse. Which was quite refreshing in Knightsbridge.
Anyway, he also had a hotel and the defining characteristic of this hotel was that everything about it was rude. Even the ‘Do not disturb’ and ‘Service my room’ signs were rude in their own special way. All by design, all very tongue in cheek and all unadulterated fun. He was one of life’s true brazen characters who consistently lived for the moment. [The sting in the tail with this one is that Bob Payton was killed in a car crash when his Range Rover piled into a motorway bridge stantion on the M1. On his way up to meet with my father at Alton Towers…]
So, it’s the simple things in life that work best. The funny place settings, the rude hotel door signs, the quirky messages in places you least expect to see them. Things that make you laugh, not just because they’re funny but because they’re so simple, so unexpected, so basic and so engaging. ‘Personalised and unexpected’ is a good event planner’s mantra.
Photo: Me Hotel
I was once at a party in Coca-Cola World in Atlanta, in a dramatic and cavernous white cube. It was clinical and uber cool. But was there any danger of it being soulless? No chance. For one simple reason. The organisers (Coca-Cola) made sure there was a buzzing atmosphere right from the start by hiring the Atlanta Falcons cheerleading team, not to perform, but to be party goers. Rent-a-guest, for want of a better original phrase! (somebody Trademark that phrase because this concept works and might just catch-on!) The clever part was that they were dressed as guests (rather than in their usual bikinis, unfortunately!) and they were easily identified (I say that now but at the time none of us had a clue!) by their multi-coloured flashing rings (you know what I mean - on their fingers!) These professional dancers wore big gleaming smiles on their faces, flashing rings on their fingers and were twinkle-toed dancers and gymnasts to boot! What’s more they were really chatty and friendly, enticing us to the dance floor by decorating our fingers with flashing jewellery and dragging us (somehow willingly) onto the dance-floor. This party was rocking from the very beginning and it was all down to the seemingly cool, yet fun and friendly other ‘guests’. “What a cool party to have all these awesome beautiful girls and cool guys show up and want to be here so much” we all mused. Even though they weren’t technically guests. It was very clever and it worked a treat.
Be eye-catching and relevant
Ten years ago, we at Londonlaunch.com were lucky enough to be chosen to host an event to launch the event space at the top of the Gherkin which, until then, had been exclusive to Swiss Re, the company that originally commissioned the building (before they realised that it was ridiculous not to maximise the value of what was back then, London’s most coveted event space). Aside from it being a hugely intriguing and desirable space, we wanted to do something different (true to form) and something that City based guests would remember us by. Something that would position us as the market leader in sourcing venues and event service providers and something that would provide a take-home message from this stunning new skyscraper (to which we knew more than 80% would show up to because, bar a disastrous act of God, who was going to miss attending an event welcoming them to the ‘Top of the World’ in London’s newest and most innovative tower?). Even if it was known as the ‘Gherkin’, which wasn’t the most flattering (or glamorous) of names!
So, aside from the venue itself being such a draw, how did we create a buzz? How did we stand out and make an impression on the guests on a fresh, wet Spring evening? Umbrellas and newspapers, that’s how. Really big quality umbrellas in our corporate colours with a copy of that day’s Evening Standard, complete with a customised cover, all about the corporate launch of the Gherkin with a back cover sports story about how I was packing it all in because I’d been signed by Man United. And it was really realistic *(*apart from the actual story!). The clever part was that the meat of the newspaper was the day’s actual news, so worth reading on the tube on the way home and it gave the impression that our event really was headline news.
But the piece de resistance was the slogan we had emblazoned around the umbrellas. “Event solutions under one umbrella” was the eye-catching and appropriate strap-line, which really captured the imagination. Ten years later I still see the odd one doing the rounds at events. Really simple, yet really, really effective. Thank God it was raining as it resulted in a sea of purple and pink Londonlaunch umbrellas floating away en-masse, like jellyfish on the tide…
Another very simple way to grab the attention of your audience is to dress up. And when I say ‘dress up’ I mean ‘Dress Up’. Angels, the world’s first and best fancy dress outfitters (because their costumes are authentic!) never let me down. At our venue launch showcase events, I have taken to dressing up. All the time. At the RizonJet aircraft hangar I was a retro airline pilot. At Shillibeer’s, I was George Shillibeer, the Victorian inventor of the Omnibus and at the official corporate launch of the Hippodrome Casino, I was a Victorian Ringmaster and delivered a somewhat bizarre speech in the style of Dr.Seuss! But it works. People like it, remember it, tweet it, facebook it, youtube it and pinterest it. The press publish it too because it’s visual and different, encapsulating the spirit (and adventure) of the event. Again, it’s super simple but uber effective.
Photo: Will Broome, Londonlaunch's ringmaster extraordinaire
A really cool, extreme example of these costume based theatrics was staged by a company called ‘Fear no Ice’ in New York City. Their UK counterparts are The Ice Box, and they can deliver a similar experience if you’re looking for something suitably high impact. After a three day conference in a massive auditorium, for a huge international brand, a hooded monk took his place on the stage and, rather menacingly, produced a chainsaw from under his flowing cloak, cranked it into action and masterfully set about carving a beautiful ice sculpture out of a giant up-lit block of ice which was positioned next to him on the stage. In less than five minutes. The sheer drama, brutality and noise of the exercise was breath-taking but it was the resulting sculpture that stole the show. Or did it? It was a perfectly rendered company logo which was then, after a momentary dimming of the lights, magically lit in the company’s corporate colours, to sensational effect. An awesome close to the conference. But that wasn’t the really clever bit. Brace yourself! The monk switched off his chainsaw, put it down and dramatically whipped off his hood. It was the CEO of the company. The switch was perfectly executed via theatrical lighting and classic diversion. A properly magical and unforgettable experience.
Photo: Ice carving by Ice Box
In the corporate events world so much has been done. Boundaries have been pushed, budgets have been spent and visually stunning experiences have been lavishly laid on for lucky (yet, so often jaded) guests. In fairness, elaborate events are, actually, worth their weight in gold and are making a comeback as a result. Again, it’s like a viral video. You can never guarantee it’ll go viral but you can ensure it’s a beautifully produced, well scripted, well directed and well executed masterpiece which, as a stand alone product, portrays the right message for your brand. That way, the viral bit is just a massive, unexpected bonus.
The most powerful viral videos are those that seem effortless though, and that’s the same for events. How many times have you been to a big expensive and lavishly produced event ,which, on reflection, turns out to be a bit boring? On the flipside, how many times have you reluctantly trudged out on a cold rainy winter’s evening to yet another party, really not wanting to be there, and it turns out to be amazing!? And that’s because it’s all about the people, the atmosphere and the combined way that makes you feel. It’s a magic and potent concoction which somehow feels great! If you can create such an environment, then you’re a natural!
There are loads of ways in which you can create memorable experiences and it’s often the simplest ideas that work best.
Remember to KISS (Keep It Simple, stupid!).
If you have any great tips to add or fabulous photos of your events, please tweet them to us @londonlaunch.
Will Broome, CEO