Profile: Matthew Bending

Matthew Bending spotted a gap in consumer research and co-founded promotional location specialist Space and People. He talks to Claire Bond about its success and outlines his ambitions for the Live Brand Experience Association.

At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking a DJ in Ibiza, a ski rep and a money broker don't share a huge amount of common ground.

But for Matthew Bending, managing director of promotional location specialist Space and People and chairman of fledgling trade body the Live Brand Experience Association (LBEA), these vocations come together to produce an eclectic CV spanning twenty years.

Following a stint as a City broker in London, Bending retrained in marketing, completing a Chartered Institute of Marketing diploma at night school.

"I decided I was not a good salesman and hated rejection, so I thought maybe I could do it second hand and become a marketer," he says.

A position as marketing manager for Standard Life Investment shopping centres ensued, along with a new life in Scotland. "My wife is Scottish, and in London your money goes on child care and you don't see each other. So I thought, right, I'll apply for everything with Scotland and marketing in the title," he adds.

Bending remained in this role for a year before the idea for Space and People was conceived, arising from two unrelated business conversations.

The first was with Coca-Cola, which wanted to book one of Standard Life's shopping centres, exposing a niche market for collective sales of an entire shopping centre portfolio. The second was with a local cinema that approached Bending to advertise during screenings yet couldn't provide accurate visitor demographics.

At this point Space and People was born, as Bending realised shopping centres could provide detailed research on its consumers and were "a media that needed to be positioned, researched and sold as such". He adds: "If you can say to marketers, brands and advertisers that last year 15 million people came through the centre, 63% were women, 17% were ABC1, the age range split by demographic, average dwell time was 55 minutes and average spend was £33, you're providing relevant pools for advertisers to fish in."

He approached Nancy Cullen, marketing manager at Brent Cross and a well-respected industry figure, to co-found the venture as joint managing director.

Three years later, Space and People is set to turn over in excess of £9m in billings this year, having secured contracts with more than 140 shopping centres nationwide. Its clients include live marketing specialist Impetus, Loewybe, Headcount and Momentum.

The success of the business, and of the field marketing and brand experience sectors, led to Bending becoming chairman of the LBEA. "We realised if we were going to grow this business, talking to brands alone was not going to give us enough coverage," he says. "That is where the idea for the association came from. As soon as you get your head around the fact that this is a new media that can compete head-on with radio, posters and television, you get the marketers' holy grail - above-the-line awareness with below-the-line accountability. With the association we wanted to create credibility and visibility for members."

The LBEA boasts more than 35 members and was the first association to hand over secretariat responsibilities to new management outfit Association Management Group last month.

Although Bending regularly visits Space and People's two London offices, he is still based in Glasgow, living with his wife and two daughters in the Trossachs National Park. An idyllic location, which he describes as nestling between five mountains and two lochs, it is the perfect setting to indulge his favourite pasttime of fly-fishing. Certainly a departure from the hectic beaches of the Ibizan resorts.

BENDING ON ...

The field marketing and brand experience debate ... Whether people want to do field marketing or brand experience is almost immaterial to us.

My interest is that if they move from just a sampling exercise to a live brand experience they would probably get a better response, and the brand is more likely to want that space again.

The campaign that sticks in his mind ... Living By The Book is a personification of where brand experience can go creatively and how it can be integrated with other media. It started with the concept of doing joined-up marketing, it wasn't a one-off or a gimmick.

The future for Space and People ... This year we're set to turn over £9m in billings. We are in discussions to create an overseas franchise in Spain and Italy and have a five-year deal with Meadowhall shopping centre to undertake motorshows in its overflow car parks.

The LBEA's status in five years' time ... We will have proven that we are in possession of a media that is purchased strategically and is fundamental to marketing, advertising and sales plans.


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