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So, this is where it all began. In the early naughties when pointless websites were popping up everywhere, it was surprising how difficult it was to find anything useful online. Google was something with a silly name that my sister used at the Daily Mail whilst I persisted with yahoo and a dial-up connection which made browsing the internet almost impossible outside the office.
Anyway, the point is, if it was your job to put on product launches every day, and each one bigger, better, more memorable and more appealing to press than the last, then it was pretty difficult to repeatedly outdo oneself without the ‘internet of all things’.
Putting it bluntly, we relied on email. And the people sitting next to us. Luckily for me, I worked at one of the world's largest PR agencies, Ketchum (or Ketchum Life as it was known back then) and the people around me were the best of the best. Hundreds of creative, forward thinking, boundary-pushing minds, all (in the nicest possible way) desperate to outgun each other on behalf of our lovely, demanding clients. As an agency, we looked after everyone from Vidal Sasson to Wrangler Jeans, Carlsberg to Wonderbra (that account was mine, all mine...), the British fashion Council to Jimmy Choo (the actual guy, remember him?) and with leading brands like that breathing down your neck, there's no such thing as a mediocre product launch.
These brands demanded attention and when it came to a live environment there were no second chances. What's more, I remember our Wrangler jeans client telling me (in no uncertain terms) that he didn't pay us ten grand a month to 'hire an event management company' and that surely 'people as clever and cool as us' (I was neither of those!) could 'throw together a spectacular event!' Those were the days. When events were just as crucial but far less recognised as a professional profession.
Nowadays it's universally recognised that events are a critical component in the wider sales and marketing merry-go-round and slowly but surely more emphasis, attention, budget and, interestingly, respect are all finding their way back into our esteemed sector.
So there we were - creative, hungry, enthusiastic, a little bit arrogant - all budgeted up with nowhere to go. But where did we start? Yes, the internet existed but there was nothing of any real note on it. Even ten years ago you wouldn't believe how many venues and caterers didn't have their own website. And if they did, it was a basic brochure site, so un-optimised and riddled with dead-ends that it didn't rank on google anyway. We were young, dumb and full of ….commercial acumen but we relied on each other. Heavily. Every time we wanted to organise something, we asked our contemporaries via email. “Who can suggest a great venue for so and so for such and such”? “Which caterer should we use for the Philp Treacy show (it has to be suitably mental because Grace Jones is the star of the show)”? “I need an old school market trader’s cart and a thousand mangoes to launch a new dot.com called..erm...clickmango.com”. It was a daily occurrence. I've kept the emails too and they're literally a carbon copy of latter day directory search:
"Hi all, I need a unique venue with the capacity for 100 press, theatre style followed by a dinner for 75 VIPs and an evening reception for 500 - all under one roof. Near Bond Street. Oh, and not a hotel because it needs to be 'edgy'".
Of course, directories are no longer enough these days. You need seamless search (as per our new homepage search bar) but then you also need corporate endorsement. Reviews. And that is why every venue or supplier you discover on londonlaunch.com has a star rating and review feature. It's strange that we're the only event specific site that does though. Video is increasingly key too (hence we link to everyone's YouTube channel) as it animates an event or service, bringing it to life and putting it in context. The point is that these emails from the early naughties are almost entirely what londonlaunch.com is based on. It all began as a unique and in-depth resource for PR and Advertising agencies putting on product launches. In London. Exactly what it says on the tin. Except it's evolved enormously and now we help with thousands of different types of event every single week.
From my personal perspective, product launches are the benchmark. The ultimate event. They are the epitome of experiential events because they need to tick every box.
Here are some boxes that need to be ticked!
- Think about your target audience and who they will influence
- Deliver an invitation designed to entice these guests to turn up (engaging with your audience is not as easy at you'd think, especially with so much competition out there)
- Book a well-placed, inspirational venue space
- Have a great theme or concept
- Offer food (possibly even dinner)
- Provide drinks (possibly not just alcoholic)
- Encourage great social media buzz, amplification, NOISE
- Create an accurate representation of the brand you're trying to promote
and, above all else....
- Make it fun!
Back in the day, I was tasked with spearheading my first big product launch – the new Wonderbra Affinity range. I was passionate about this brand, as you can imagine, and any day with the then Wonderbra beauties Adriana Sklenarikova and Brenda Schad (yep, I even remember how to spell their names!) was worth a special effort. And I nailed it. Almost. I ticked nearly every box. The location was excellent, the venue, inspirational, new and enticing. The food, plentiful. The drinks, flowing. The guest list, brimming with enthusiasm. The centerpiece an iconic swing above the pool. The problem? Men weren't allowed in the Sanctuary. And I was a man. As well as being the organiser! So I never experienced the event myself, rather I spent the whole evening in reception upstairs whilst all the lady journalists enjoyed learning about Wonderbra's new brand of coloured bras. It was a huge success and the fact I wasn't there (not to mention any other men) only served to enhance the unique and memorable nature of that particular product launch. The joke was on me and it was worth it (hang on, am I mixing strap-lines again?)
Another great example was the launch on the Wrangler Short Film Awards, which ran for several very successful years, positioning Wrangler as a resurgent, yet classically adventurous brand - in a modern, urban, not necessarily cowboy way (still got those 13 MWZs - for those in the know!). After coming up with the general idea for a national short-film award and having successfully sold it in to Heat Magazine (who ran it as a cover feature, several times), I again ticked all the boxes. Except one!
With a hugely anticipated and well-publicised event, whereby the three shortlisted finalists would have their film screened at the Odeon Leicester Square, it became frighteningly apparent that I hadn't checked the diary (or a publication known as 'Foresight', back then). Either that or my reputation had preceded me and Tom Cruise had decided to show up!
Alas, we were double booked and Tom was in town to launch the hotly anticipated Mission Impossible movie franchise. The somewhat less hotly anticipated Wrangler Short Film Awards were shunted to the little Odeon on the south side of the square to make way for the real deal. However, the heaving melee of fans, press and general red-carpetery made for a spectacular occasion, with all the trappings of a major Hollywood Premier. Phew...! I cooly claimed it was all by design. In a similar way to how my dad quietly took the credit for an (entirely accidental) Red Arrows flyby at my wedding years later...
One final, yet very simple, example was the launch of the mid-dot-com-boom, health e-tailer clickmango.com. To cut a not very long story short (it only lasted three months due to burning through three million pounds quicker than you could actually physically burn..erm..three million pounds!) we hired Joanna Lumley, stuck her on TV - she was brilliant - and staged a VIP press launch that night in London's first (and only) healthy night club, Zeta Bar, which served beautifully fresh non alcoholic cocktails. The venue reflected the brand perfectly - healthy, cool, forward thinking and on trend. Zeta bar is now Whisky Mist. Alcohol won! Joanna Lumley was a legend though. I spent a very enjoyable day with her which started with a memorable improvisation which possibly saved my job! Whilst doing a live interview on the 'This Morning' sofa (I thought I'd covered off every possible question with her) she was asked a perfectly logical and very simple question. Which I hadn't anticipated. 'But why's it called clickmango.com?'. Shit! Why was it? I bet the founders didn't even know! Joanna laughed and, without missing a beat, said "Well, we liked it better than clickturnip.com" Genius. I've just remembered I got stuck in the Upper Ground studios lift that morning with the late Boyzone singer, Stephen Gately, too. It was all happening!
So, there's no set formula, other than an appropriate venue to suit your brand's personality. And somewhere that will inspire your audience. On top of that, dare to be different in your execution. Use spectacular audio-visual and embrace technology. Be inventive with your catering. Be forthright with your front of house staff. Create a buzz before, during and after. Get your audience talking about your brand before the event.
Here are a few venues and ideas to get the (launch) party started.
And try typing 'product launch' into our market-leading search facility on the homepage - it'll bring all the most appropriate places and ideas to life...
1. The Bomb Factory on Osea Island
4. The Science Museum
5. The Ham Yard Hotel
6. St. James Theatre
Another hidden gem, this modern theatre (the first new build theatre in Central London for three decades!) combines all the best bits of traditional theatre technology coupled with the latest technology – an impressive under-seat air-con system, flawless views, comfortable seats, immaculate acoustics and a glorious sweeping staircase in the inspiring reception hall which leads to a high quality fine dining restaurant – the perfect ingredients for a successful product launch.
7. Grand Connaught Rooms
A fantastically flexible series of serious venue spaces, combining classical grandeur with unobstructed sightlines and excellent facilities in a wonderfully central location.
8. Hackney Empire
A classic venue with a massive stage and a world-class (ornate) auditorium. Perfect for big productions, whether that involves live music, large format rear-projection or even a live show – this place is made for it!
9. Matcham Room Theatre
A beautiful, intimate and plush new theatre in the heart of Leicester Square, this venue was home to our recent London PA Awards and was brimming with atmosphere…
10. Millbank Media Centre
Perfect for press briefings and screenings, this excellent facility on the ground floor of the famous Millbank Tower is particularly appropriate for Westminster events, most notably with a House of Commons or House of Lord’s connection. Of course, this 270-seat hi-tech auditorium has the added benefit of Altitude 360 and Skyloft, upstairs (although I’d use the lift if I were you!).
11. Rileys Sports Bar
The UK’s leading sports bars, combining fun and games with themed private areas (ideal for launches and presentations) and more LCD screens than anywhere else in London! Perfect for sports related products or if you have a sports personality as your keynote speaker.
1. Cirque le Soir
2. Set Creations
With world-class dance shows and spectacular urban entertainment (from footballing free-stylers to break-dancers and free-runners) its amazing how much delegate engagement emanates from this cool, easy-on-the-eye and topical form of entertainment. Their trick-football demonstration even had Messrs Messi and Ronaldo in awe at the recent Ballon d’Or event, they’re that good!
4. Boisdale Entertainment
If you’re launching a big brand or product then you might require a big name act to reflect the magnitude of your event. Whilst Boisdale Entertainment have the (rare) ability to attract the likes of Beyonce and Miley Cyrus, don’t forget they can also put together rather more affordable bespoke acts to greatly enhance your product launch…
With the current trend in fun photo-booths at events in full swing, iBoothMe have launched their innovative new touch-screen photo and video sharing booths which takes the whole genre to the next level. Real-time social media sharing in a fun, engaging environment, which will result in happy delegates and wide-reaching publicity, guaranteed!
6. Think Wall
Nowadays there’s no point in staging an event if it’s not all over twitter! Your delegates are your most effective publicists and Think Wall will ensure that everyone gets involved via their market-leading real-time in-event social media content displays.
7. The Sourcing Team
The go-to people for all the interesting, useful and quirky stuff that you just don't know where to find! From award 'gongs' to branded merchandise and just about everything else in between, The Sourcing Team will find anything and everything, FAST!
Will Broome CEO
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