Anybody looking in on the recent Chemistry: the live dating event at London's wine-themed attraction Vinopolis could have been forgiven for thinking they were looking at a trendy London bar, rather than an event for the capital's lonely hearts. The debut event for single people aged 25 to 45 was a big hit, with all 1,500 tickets sold for each of the two nights on 29 and 30 January.
Chris Hughes, managing director of the event's organiser Brand Events, says the unusual location helped to add a touch of glamour to the occasion.
"The venue is cool, and the wine theme gives it a sophisticated air," he comments. "It's not as functional as an exhibition or conference venue, but we didn't want a party, hotel or club setting."
Striking a balance
The organiser worked hard to create a relaxed atmosphere, but realised it had to strike a careful balance between having fun and the serious purpose of the event - people looking for partners.
Chemistry was the brainchild of Hughes, whose company is recognised more for organising exhibitions such as The Vitality Show and the BBC Good Homes Show, rather than an event where there isn't a stand in sight.
"I was reading an article about dating and suddenly realised that it's the ultimate meeting subject," he says. "My vision of the exhibition industry is bringing people together and the same principle applies to dating. But doing an event like this is not like organising an exhibition. You get away from traditional business models and it's like being a club promoter and music promoter as well as being a show organiser."
He adds: "I threw the Chemistry idea to the staff and they went wild. The energy that they gave to it was the fuel that helped launch the event. That's the joy of being a small business - you follow your instincts."
From there, Hughes teamed up with free London newspaper Metro, with which Brand Events had worked before at the Vitality Show, and Capital Radio. Both agreed that the dating show fitted in with their target audiences.
Metro head of marketing Karen Wall says: "We thought Chemistry would capture the urbanite audience that we distribute to - young, urban people who enjoy making the most of life."
Capital Radio business development director Ann O'Neill adds: "We knew that this was a perfect event for Londoners and that the subject matter appealed to the right age range. We felt we could help present the show in a fun and informal way."
Capital's solution was to have a significant presence in the main meeting place, The Ocean. The radio station set up a DJ booth, bar, seating area and dance floor in the room. There was also an on-air drive prior to the show, which included competitions.
Metro flagged up Chemistry with editorial explaining what the show was about. The newspaper was heavily involved in promoting the event and claims it was key to ensuring that Chemistry was sold out on both nights.
Bringing people together
The evening's activities were designed to bring people together and they began as soon as guests arrived. Photographers took Polaroids of visitors at the entrance and pinned them up on an Encounters Wall. This gave participants the chance to check out potential dates and scribble messages under their pictures.
Visitors who ventured further inside found a raft of other activities including speed dating, fortune telling, lifestyle coaches and salsa dancing classes, which gave participants a 20-minute turn with a variety of partners.
Brand Events created a website for the event late last year to boost interest. Once registered for the show, participants could exchange messages and e-mails with each other. Event Advantage Solutions managed the site pre-event, and so far it has had 180,000 hits with 38,000 e-mails passed between participants.
Hughes hopes to maintain the level of interest at future events. Chemistry will return to Vinopolis on 2 and 3 May, and again in June, September and November. There are also plans to roll out the event nationally, with evenings at Manchester and Newcastle.
While many visitors flocked to Vinopolis to seek out their ideal partner, Hughes and his team believe that in Chemistry, they have already found the perfect match for their ambitions.
Chemistry: the live dating event
Organiser: Brand Events
Main media sponsors: Metro, Capital Radio
Other sponsors: Ford, Anadin
Dates: 29-30 January
Visitors per night: 1,500
Registration: Event Advantage Solutions
Furniture: Peter Banks Exhibitions
Actors: Just Add Water
Entrance design: Bare